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Newbie questions on finishing walnut

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Forum topic by Beuford posted 01-27-2022 09:23 PM 681 views 0 times favorited 28 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Beuford

39 posts in 453 days


01-27-2022 09:23 PM

I have recently begun acquiring woodworking tools for my new hobby (woodworking, of course). Having purchased a 6” jointer and a 12” planer I’ve dimensioned some rough 8/4 walnut I purchased from a local wood store into usable boards. I’ve managed to assemble the baords into a triangular table top 23” on a side. However, I have some sanding and finish questions.

Here is the table top in question at its current state:

1) The boards used to make the table top were all dimensioned together, and so the variance between the boards at the glue joints is only about .003 inch max (a thin sheet of paper). However, they table top will still need some sanding to remove these minor offsets and other imperfections. I have not yet purchased a drum sander, and if I had it would likely not be large enough for this table top. I have an orbital sander; would this be an appropriate tool for the final sanding finish, or do I need something like a belt sander that would sand only with the grain? Also, what sanding grit would you recommend?

2) I want to match the finish of an existing, store-bought walnut table that we have. It appears to be a clear coat of some sort; maybe a lacquer? Can anyone suggest a finish with a similar appearance that a home user could easily apply?

Here is the table top finish I am trying to match:

Thank you in advance for your assistance.

Beuford


28 replies so far

View OSU55's profile

OSU55

3038 posts in 3449 days


#1 posted 01-28-2022 01:47 PM

For leveling the top, an ros can work ok if the board edges are as close as you say – a few thou. Watch for sqiggly pigtails that an ros will generate when a piece of grit gets caught in the paper. Finish by sanding with the grain with the final grit. Recommend you introduce yourself to a hand plane for final leveling and finish prep. That was my solution years ago. You can prep any size surface with one. I due finish sanding with 220 or 320, by hand, after smoothing the surface with a plane, unless I want the “tooled surface” look.

Drum sanders work pretty well also, but are more expensive to buy and own, and you definitely need a dust collection system for one, not a shop vac. An ros works fine with a shop vac and of course a hand plane doesnt need any.

The finish question is a rabbit hole I wont go down here. Its broad and deep. A newbie trying to match an existing finish – I hope you have a lot of scrap of the same wood to learn and expirement on. Recommend you give up on matching and just try to get a nice finish, much easier.

View Gene Howe's profile

Gene Howe

12609 posts in 4888 days


#2 posted 01-28-2022 02:28 PM

After sanding it smooth, as per OSU55 and, realizing that matching a store bought piece is an exercise in frustration, I’d use clear Watco. A couple coats allowed to dry well and lightly sanded after each coat, followed by a finish coat of your preference. Lacquer, shellac or, a poly.

-- Gene 'The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.' G. K. Chesterton

View bugradx2's profile

bugradx2

425 posts in 1479 days


#3 posted 01-28-2022 02:56 PM

The random orbital sander will work just fine for what you’re trying to do. No sander is meant to be held in one place or it will dig into whatever the project is. Keep it moving and you should reduce or eliminate the sanding marks. If you can’t get a mark out then you may need to go to a lower grit to get it out and then start going up.

I can’t tell you what’s “right” but I can tell you whatever works for you and lets you sleep at night is fine. Personally, I usually start with 120 grit and work my way up to 320 or 400 depending on the project. Again, for my projects, once I’ve gotten to whatever the final grit is going to be, a wipe down with a damp paper towel or rag to raise the grain then let it dry and a final sand one last quick time with the same grit makes a difference in both the feel and application of the finish.

I’ve played with a couple finishes on walnut but a lot of what I’ve been doing is on my lathe and I can friction finish that. Watco is a good finish, you could also do a shellac (reg or amber) and I’ve had really nice luck using Arm R Seal on just about everything I’ve put it on. One thing I’ve done that helps me immensely is to fully finish sand some scraps and try different finishes and layers of finishes together on the scrap. Just make sure to use a little painters tape on the back of it to write down what you did so you can reproduce it that way. I don’t have to try and remember what techniques and finishes I use that way.

-- The only thing not measured in my shop is time

View RClark's profile

RClark

291 posts in 3644 days


#4 posted 01-28-2022 03:15 PM

Well, I’ve been at this hobby now for over 20 years, and I consider myself intermediate to advanced in terms of experience. Not the expert. That said:

I’ve never had great success using a sander to level boards at joint lines, particularly on something as large as a table top. At this instant, I’m sitting at my dining table seeing the sun reflect unevenly along gradual dips in the top surface where twelve years ago I tried to use a random orbit sander to do just about what you describe.

By no means would I use a belt sander for the task. They’re simply too aggressive, and it’s easy to dig yourself into a hole with them. I do use belt sanders from time to time, but it’s way earlier in the process of rough prep of the stock.

