Black walnut finishing opinions

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Forum topic by Hawkdriver60 posted 02-15-2018 01:30 AM 757 views 0 times favorited 4 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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1 post in 912 days

02-15-2018 01:30 AM

Ok fellas I need some help from the experts. I have a slab of black walnut. Measuring 11’x15”x2”. That has been air dried for what I’m told 1.5 yr. I love the color of it in its natural state and simply want to enhance the grain and color variation from sap wood to heart wood.

It’s final resting place will be on top of a pony wall dividing 2 rooms and part timing as a bartop with minimal bar traffic.

I was first leaning to 4 coats of shellac followed by a half dozen of Minwax wipe on Polly satin. My concern is brush on shellac and the rapid dry time of shellac. I do not really want to enhance color that oils bring I’d simply like to enhance the grain and variation.

Also I see many recommend grain filler not overly familiar as I never used it but want to maintain that distinct color at the edges.

Lastly I have a moisture meter coming in a few days as in another forum a few were concerned with moisture content of something that thick over 1.5yrs air dry but again that’s only what I have been told. So I’ll have an answer on content in a few days

Please let me know your thoughts and schedules as I’m a novice with this and I want to show this peice off and do it right. So please do hold back any details. Ps. The picture of the slab was just after planning and is wet due to rain and transport home.

Thanks for your help

4 replies so far

View CaptainKlutz's profile (online now)


3379 posts in 2305 days

#1 posted 02-16-2018 09:53 AM

An oil based finish will highlight the grain, not just bring out richer/darker brown from walnut. Wipe on oil/poly blend like AmrRSeal or MinWax works well alone – IMO. Only reason I would use shellac on walnut is to fill grain for smooth finish, but there are faster “clear” surface fill methods like crystalac or aqua coat.

One note: Walnut will lighten up from a deep brown to light brown when exposed to UV light over time. If your mounting location is exposed to unfiltered sunlight, be sure to use a finish that includes UV protection. Most Spar/Marine varnishes have added UV protection.
For indoor furniture, regular use of beeswax blended furniture wax provides some protection as well.
Neither of these will not completely stop the fading process, but will help keep the walnut darker longer. The only way to counteract the color fade is to apply a stain before final finish. This can be tricky on a live edge slab, but could be handled with a couple of shellac coats on sap wood with little selective masking, followed by masked edges when stained center wood.

Learned about walnut fade hard way: Have some 25 year old danish oil finished walnut speaker cabinets where the side that was facing a window for10 years is now a straw yellow color, and rest is many shades lighter than when 1st built. More recently, watched a friend put an epoxy coated walnut slab on an outdoor bar top in AZ sun. After a couple of years it looks more like hickory than walnut. Walnut will always have beautiful grain it starts with, but keeping the rich dark brown color over time can be challenging.

Best Luck

-- If it wasn't for bad luck, I wouldn't have no luck at all, - Albert King - Born Under a Bad Sign released 1967

View Fred Hargis's profile

Fred Hargis

6327 posts in 3304 days

#2 posted 02-16-2018 05:58 PM

I don’t disagree with the shellac, but I think I would just pad on 1 coat of garnet shellac to enhance the color, and then top with a good varnish…to me “good” is something that’s not Minwax (personal preference). I’d probably give it 3 brushed coats, or maybe 7-8 wiped coats, with that same varnish thinned 50/50 with MS. That really is a beautiful piece of wood!

-- Our village hasn't lost it's idiot, he was elected to congress.

View OSU55's profile


2651 posts in 2800 days

#3 posted 02-16-2018 07:50 PM

You do want it dry and it might not be there yet. Depending on the meter type, you will probably need to cut an or so off end end to know if the center is dry.

Many ways to go here. Do you want a perfectly flat fully filled finish? If so use one of the clear fillers mentioned. Put a coat of finish on first if you use dye.

Nothing wrong with mw ob poly – had great success with it over many years. I mix dyes in it sometimes when I want color -read here.

A weak mixture of dark dye like dark walnut can really enhance the grain without darkening the whole surface. Applied without a binder You can always sand some off if it turns out too dark. Dont see any need for shellac it wont do anything unless you just want the particular color of some you have.

View ArtMann's profile


1480 posts in 1627 days

#4 posted 02-16-2018 10:51 PM

I don’t think shellac will do anything positive in this application. Why not just apply the varnish to start with? If you have any doubts, try it on a piece of scrap with and without shellac and see if you can tell the difference. If you want to enhance the grain, try boiled linseed oil instead. It is often used for this purpose.

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