Aaahhhhh Chatoyance...can we make it any clearer??

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Forum topic by DDDamian posted 10-07-2010 11:57 PM 14862 views 1 time favorited 13 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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40 posts in 4302 days

10-07-2010 11:57 PM

Topic tags/keywords: chatoyance figure curl quilt finishing finishes curly depth shimmer

Okay, I’m a metal worker who’s fallen in love with figured woods, most especially those showing chatoyance (shimmer, popping, ripplies, whatever).

I’ve researched mightily, and found the following in my quest to make it something you can fall into, something that shifts and dazzles as you move around the piece:

1) Contentious debate on the place of oils (tung, BLO, etc) as a first stage in finishing to highlight the effect.

2) Contention debate on sanding to only 220 (so as not to fill in the “tubes”) to insanely high pre-finish sanding up to 2400 and even burnishing with old jeans.

3) That the best top-coat is shellac, no wait, wipe-on poly, no wait, the now-famous BLO/varnish/tung mix of the week (you get the idea).

4) That dyes bring it out best, no, that pigmented stains are fine, no that natural finishes are the best.

I think you see where I’m going! From my very limited experience I’ve found that you can’t creat what wasn’t there (start with the right piece) and that extreme gloss is critical.

It’s been covered in many places in a roundabout way, but let’s hear (and see!) how you have made that wood shine like a billion fibre-optic cables radiating the glory that is chatoyance!

-- - before I could only dream it....

13 replies so far

View Dan Lyke's profile

Dan Lyke

1533 posts in 5616 days

#1 posted 10-08-2010 04:12 AM

I’m posting not ‘cause I’ve got any answers, just to say I’ve got all the same questions, and would love a good rundown on all the various finishing methods. Heck, I’d love a 500 page big ol’ hardcover book, something like the Wilhelm book for photo preservation perhaps, and I think I’d pay similarly.

So far my experience is:

  • Brush on polyurethane: Too thick to really showcase the wood. Good for things like kitchen where you want something bombproof and easy to clean.
  • Wipe on poly: So far, I like it. Smooth surface, doesn’t obscure the wood.
  • Penofin oil: Great for the outside, add another layer when it dulls. However, for interior stuff the wood (in my case mahogany and massaranduba) remains too porous for any moisture.
  • Shellac: Also like it, though it ends up a bit thicker than the poly and adds a yellowish cast. Nice point is that it can be easily touched up. At least for a while.

But my experience doesn’t touch sanding (I tend to machine sand to 220, then sand lightly in between coats up much higher. I like matte finishes, so I’ve never gotten to buffing out with denim.)

And I also use a tinted pore filler if I’m going to use a polyurethane for mahogany for indoors stuff, just because it’s got too wide a grain and I like a smoother finish. On the other hand, for the indoor mahogany I’ve done with Penofin, my baseboards, the pores seem like they’re filled nicely.

-- Dan Lyke, Petaluma California,

View Dustyier's profile


4 posts in 4283 days

#2 posted 10-08-2010 04:26 AM

I’ve messed around with some different things to bring out grain. I tried analine dyes on curly maple and was extremely disappointed, it obscured the curl instead of making it “pop”. I usually use just straight minwax poly ( I like the amber cast it gives) and it brings the grain out nicely, but I try it on some scrap first of course. Buffing out- 3 layers of poly with a power buffer ( sheep wool pad fitted to a hook and loop 5” orbital sander) worked real good, but you have to be careful not to burn through the finish. Before you buff it, I went over the poly with 9 and 13 micron wet-or-dry automotive sandpaper (used wet) to level the surface. Best thing you can do is experiment with scrap pieces until you find something you like enough to commit to. Good Luck.

View DDDamian's profile


40 posts in 4302 days

#3 posted 10-08-2010 03:24 PM

I had decent experience with aniline dyes (see “Jewel” ) to highlight figure or curl, but it wasn’t quite the razzle-dazzle I’d hoped for.

From various pen-turners I’ve seen advice to pre-sand insanely and burnish the wood, but that it much easier on the small surface area of a pen in a high-speed lathe than on larger flat pieces like the table top in the project above.

Dyes do seem to bring out the figure nicely (see Trifern’s blog “2 Dye 4“) but I’d like to point out the difference I think stands between “popping” or highlighting the figure and chatoyance – that fibre-optic type of shimmer that seems to really give the piece depth. The word chatoyance is french for “cat’s eye” and we all know what they do in the headlights, similar to the gemstone tiger-eye.

With the “Jewel” coffee table I felt the figure or curl came out decently with Trifern’s dyeing methods, but didn’t really show the tiger-eye shimmer as much as I’d hoped for. I’m thinking the thick epoxy layer I applied scatters the light too much, so there may be some truth to the thinner finishes working better….

-- - before I could only dream it....