Instead, I’d use a card scraper along those joint lines to get them more even. If you’re not familiar with scrapers, do a search on YouTube with some phrase like “use a card scraper”. They’re not hard, and they are a finesse tool that is capable of smoothing out uneven joints.

As regards a finish, agree with the others that matching the store bought finish will be difficult. For a table that is likely to see active use in a living room or similar place, I’d opt for a satin finish wipe-on polyurethane, several coats.

-- Ray

View JD77's profile

JD77

173 posts in 1149 days


#5 posted 01-28-2022 03:50 PM

Table looks nice. Did you make the base too?

I would also use a card scraper rather than ROS or belt sander. I assume you don’t want to buy a scaper plane, which would also work. In my very amateur opinion, at this point in a project of this size, I would stick to manual techniques like a scraper or just hand sanding.

As far as finish, test scraps are gonna be your friend. You need to get the tone right first and that means testing a few options. A can of spray lacquer or water-based poly will not add much of a golden hue, whereas other options will. Shellac is extremely easy to work with, but getting a film finish like your other table may be a challenge. Remember, your tables won’t be side-by-side, so it doesn’t need to be a perfect match either.

Last bit of general advice to a newer woodworker is to accept any flaws as the mark of a craftmade product. They all have them and nobody but their maker thinks badly of them. That table looks pretty darn good to me.

JD

View sunnybob's profile

sunnybob

145 posts in 225 days


#6 posted 01-28-2022 05:38 PM

Random orbital sanders are great, but just like every tool, you need to learn how to use them properly or disaster looms.

Start with 80 grit. Start the sander AWAY from the work piece. Place the sander in one corner, and go bottom to top and come away. go back to bottom but a half sander over, and go bottom to top. repeat until you have done the whole surface this way, go back and do side to side in exactly the same way.
DO NOT move it randomly at any time! Do not “just go back over this bit” as ROS sanders are very aggressive and that will just give you hills and valleys all over the place.
If you dont do this step, you are just sanding with the sand dust of the previous grit size. Repeat the above with 120 grit. Once done, Remove ALL of the dust and go again with 180.
Once more with 240, and you will have a satin smooth top.

Just to stress the point, The sander does the random bit, NOT the operator!

-- my projects can be seen at www.pbase.com/sunnybob

View Ken Masco's profile

Ken Masco

947 posts in 4309 days


#7 posted 01-28-2022 06:35 PM

I agree with osu55 on using a hand plane, a smoother number 4 or 5 (properly tuned up) to level the surfaces. Because your new at this I recommend a Lie Neilson or Veritas plane which usually only require honing the edge to get good results. As for the finish I recommend Liberon Furniture oil. It’s my go to finish for walnut and mahogany. 4-5 coats applied with 0000 steel wool then after 10 minutes wipe off each coat. This product gets a nice, natural luster. You can keep adding coats till you get a high gloss finish if you want that. liberon oil is not as durable as polyethylene would be but it’s also easily repairable if it should ever stare showing wear. What ever else you do, practice the finish on scrap pieces. Many a very nice project has bee ruined by applying an untested finish

-- Ken

View ibewjon's profile

ibewjon

2939 posts in 4252 days


#8 posted 01-28-2022 06:46 PM

For dust collection on a drum sander, a large shop vac will work if coupled with a mini dust gorilla and five gallon bucket. I use that on my 19/38 sander with good results. I will be connecting to my dc system in the future though.

View CL810's profile

CL810

4298 posts in 4447 days


#9 posted 01-28-2022 07:49 PM

Beuford,

Another vote for a card scraper to even out the joints. If the grain on the boards are not going the same direction you risk tearout if you use a plane. If your plane is not sharp you may also get tearout so test on a piece of scrap.

Do sample boards. Let me say it one more time with feeling, do sample boards.

I’d start with these in various combinations: Watco Danish Oil, Zinser seal coat, satin lacquer. You may need to hit the final top coat with 0000 steel wool.

BTW, table looks very nice – you got this – can’t wait to see the project post!

-- "The only limits to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today." - FDR

View Beuford's profile

Beuford

39 posts in 453 days


#10 posted 01-28-2022 08:31 PM


For leveling the top, an ros can work ok if the board edges are as close as you say – a few thou.

Yes, it’s that close. I was kind of surprised how uniform the boards came out. It seems machine setup is crucial, but I’m a bit of a perfectionist. Here is the result across the largest offset:


The finish question is a rabbit hole I wont go down here. Its broad and deep. A newbie trying to match an existing finish – I hope you have a lot of scrap of the same wood to learn and expirement on. Recommend you give up on matching and just try to get a nice finish, much easier.

I agree; I’m not looking for an exact match, just something close enough that it won’t stand out. The pieces from Charleston Forge are advertised as having a ”...clear coat finish only…” on their walnut offerings, but gives no further details. I was going to try Deft clear lacquer in a spray can, but the existing pieces have a slight “yellowing” that I don’t think a clear lacquer would provide.

