Having a hard time finishing walnut oils vs varnish

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Forum topic by Lucas99 posted 05-31-2018 02:38 PM 1849 views 0 times favorited 8 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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1 post in 597 days

05-31-2018 02:38 PM

Hi there,

I made a very nice walnut fireplace mantle. I am now trying to find the right finish but am having a hard time. I find that oils like tung make the wood too dark and simply using a varnish does not make the texture of the wood come out enough. I’m looking for something in between. Funny enough, simply usling water achieves what I’m looking for. I included a picture where you can see a couple of oils and a varnish at the top and then just water on the bottom board to give you and idea. Is there any product that can reproduce this?

Thanks a lot for your help.


8 replies so far

View Jeremymcon's profile


395 posts in 1281 days

#1 posted 05-31-2018 02:42 PM

I personally like the look of oiled walnut. But have you tried Minwax satin polycrylic? Won’t darken the wood, and has good clarity without being too glossy. Plus it’s really quick to apply.

Another option for allowing the grain to showy would be shellac. I find shellac really brings out the grain and especially figure in wood. Can be a little tricky to apply though.

View gargey's profile


1013 posts in 1377 days

#2 posted 05-31-2018 02:50 PM

You could just keep a water bottle hand and spritz in when you walk by.

By the way, to my eye the only difference in the bottom (wet) and the top right (varnish) is the difference in grain pattern.

Anyway, use an oil. You shouldn’t use walnut if you want it to be light in color…

View Lazyman's profile (online now)


4469 posts in 1989 days

#3 posted 05-31-2018 03:23 PM

Tried and True Varnish Oil. You can buy on Amazon, Woodcraft and I think Rockler. It is a heat polymerized linseed oil with a natural pine resin varnish added. When I have used it on walnut it mostly gives me the same darkening as I get when I use mineral spirits to check for any glue squeeze out I missed, though perhaps maybe slightly more amber. The resin is very subtle and the wood retains a natural wood feel that I love. Their original wood finish which has beeswax instead of the resin would probably be similar but I have not tried that yet. They also sell Danish oil which I think is the same oil without the resin or wax. They are a little more expensive than some of the other finishes but because you apply so little, it turns out to be about the same and worth every penny IMO. It takes more time to apply than many other finishes because you need multiple coats and have to let each coat cure at least 24 hours between them but it is my go-to finish when I don’t need a poly-type finish.

-- Nathan, TX -- Hire the lazy man. He may not do as much work but that's because he will find a better way.

View Rich's profile (online now)


5131 posts in 1191 days

#4 posted 05-31-2018 03:24 PM

Arm-R-Seal is oil based and doesn’t darken nearly as much as tung oil. It is an oil and urethane blend and available in gloss, semi-gloss and satin.

If you don’t want the resin topcoat look, give Tried & True a try.

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

View OSU55's profile


2497 posts in 2591 days

#5 posted 05-31-2018 04:41 PM

Try some poly varnish thinned 1:1 with min spirits, flood the surface, keep it wet for about 10 min, wipe it off. Let the solvents evaporate for an hour or so, it will lighten up as they do. Do as many coats as you want. You choose how much film builds up with # of coars and how much you leave on the surface.

Big advantage of an ob finish vs wb like polycrylic is the added chatoyance – wb finishes are very bland on bare wood.

View pintodeluxe's profile


6032 posts in 3415 days

#6 posted 05-31-2018 04:52 PM

I used to only use shellac on walnut, because I like the clear and true look you can achieve. However shellac is difficult to build a layer for adequate protection.

Then I discovered a product called Rudd Duracat pre catalyzed lacquer. They make it in a “WC” version now, which is a “Water Clear” or non-yellowing variety. It looks fantastic on walnut. Keeps maple looking natural. As good as anything I’ve used on white oak.

-- Willie, Washington "If You Choose Not To Decide, You Still Have Made a Choice" - Rush

View Aj2's profile


2647 posts in 2399 days

#7 posted 05-31-2018 05:53 PM

Your not going to get a good idea with the grain orientation so different. Or wood from two different trees.
The top is flat sawn and the bottom looks more quartered.
Walnut lightens up pretty fast so would go as dark as possible
I am both a tried and true fan and blond shellac.

-- Aj

View Kelly's profile


2624 posts in 3546 days

#8 posted 06-01-2018 05:19 AM

Are you sure you are using true tung oil? Most call themselves tung oil finishes, but are boiled linseed oil, which darkens much more than tung oil.

I have true, 100% tung oil and it doesn’t darken. That said, if I used it, I’d still put something more durable over it.

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