View sras's profile


6715 posts in 4621 days

#4 posted 10-08-2010 04:59 PM

I had some nice curly maple that I wanted to get the best “pop” out of the grain. I sanded bare wood all the way up to 600 grit. Each progressively finer grit showed the grain better. I was out of grits at 600 and happy with the result. For all I know, even finer grits would have yielded even better results.
As I did my research on this, one suggestion was to wipe on a thin coat of varnish and then sand to bare wood all the way to 1000 grit. The idea was to fill the grain with finish and then sand to help the ends of the fibers be cut cleanly. I did not try this, but seems like a good idea.
It could be that different types of wood may beneift from different techniques to get the best result.
For my project, it was a accent panels on a cedar strip kayak, so the top coat was epoxy filled fiberglass covered with a Linear Polyurethane marine varnish – not your typical top coat. The final result turned out great.

-- Steve - Impatience is Expensive

View shipwright's profile


8821 posts in 4289 days

#5 posted 10-08-2010 05:29 PM

I stumbled upon this effect on the top of my desk It’s spalted Western Maple and when finished some of it, notably the veneer match on the top, shows real depth and definite optical illusion characteristics when you move your head from side to side looking at it. My usual finish, used here, is Minwax wipe on poly after sanding to 600 to 1500 grit first.
The question I would like answered is what do you look for in the wood before the sanding / finishing ? I’ve checked several of my Maple pieces and done spot samples and the effect only seems to be evident after finishing.


-- Paul M ..............the early bird may get the worm but it’s the second mouse that gets the cheese!

View MattinCincy's profile


128 posts in 4645 days

#6 posted 10-08-2010 05:47 PM

I just like the WORD chatoyance !

But seriously, I’ve had good results getting a lot of depth on figured maple with several finishes, including lacquer, shellac, and my favorite, the infamous varnish/oil blend followed by wax. For me, the common denominator for success for all of these finishes is the prep – sanding through at least 320 – 400 grit, or even better 600. I agree, though, that this can be difficult on larger projects, so I usually reserve this kind of effort to smaller, more manageable projects.

-- Wag more, bark less.

View DDDamian's profile


40 posts in 4302 days

#7 posted 10-08-2010 06:35 PM

Love the inlay work Shipwright – really adds to the computer desk you made!

Okay – hearing some consensus on both the finer grit sizes before sanding and on the need to get a really good gloss. Was very happy with the gloss I painstakingly got on “Jewel” but I still needed to go to paste wax to really finish-the-finish.

Thinking I’ll try really sanding the heck out of the raw wood before starting the finishing on the next project, maybe even go to trying denim on a ROSander to burnish the wood.

Some guys making handles suggest using hydrochloric/muriatic acid on the raw wood – can only say the results looked amazing on knife/axe handles – incredible chatoyance (yeah, what a great word!).

Can someone tell me if sprayed laquer can highlight the effect and have similar gloss to the highly polished varnishes/epoxies? A fine woodworker nearby has a spray booth…

-- - before I could only dream it....

View stevecabinum's profile


23 posts in 4291 days

#8 posted 10-08-2010 07:38 PM

I sanded this maple to 600 then did the shellac/wax/oil blend. That raised the grain and I resanded to 600 again and went at it with the poly.


It finished with a great waterproof shine that moves with the light.

View DDDamian's profile


40 posts in 4302 days

#9 posted 10-08-2010 08:30 PM

Nice curl in that Steve. I find chatoyance is one thing that’s almost impossible to really hard to capture in a pic – tried so many lighting setups etc.

Hey Barry, I was under the impression that laquer didn’t polish well – might have to try that – sure a whole lot faster than 15 coats of varnish! What did you start at for a grit size? I’m assuming it was sprayed on?

Check this link for amazing dye-work on guitar bodies…Guitar Dyeing

-- - before I could only dream it....

View Nomad62's profile


726 posts in 4449 days

#10 posted 10-08-2010 10:55 PM

My only recommendation is to discover your scraper. Forget the sandpaper, a good sharp scraper used correctly will amaze you with what you can bring out of a piece of wood.

-- Power tools put us ahead of the monkeys

View a1Jim's profile


118333 posts in 5068 days

#11 posted 10-09-2010 02:49 AM

Look at Charles Neils work and then look at his answers to these questions.


View DDDamian's profile


40 posts in 4302 days

#12 posted 10-09-2010 04:58 PM

Thanks for the lacquer tips! The scraper method really raises the debate on pre-finish sanding and keeping the pores open (not back-filling them or clsing them with higher grits) vs scraping them to “cut” the fibres and keep them open.

Jim – WOW – Charles’ finishes are stunning! I bet you need shades on walking around them! Didn’t see tips on his website – will dig a little deeper. Thinking he has it nailed!

-- - before I could only dream it....

View DDDamian's profile


40 posts in 4302 days

#13 posted 10-09-2010 05:01 PM

Dug deeper – click on his new website link at the top, then “Video Tips” going to watch now!

More thoughts on scraping vs sanding anyone?

-- - before I could only dream it....

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