Thank you for your suggestions.

Beuford

View Beuford's profile

Beuford

39 posts in 453 days


#11 posted 01-28-2022 08:36 PM



Personally, I usually start with 120 grit and work my way up to 320 or 400 depending on the project. Again, for my projects, once I ve gotten to whatever the final grit is going to be, a wipe down with a damp paper towel or rag to raise the grain then let it dry and a final sand one last quick time with the same grit makes a difference in both the feel and application of the finish.

I ve played with a couple finishes on walnut but a lot of what I ve been doing is on my lathe and I can friction finish that. Watco is a good finish, you could also do a shellac (reg or amber) and I ve had really nice luck using Arm R Seal on just about everything I ve put it on. One thing I ve done that helps me immensely is to fully finish sand some scraps and try different finishes and layers of finishes together on the scrap. Just make sure to use a little painters tape on the back of it to write down what you did so you can reproduce it that way. I don t have to try and remember what techniques and finishes I use that way.

- bugradx2

Thank you for the suggestions. I figure a lot of scrap samples are in order. I’ll post the samples as I go.

Beuford

View Beuford's profile

Beuford

39 posts in 453 days


#12 posted 01-28-2022 08:42 PM


Instead, I’d use a card scraper along those joint lines to get them more even. If you re not familiar with scrapers, do a search on YouTube with some phrase like “use a card scraper”. They re not hard, and they are a finesse tool that is capable of smoothing out uneven joints.https://www.lumberjocks.com/topics/317077#

I’ll look into card scrapers. Never heard of them, but it sounds like something I could use – if not now, later.

Thanks,

Beuford

View Beuford's profile

Beuford

39 posts in 453 days


#13 posted 01-28-2022 08:48 PM



Table looks nice. Did you make the base too?

Yes. Started my hobby with metalwork/welding, then added wood to the list of needed skills.

I would also use a card scraper rather than ROS or belt sander. I assume you don t want to buy a scaper plane, which would also work. In my very amateur opinion, at this point in a project of this size, I would stick to manual techniques like a scraper or just hand sanding.

At this point I might just try block sanding. I’ve got plenty of wood depth to correct any mistakes…


A can of spray lacquer or water-based poly will not add much of a golden hue, whereas other options will.

The existing pieces do have a bit of a golden hue; not sure how (or if I want) to replicate.


Last bit of general advice to a newer woodworker is to accept any flaws as the mark of a craftmade product. They all have them and nobody but their maker thinks badly of them. That table looks pretty darn good to me.

Thanks!

Beuford

View Beuford's profile

Beuford

39 posts in 453 days


#14 posted 01-28-2022 08:51 PM



Random orbital sanders are great, but just like every tool, you need to learn how to use them properly or disaster looms.

Start with 80 grit. Start the sander AWAY from the work piece. Place the sander in one corner, and go bottom to top and come away. go back to bottom but a half sander over, and go bottom to top. repeat until you have done the whole surface this way, go back and do side to side in exactly the same way.
DO NOT move it randomly at any time! Do not “just go back over this bit” as ROS sanders are very aggressive and that will just give you hills and valleys all over the place.
If you dont do this step, you are just sanding with the sand dust of the previous grit size. Repeat the above with 120 grit. Once done, Remove ALL of the dust and go again with 180.
Once more with 240, and you will have a satin smooth top.

Just to stress the point, The sander does the random bit, NOT the operator!

- sunnybob

Thank you for the ROS use advise. But could I just block sand it at this point and prevent the possible ROS issues? It’s pretty darn flat/even now, and I figure the less sanding the better. I’m assuming that the same grit regimen for ROS would work for block sanding?

Beuford

View Beuford's profile

Beuford

39 posts in 453 days


#15 posted 01-28-2022 08:58 PM



I agree with osu55 on using a hand plane, a smoother number 4 or 5 (properly tuned up) to level the surfaces. Because your new at this I recommend a Lie Neilson or Veritas plane which usually only require honing the edge to get good results. As for the finish I recommend Liberon Furniture oil. It s my go to finish for walnut and mahogany. 4-5 coats applied with 0000 steel wool then after 10 minutes wipe off each coat. This product gets a nice, natural luster. You can keep adding coats till you get a high gloss finish if you want that. liberon oil is not as durable as polyethylene would be but it s also easily repairable if it should ever stare showing wear. What ever else you do, practice the finish on scrap pieces. Many a very nice project has bee ruined by applying an untested finish

- Ken Masco

Will have to investigate scrapers and smoothers. Not sure yet what they are/do. Been too busy acquiring power tools to recognize I need hand tools as well.

I like the idea of an oil finish, but I don’t think it will match the existing pieces. They have a hard finish, more like a lacquer or poly. But I’ll use my scraps to test a few finishes and we’ll see; I’ll post pics as I go.

Thanks,

Beuford

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