Birch butcher block of death

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Forum topic by Woodworkin76 posted 04-11-2017 04:22 PM 31302 views 0 times favorited 8 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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4 posts in 1867 days

04-11-2017 04:22 PM

Topic tags/keywords: birch blotchy butcher block

Hello all,

I’ve been reading through the forums for over a week on finishing techniques for birch/blotchy woods and I just can’t seem to tame this beast. I’ve got an 8’ by 25” piece of birch butcher block I am wanting to stain a nice dark walnut and haven’t been having much luck at all and I’ve finally joined this site to post my problems for you to help or laugh at.

The products I have at my disposal are:
General Finishes Pre-Stain Conditioner
General Finishes Walnut water based stain
Varathane Wood Conditioner Oil Based
Old Master’s Dark Walnut Gel Stain
Bullseye Sealcoat De-waxed Shellac
Denatured Alcohol
Mineral Spirits

In the mail:
Watco Dark Walnut Danish Oil

I’ve tried any number of these product combinations and I’m just not too thrilled with the results I’ve gotten (so far the gel stain has been the easiest to work with). The issue I’m mostly having is getting the wood a good dark shade without loosing all of the grain and the definition that made butcher block my choice for this project.

This test wood was sanded to 180 grit and wiped off with a microfiber towel. All 3 pre stain methods sat for the recommended 30 minutes.

From left to right:
Gel stain on bare wood
Gel stain over General Finishes water based Pre-Stain Conditioner
Gel stain over Varathane Wood Conditioner Oil Based
Gel stain over 1lb cut Bullseye Sealcoat De-waxed Shellac

My second issue are the tiny dark spots all throughout the wood where what I believe may be wood fibers soaking up more than their share of stain. Would I benefit from raising the grain and sanding again? Should I go for 2 coats of pre stain? Help!

The Danish Oil will be here Thursday for my next round of testing. Any help/tips/tricks/insight would be much appreciated. Or if you want to just stand back and laugh at it feel free to join me because I’ve been doing a lot of the same!

8 replies so far

View schwingding's profile


133 posts in 5281 days

#1 posted 04-11-2017 04:47 PM

The problem here is absorption rate differences. It sometimes can be alleviated or at least evened out some by putting a sealer of some sort on prior to a coloring agent. Shellac works well for this, even glue can help. Try a coat of shellac, then sand it with 220 before applying your color. Personally, I think you should be using a dye rather than stain. First though I have to ask – will this be a utility piece? If so, you shouldn’t be coloring it all as it’ll look horrible after it gets some use. If not – the difference between dye and stain is that the pigment particles of a dye are microscopic and tend to soak in more evenly than a stain, which has large pigment particles and tends to accentuate grain more. Dye gives a more even color. Dyes can be mixed with water or alcohol and are pretty easy to use once you have some practice. You should apply a seal coat of shellac over top your dye before applying topcoats.

-- Just another woodworker

View OSU55's profile


3037 posts in 3445 days

#2 posted 04-12-2017 07:02 PM

Blotch control info. If GF conditioner is wb its ok, if oil based not good. Same with the Varathane – blog explains it. Birch does blotch a significant amount. You will have to test for the # of conditioner coats required (or amount of solids content in a self mixed conditioner) to get to a color variation you are satisfied with. For the sample with a WB conditioner, you either didn’t let the conditioner saturate the surface or it has low solids content and more than one coat is needed.

Dyes are much better to work with vs pigment stains, especially if you dont want the pores a lot darker than the rest. Any good blotch control method will reduce the color intensity of the wood. Use toner coats (I use 1/2-3/4# shellac mixed with transtint dye) to get more color intensity and blend lighter areas as desired. Getting intense color is not a 1-step process. It has to be built up in layers. Toning coats need to be sprayed. Its difficult to hide wiping or brush marks, and gets more difficult the darker/more intense the toner gets.

Color variation or blotching is in the eye of the beholder – some like more than others – there isn’t a right or wrong look, it’s up to you, you are the one to please.

View diverlloyd's profile


4186 posts in 3313 days

#3 posted 04-12-2017 07:54 PM

Use Charles Neil’s blotch control, I haven’t heard anything bad about it yet and he is a helpful fellow.

View bobasaurus's profile


3747 posts in 4640 days

#4 posted 04-12-2017 08:54 PM

Maybe some drops of dye in the shellac?

-- Allen, Colorado (Instagram @bobasaurus_woodworking)

View Woodworkin76's profile


4 posts in 1867 days

#5 posted 04-19-2017 11:00 PM

Thanks for all the suggestions everyone! I think I found my special sauce in applying the prestain conditioner then hitting it with a light 220 sanding with the grain. The winner of the stain battle was the watco Danish oil dark walnut. I definitely see what you mean with color variation and botching being the eye of the beholder.

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4 posts in 1867 days

#6 posted 04-19-2017 11:03 PM

I’ll post better pictures of the finished project. I had already turned off my work light when I decided to take a picture last night. It’s going to be an 8’ long computer desk.

View tijama's profile


1 post in 1572 days

#7 posted 01-30-2018 08:38 PM

Any pics of the finished product? Looking at doing the same.

I see you’re also in Des Moines. Get the birch butcher block from menards? Actually just went and looked at it today.

Trying to decide between it and the Karlby.

View Woodworkin76's profile


4 posts in 1867 days

#8 posted 01-30-2018 09:09 PM


I did get the butcher block from Menards. I was also thinking about the Karlby but didn’t like that it was only 1/8th inch of actual wood over particleboard. This is unfortunately the only picture I got of the desk before I covered it with stuff. I really like the way it turned out but if I had to do it over again I’d spend the little bit more and get oak or walnut. Lumber liquidators also has all sorts of different wood tops available. Hope this helps.

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