Exhibit A for why I'll NEVER...

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Project by LoganN posted 03-30-2017 10:01 PM 3793 views 7 times favorited 36 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Try to stain hard maple again! I got a commission piece from a former colleague who wanted a table made to look like one I had done before. After seeing her house, getting the measurements, and talking options, we had a plan. But then the type of wood changed. To maple. With a stain. Not a problem I said – I know a few tricks. I built the table in a few weeks in my shop and decided to use the shellac and gel stain option. I looked up various techniques and this seemed the one that most people recommended. I watched the Wood whisperer video and did everything he said. I should have read the directions on the gel stain can too. Anyway, I cut the shellac with denatured alcohol and applied it and then applied the stain to the legs. I didn’t wipe it off right away, so problem number one occurred. I used mineral spirits to clean the stain off the legs and got started again. But these are artistic legs with lots of corners… and I didn’t sand enough… so I could see swirl marks. Take off the stain again and resand- but those corners are tight. So I restrain the leg, but every time I wipe up the stain it leaves little marks so I lightly sand those after they’re dry… and now I see bare wood… ugh
Let’s go to the top – Birdseye maple center strip with hard maple breadboard ends and side boards. I apply a full coat of shellac to the Birdseye because I want that to pop and a 1/2 coat to the other boards. And now we can apply stain, wipe it off, and see the beauty. Except that the only thing I see are spots where the stain is going into the wood and spots where it is sitting on top of the wood. I only did half the table and it’s blotchy, so I stripped the table with mineral spirits and bring up most of the stain except for the spots where it really sank into the wood. Those are slightly darker. So I sand again, and reapply shellac. This time I use a full coat. I wait for it to dry and apply stain – I know that it has enough shellac, so the stain will be fine, right? Except that I’m wrong. As soon as I start wiping off the stain I can see splotches in the maple where it’s lighter and darker. I’m upset now, but I’ve already used the deposit, so I try to take off the stain again, but this time it doesn’t wipe off… I start sanding. I get it sanded down to where there is some dark pigment in some places, but the wood is pretty uniform and I start applying shellac. I do 3 coats this time – trying to get an even spread over the wood so it’s soaked in everywhere. Finally, it looks good. I decide to bite the bullet and stain again, this time doing everything, including the breadboards I hadn’t gotten to previously. I apply the stain by the book directions. And decide ”#%*^it. I’ll look at it tomorrow” and I go away. I look at it tomorrow – and I’m not happy. I ask my wife to look at it – “the breadboard ends look good” she says.
I’m not going to sugarcoat this – I tried one more time. Everything except the breadboard ends. It didn’t work. I had to contact the seller and give her the options – take it the way it is, sand it and go natural, or just give her back the deposit. I knew what she would choose – keep it and return her deposit. Which means sanding it and leaving it natural. So I sand it – starting from 80 grit up to 220. And apply oil and poly. Which starts to look good. Until I build up enough coats to see some swirl marks. So I sand again. And some more. And go up to 400 grit. And start to apply poly again. And there’s a swirl mark I missed. And it’s sanded. And the coats are looking great, the sheen is building. I’ve gotten all my little nubs off the table, but there are still some streaks from the wipeon poly, so I’ll buy spray poly instead of getting out my sprayer. And I spray it, and it looks nice, except for the day ones from the spray not laying thick enough. So I’ll give it one more spray – but apparently (reading the directions after the fact again) you neare d to spray WITHIN the first 2 hours of the first spray, not after 3.5 like I waited, so now the finish is filmy and murky. So I sand a little more and apply some wipeon poly. Which doesn’t do squat. So I apply full coat brush on poly – and that’s where it went a little better.
Either way, I’m done with this table and I’ll NEVER take a commision to stain maple again. Now I just need to sell this o e so I can pay the deposit back. But hey, I’ve gotten interest by people of Craigslist who want to pay me by PayPal and send their agents to come pick it up, oh, and could I please pay them from the money I’ve given you.. And the Nigerian scams begin…

36 comments so far

View JimRochester's profile


576 posts in 2857 days

#1 posted 03-30-2017 10:20 PM

Yeah, but other than that everything went smoothly.

It certainly looks nice in the pictures.

-- Schooled in the advanced art of sawdust and woodchip manufacturing.

View dalepage's profile


390 posts in 2083 days

#2 posted 03-30-2017 10:22 PM

I admire your tenacity. I’m at worst in finishing and I wish I had a shop mate who would finish everythiing after my final sanding.

Your problem is why I don’t like maple for anything except cutting boards.

As for the swirls you seem to be dealing with, get a Festool Rotex 6”. It is worth the money. Buy the mini vac and the whole package is about $1000. But it saves LOTS of time and you get great results. I never have swirls and 220 is plenty fine enough prior to Watco oil followed by shellac. Then I use 0000 steel wool between shellac coats.

I really, really like your table’s substructure. I think the Greene Bros would, too.

-- Dale

View ralbuck's profile


6773 posts in 3509 days

#3 posted 03-30-2017 11:33 PM

It is still a nice looking and well made table.
Anyone could be proud of having made it.

