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What have you sanded the wood to?

I typically finish Walnut with Arm-R-Seal. It's dark brown, but really lights up and shows off grain in sunlight.
 

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Are they all oil-based?

A thin blonde shellac coat will keep the grain visible and minimize the darkening. And I imagine a water-based poly would do the same.
 

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What have you sanded the wood to?

I typically finish Walnut with Arm-R-Seal. It s dark brown, but really lights up and shows off grain in sunlight.

- jmartel
+1 to Arm-R-Seal. I usually wipe on anywhere from 3 to 6 coats, depending on the item being finished. Never seen walnut turn black.

Edit : Low quality picture of walnut with 3 coats of Arm-R-Seal
 

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The issue with Walnut these days is most of it is steamed, they do this to get the tannins in the wood to leach into the sap wood and color it, unfortunately it also causes the walnut to be much darker and often it will have a purple cast to it. While I could give you a dye formula, or as stated use some amber or blond shellac some Golden oak stain will often help alot . It helps to impart the golden hue as well as lightens it a tad. But be sure to do a test first to be sure your happy.
 
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