what to do with porous oak

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Forum topic by skidiot posted 01-30-2018 05:02 AM 851 views 0 times favorited 8 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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85 posts in 4096 days

01-30-2018 05:02 AM

I recently quarter sawed some red oak boards. The figuring is spectacular, but the pores are so big and deep I am afraid that they will obscure the figuring. Should I use a grain filler? I plan on using a water based stain (General Finishes medium brown). I dont know very much about difficult finishing. All I do is wipe on a stain when dry 3 coats of poly.

-- skidiot northern illinois

8 replies so far

View jerryminer's profile


960 posts in 1893 days

#1 posted 01-30-2018 05:26 AM

Oak is one of those open-pore woods that grain filler was created for. You don’t need to fill unless you want a completely smooth surface. Some people like the open-pore texture. It’s a matter of personal preference. If you do fill, you can choose a filler that “blends” with the background color, or a filler that provides a contrast.

You really should do a couple of samples on some scrap material and figure out what your preference is.

-- Jerry, making sawdust professionally since 1976

View skidiot's profile


85 posts in 4096 days

#2 posted 01-30-2018 05:31 AM

Am I correct in thinking that the stain will fill the pores and get real dark. The dark pores will obscure the figuring of the quarter sawn oak. If I fill in the pores so they dont fill with stain, will this help accentuate the figuring?

-- skidiot northern illinois

View Woodknack's profile


12870 posts in 2831 days

#3 posted 01-30-2018 05:34 AM

Depends on if the wood filler will accept a stain, many don’t, even if they say they do. Definitely test on scrap. Some people like the pores darker than the surrounding wood, up to you though.

-- Rick M,

View TheFridge's profile (online now)


10859 posts in 1937 days

#4 posted 01-30-2018 05:48 AM

Burn it and buy some alder.

-- Shooting down the walls of heartache. Bang bang. I am. The warrior.

View CaptainKlutz's profile


1630 posts in 1945 days

#5 posted 01-30-2018 07:21 AM

+1 = if you don’t need a flat surface, then ignore pores. Most might need is to add an extra coat of poly if you leave them unfilled.

As long as you are coloring wood and you want flat surface, suggest filling oak grain with Behlens water based grain filler. [Brush some on, rub it into grain, scrape across grain to remove excess, sand when dry.] Filler drys a neutral off white color and absorbs stain/dye evenly, but without making the pores too dark? Have tried using regular colored grain fillers like Timbermate, and unless I need contrasting color in pores, always end up using Behlens water base filler to create flat surfaces for dyed/stained parts.

IMHO – If you have good figure on QSRO, then would suggest using Behlens or Mowhawk brand dye stains (or make your own dye stain with Transtint, etc), and not using GF water based stains. GF stains are nice, but are heavy bodied, and will obscure figure more than dye stain.

I used the above water based filler, dye stain, poly process on both of my Oak projects posted (and on Walnut too) if you want to see results I get, but as always YMMV.

-- I'm an engineer not a woodworker, but I can randomly find useful tools and furniture inside a pile of lumber!

View Dave Polaschek's profile

Dave Polaschek

4038 posts in 1033 days

#6 posted 01-30-2018 11:11 AM

I’ve got a bunch of oak around the house. Some of it has the pores left open, some has the pores filled. I’ve had years to live with it, and the oak that had open pores and was poorly finished gets its pores filled by dirt over time. With filled pores, you can control the color, but I like the look of dark-filled pores in lighter red or white oak.

The other thing I’m experimenting with for Valentine’s Day is filling the pores of red oak with dyed filler. I’m experimenting with red TransTint added to white WunderFill from Rockler. It’s looking interesting in a good way so far. I’ll post a picture when it’s done, but I would encourage you to take a few offcuts or scraps and experiment. White filler vs black filler vs natural oak vs none, then finish with stain and poly or shellac over the top and see which you like when it’s all done. Try some without stain too.

It’s quite a rabbit hole to venture down, but I’m enjoying it. Even just walking around my house and trying to figure out what was done for the finish on the various bits of oak furniture I have was informative.

-- Dave - Minneapolis

View runswithscissors's profile


3057 posts in 2476 days

#7 posted 01-31-2018 01:21 AM

You might consider using a Danish rubbed oil, such as Daly’s Ben Matte. It’s very easy to use. You wet the wood with the oil, then immediately sand with fine wet-or-dry paper, 400 to 600 grit. The fine particles of wood form a slurry, which is forced into the pores. You then wipe the excess off with a rag. Only the first coat needs to be wet sanded. Building up with subsequent coats will give you a shinier finish, though I don’t think you can get a true high gloss out of it.

It also comes in various stain colors, but maybe not necessary for walnut.

-- I admit to being an adrenaline junky; fortunately, I'm very easily frightened

View LesB's profile


2151 posts in 3894 days

#8 posted 01-31-2018 06:48 PM

Red oak is very open grain wood so is mahogany. If you need a close grain figure try white oak, maple, birch, beech or similar woods.
I have used a lot of red oak and the only time I fill the grain is on top surfaces like counter tops, table tops or shelves so they are completely smooth. An extra couple of finish coat layers can accomplish the same thing most of the time. Yes the open grain does pick up more stain (especially dark stains) but that is part of the oak character and it accentuates the grain of the wood. A wood sealer (not a filler) will help control the stain some and allow you to wipe out more of the stain that gets into the pores if that is what you desire. Do some test pieces to see if you like it….this a process I always do before I stain any of my work.
In applying the wood filler follow the instructions carefully or you could end up doing a lot of sanding to remove the excess filler that drys on the surface….don’t ask how I know (-:

-- Les B, Oregon

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