-- Wood rescue is good for the environment and me! just rjR

View Mean_Dean's profile


7057 posts in 4390 days

#4 posted 03-30-2017 11:57 PM

Sounds like the project from hell….......!

But I admire your tenacity in finally finishing the project. Here’s hoping you’ll be able to sell it—and count this as a learning experience!

-- Dean -- "Don't give up the ship -- fight her 'till she sinks!" Capt James Lawrence USN

View Andy's profile


240 posts in 2070 days

#5 posted 03-31-2017 12:05 AM

Very nice table. Im with you on staining maple, Ive tried it and I didnt like the results. I have also used pure tung oil and that darkened the wood slightly, then coated with poly and that looked pretty good.

-- Andy Smith

View EarlS's profile


4754 posts in 3591 days

#6 posted 03-31-2017 12:19 AM

Gorgeous table. Design is spot on and so is the wood selection. I think we can all relate with a horror story about finishing. I know I’m looking at my walnut top on my desk seeing where there are some streaks that didn’t buff out. Fortunately, I’m the client on this so I can tolerate the mistakes.

I hope you get a good buyer since that is a very nice table.

-- Earl "I'm a pessamist - generally that increases the chance that things will turn out better than expected"

View rtbrmb's profile


821 posts in 3631 days

#7 posted 03-31-2017 02:33 AM

Sorry for all the frustration you had to endure. It turned out great-love the design and wood combination.
Hope you can sell it soon.

Thanks for sharing.

Bill in MI

View TungOil's profile


1384 posts in 1738 days

#8 posted 03-31-2017 02:48 AM

I think the table looks fantastic! I hate staining maple for all these reasons. I use it only for drawer boxes that will get a clear topcoat.

-- The optimist says "the glass is half full". The pessimist says "the glass is half empty". The engineer says "the glass is twice as big as it needs to be"

View Von's profile


238 posts in 3456 days

#9 posted 03-31-2017 03:22 AM

About the only thing I ever stain Maple with is a water based dye, like Rit (for fabrics, yea.. but quite effective). I like the water based stuff because it’s a lot easier to re-treat the problem areas without having to retouch the whole project. Personally I like the clear look with a heavy clear gloss vs. stain when it come to Maple. And swirl marks… oh man, I feel yer pain…

View LoganN's profile


489 posts in 3143 days

#10 posted 03-31-2017 10:48 AM

I appreciate all the kind words, sympathy, and support! This thing was not a labor of love – more like a labor of “I’m 1/2 way here and I need to get this thing done!” I think tenacity was the best word to describe it! The funny part is that, believe it or not,th ere were a few other small issues that I forgot to put in! This was one of those projects where almost everything that could go wrong, did! But at least it’s done and I can move on… if I can sell it

And dalepage – I do have the 5” and mini vac. Still got the swirl marks, but I went from 80 grit up, and I wasn’t thrilled with sandi g again, so I might not have been as thorough sanding the 10th time through!

View Underdog's profile


1751 posts in 3278 days

#11 posted 03-31-2017 11:56 AM

I feel your pain. I HATE trying to stain maple. It’s NEVER worked out well, despite all the folks who tell it it’s no problem- that you can put a sealer on it and put stain over top… Pfffft! Riiiight.

If you really want a certain color in Maple, then tone the top coat, and forget about stain.

Looks good though. Sorry about all your trouble.

-- Jim, Georgia, USA

View Scott Oldre's profile

Scott Oldre

1128 posts in 4674 days

#12 posted 03-31-2017 12:43 PM

Awesome post. You can beat posts with reality stories. We’ve all been there, where something just didn’t turn out the way we expected, and the work the follows to “try” to correct the mistake. Glad you came to terms with it.

-- Scott, Irmo SC

View helluvawreck's profile


32122 posts in 4109 days

#13 posted 03-31-2017 12:48 PM

“You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.” However, and to your credit, you surely did try to do your best to please the customer on this project.

I can see this table being worth a lot for people who are in need of a project table in certain trades and businesses that need an attractive table with a durable hard top. You did a fine job on it. I have looked at your projects and you do really nice work, and are very talented. I hope that you will recoup a good portion of your cost. Or perhaps you could just use it in your shop.

Anyways, I hope that you will always be happy in your work, in the future, at least. You really do very nice work.

helluvawreck aka Charles

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View Calmudgeon's profile


516 posts in 2670 days

#14 posted 03-31-2017 12:51 PM

The only success I’ve had with colouring maple was with spray-on alcohol-based tints, but even that can be fussy. There’s very little room for error.

I did a stained project ONCE. I had to re-build a couple huge doors after the first pair came out blotchy. Lesson learned.

-- "As are the things we make, so are we ourselves." - Lin Yutang

View JimRochester's profile


576 posts in 2857 days

#15 posted 03-31-2017 01:21 PM

I’ve used WATCO English Oil with a tint and it came out OK. Don’t really care for coloring maple since it’s so beautiful naturally. If you’re looking for dark, just go with cherry and takes stains much better IMHO.

-- Schooled in the advanced art of sawdust and woodchip manufacturing.

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