Help with finishing red oak table

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Forum topic by CstanleyTX posted 08-02-2017 02:38 AM 1507 views 0 times favorited 16 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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5 posts in 1214 days

08-02-2017 02:38 AM

I need some advice on finishing the top to my red oak dining room table. This is the first piece of furniture I have ever made, so needless to say I am a novice in woodworking.

I am thinking of doing a red chestnut minwax stain and then doing a few coats of wipe on poly. I have been researching and I don’t know if I need to do a shallac sealer first then stain or just forget the shallac.

Also any tips on filling the tiny cracks where my breadboard ends meet the rest of the table top, or should I just leave those alone.

This table will go in our first home my wife and I just moved into so I am hoping to make the table look good. Any advice is much appreciated.



16 replies so far

View Vindex's profile


113 posts in 1738 days

#1 posted 08-02-2017 06:49 AM


To the best of my knowledge, the answer is that it all depends on what kind of look you are going for. Of course, I am a novice as well, so take my advice with a grain of salt.

I just got done with my first finishing project, which was also a dining table. My experience has been that you need to learn about the various finishes and experiment with different processes in order to determine how you want to finish the wood.

I would recommend getting your hands on Michael Dresdner’s The New Wood Finishing Book and reading the relevant sections on staining, sealing, and wipe-on poly. There are other good books on finishing out there, but I think Dresdner’s book is the easiest to understand if you are coming to it with as little knowledge as I was. The book is also a very quick read.

As for the breadboard, how are you planning to attach it to the rest of the table? You need to make sure that it does not interfere with the expansion and contraction of the rest of the table top. This video does a good job of explaining the misalignment of breadboards with the rest of the table top:

Hopefully, someone more knowledgeable than I am will come along and answer your questions more completely than I can, but I thought I should share what advice I could.

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5 posts in 1214 days

#2 posted 08-02-2017 12:18 PM

Thanks for the advice. Unfortunately I followed an online plan I found and attached the breadboard end with pocket hole screws and glue. I may have to make a new top down the road, but the thing is already assembled.

I am in the process of sanding the top down. Hopefully this weekend I can stain and finish the table. I don’t really want a mirror finish on it as that would mean using grain filler, which I have never done before. I think I will just try for a natural look as the table is a farmhouse style table.

View Vindex's profile


113 posts in 1738 days

#3 posted 08-02-2017 12:45 PM

CS, I hate to say this, but that table is almost certainly going to destroy itself over the course of the next year. Is the plan an Ana White plan, by chance?

Honestly, you will save yourself a ton of trouble if you stop now, cut off the breadboard, and reattach it properly. Just glue a few inches in the middle. I know it seems like more work, but it will probably save you a ton of time and effort over the next year by doing so.

As for the finish, my understanding is that Oak pores are too large for filler to flatten properly. Thus, I would agree that you should skip it.

Edit: you might want to have a look at this thread:

View chrisstef's profile


18119 posts in 3922 days

#4 posted 08-02-2017 01:14 PM

Agreed on the pocket holed breadboard ends. The whole premise of a breadboard end is to allow for movement. The screws defeat that purpose.

One way i like to finish oak is to apply danish oil, wet sand it into a slurry (180 grit-ish), and wipe the slurry off across the grain. This should fill the open pores of the oak. Then top coat with your choice of finish.

-- Its not a crack, its a casting imperfection.

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1322 posts in 2476 days

#5 posted 08-02-2017 01:22 PM

Here’s a red oak table I did and used stain with no sealer and a wipe-on finish. Turned out fine. I don’t think the sealer is absolutely needed on oak.

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5 posts in 1214 days

#6 posted 08-02-2017 02:55 PM

Well that stinks. I am pretty sure it was the Ana White plans. The breadboard ends are glued along the length of the end and the underneath leg braces are glued to the underside of the breadboard ends. This is a disaster, seems like the finish is the least of my problems.

View Rich's profile


6154 posts in 1505 days

#7 posted 08-02-2017 03:59 PM

There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with using pocket screws and glue for that, as long as you understand how it will move and do things accordingly by only gluing certain spots and elongating the screw holes.

I can’t recommend Charles Neil’s video series Cases and Bases highly enough. He not only explains wood movement thoroughly, but addresses it at every step of the project as he demonstrates his techniques. He uses pocket screws when appropriate and discusses how to use them and still let the wood move.

-- Half of what we read or hear about finishing is right. We just don’t know which half! — Bob Flexner

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7902 posts in 3829 days

#8 posted 08-02-2017 04:12 PM

I suggest NOT staining the underside of the table. I had problems with constant weeping/bleed-through on a piece of Red Oak I stained. It was only when I sanded the back of the splash (in my case) that I got the weeping to stop. Oak has some rather big capillary pores that can cause this, particularly when applying stain. Finishing should not be a problem since it dries much faster.

-- HorizontalMike -- "Woodpeckers understand..."

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5 posts in 1214 days

#9 posted 08-02-2017 04:23 PM

I was planning on doing 1 coat of poly on the bottom to help seal the wood.

View chrisstef's profile


18119 posts in 3922 days

#10 posted 08-02-2017 04:29 PM

I say dont sweat it and keep moving forward but learn form past mistakes. Ive got a trestle table desk that i “picture framed” with trim that’s a constant reminder how not to do things lol. Its still functions just fine but during the humid summer months my trim work gets gappy. Nobody became a good woodworker overnight, we’re all still learning new things every day. Let this be the springboard for your learning.

Get some stain and poly on it and make mama happy with her new table. Congrats on the new home!

-- Its not a crack, its a casting imperfection.

View Vindex's profile


113 posts in 1738 days

#11 posted 08-02-2017 04:49 PM

CS, don’t panic yet.

Ana White designs are sometimes salvageable at this stage. Where and how exactly are the top and base connected? How are the table planks joined together? Are they glued, attached with fasteners, or not attached to one another at all?

View jtriggs's profile


183 posts in 4733 days

#12 posted 08-02-2017 04:51 PM

I’ve done most of my woodworking on red oak. This is what I’ve found:
Don’t use Minwax stain. They changed the formula some years back and now it bleeds stain out of the pores and makes finishing a nightmare. I’ve changed to Old Masters and have had good luck.
I use a 1lb cut of shellac after staining. It seems to pop the grain really well. I use a couple coats with a light sanding between to knock down the bumps. It does a good job of partially sealing the pores in the oak.
I finish with Minwax poly thinned about 50%. Sometimes I brush it on and sometimes with a cloth. Several coats this way with a light, scuff sanding between coats will result in a finish that will still show some grain pattern through the poly. If you want a mirror finish you can use undiluted poly for 2 or 3 more coats so all the pores and valleys get filled in.

Just my method. Good luck.

-- Jon --Always remember, never live your life by a motto.

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5 posts in 1214 days

#13 posted 08-02-2017 07:28 PM

Thanks for the advice and encouraging words. I have joined the planks together with pocket hole screws and glue. The base of the table is then pocket holed to the bottom of the top and glued. The legs are lag screwed through the base…. I am thinking of taking the pocket hole screws out of the breadboard ends sealing the thing and chalking it up to a learning experience. I will see how the thing holds together after that.

View Vindex's profile


113 posts in 1738 days

#14 posted 08-02-2017 08:03 PM

CS, I think that’s a sensible approach. I would remove the pocket holes joining the planks to one another as well, however. At worst, the table should work in the short-term.

If you decide to make a replacement table at some point in the future, I would strongly recommend reading Dining Tables: Outstanding Projects from America’s Best Craftsmen by Kim Graves.

It goes over everything you need to know and covers several very different ways to construct a table.

Best wishes, and congrats on the new house!


View ArtMann's profile (online now)


1483 posts in 1732 days

#15 posted 08-03-2017 01:19 AM

These are my opinions. I have finished many, many red and white oak cabinets with the simple schedule you have proposed. It works just fine. I won’t argue that no other brand is better. There is no purpose whatsoever to put shellac on. Wiping varnish has oil in it that will pop the grain as well as shellac will. Thin shellac is often used to fix a blotching problem that oak does not have. To avoid the problem Horizontal Mike describes, you need to wipe the stain on and off fairly quickly rather than paint it or flood it. If it needs more color, more thin coats is better than one heavy one. It should be left to dry for at least 24 hours before varnishing. I have done it that way literally dozens of times and I have never had the problem.

I wish I could be as positive about the breadboard ends you incorporated in the design. Especially on a wide table top, expansion/contraction is a problem that must be accounted for.

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