Durability of Sam Maloof's Finish

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Forum topic by Marshall posted 11-01-2012 08:52 PM 29423 views 5 times favorited 27 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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151 posts in 3554 days

11-01-2012 08:52 PM

Topic tags/keywords: walnut chest maloof poly urethane polyurethane finish varnish oil linseed tung


I’m building a blanket/toy chest out of black walnut for my soon to be nephew. This is my first time working with anything other than QSWO. My other projects (QSWO), I stain for an arts and crafts look and top with Arm-R-Seal Satin Oil + Urethane.

I’ve tested a couple of scrap walnut panels. I really dislike the look of the Arm-R-Seal. I dont know if its because of the finer grain of the walnut or what, but it just looks plasticy and bad. Also, it seems like it shows the dust nibs a lot worse than the oak.

I also tested Sam Maloof’s finish that I picked up at Rockler (yes I know i can make it myself). I really like the look of it after just 3 coats so far. The richness and depth of the walnut is beautiful. I havent yet tried the wax finish that he uses… But, I’m concerned about the durability. I tested it by leaving a sweaty glass on a piece finished with 3 coats of maloof and another one on a piece finished with 2 coats of Arm-R-Seal. After 6 hours I removed it, and there was a clear water mark left on the maloof piece. Absolutely no evidence on the Arm-R-Seal piece. Next I put a single coat of Arm-R-Seal over the maloof, and that seemed to prevent any marking from water.

In addition, the maloof piece shows scratches and abrasion much more easily than the Arm-R-Seal piece.

If this were just a blanket chest for myself, I wouldnt worry about using Maloof. But since this is going to my unborn nephew, I’m guessing its going to get a lot of abuse over the years. It’ll probably be used as a toy chest at some point. But, I really dont like the look of the Arm-R-Seal. Even the single coat over Maloof seems to ruin the pop of the grain and creates dust nibs everywhere.

Anyone have a suggestion for a better top coat to put over the Maloof to better protect the wood? I’m definitely interested in this for my next project as well: dining room table…


-- Marshall -

27 replies so far

View jap's profile


1251 posts in 3552 days

#1 posted 11-01-2012 09:03 PM

maybe a thin wiping varnish? (i’v never used maloof’s finish)

-- Joel

View Domer's profile


252 posts in 4865 days

#2 posted 11-01-2012 09:20 PM

I have been lucky enough to see a couple of Sam Maloof’s pieces in person and they are beautiful. The Boston Fine Arts Museum has a program that allows you to sit is some of their furniture. I think it is called Please Be Seated or something like that. One of Sam Maloof’s benches was in the program. I assume that it was finished with Rockler’s Sam Maloof finish. I have seen a couple of videos where Sam Maloof said that he used the Rockler Sam Maloof finish partly because they gave it to him for letting him use his name on it. Obviously all of the furniture in the Please Be Seated program get lots of use and the piece we were able to sit in, showed no signs of wear.

However, I use the Arm-R-Seal Satin finish on walnut and use three coats and sand in between each one with at least 360 sandpaper. To me, it looks a lot like the Sam Maloof finish on walnut.

My 2 cents worth.


View Fuzzy's profile


299 posts in 5487 days

#3 posted 11-01-2012 09:39 PM

Look at the “components” ... OIL … zero protection … TUNG OIL … almost zero protection … VARNISH … good protection … EXCEPT that now it is not only diluted, but actually contaminated. Practically every can of varnish I’ve ever used cautioned that it should only be used on surfaces that are clean, dry, and free of oils.

When you “blend” those three ingredients, they are just that … a BLEND … NOT some magical chemical compound. Each molecule retains it’s original properties. If an oil molecule hits a wood cell, that cell is contaminated … if a varnish molecule hit a virgin wood cell, that cell is protected. Net result …approximately 1/3 of the cells are protected, and 2/3 never will be … BUT … they look nice.

-- - dabbling in sarcasm is foolish … if you’re not proficient at it, you end up looking stupid … ... ...

View CharlesNeil's profile


2501 posts in 5369 days

#4 posted 11-01-2012 09:48 PM

what sheen Arm R Seal are you using, the plastic look is purely a matter of sheen, most finishes are actually a form of a plastic, which is what makes them durable, tell me the sheen and lets see what we can do here, Arm R Seal in my opinion is a very difficult finish to beat , I have it on steps, floors and on and on, we just need to get the sheen correct, I have several friend who have done the Maoof thing and it does look good, until about 6 months or a year later, then it just seems to die, because it finally dried out, they redid them in Arm R Seal, or Waterlox, and they still look great,

View RBWoodworker's profile


442 posts in 4850 days

#5 posted 11-01-2012 09:54 PM

I have done many many Maloof pieces and have taught classes on how to build the famous Maloof chairs and at this time, I am currently making a Maloof rocker that was the very last rocker that Sam made, but the kicker is it’s NOT like his classic’s totally different. a picture of it can be seen on my website if anyone is interested in what the new design looked like..anyways..back to the finish..I have used Sam’s finish on just about all of furniture, but came to realize that the finish, while although looks good, does not last and has no protection properties..thus my switch to the actually gives me the same look and feel that Sam’s finish does, but also allows a better protection.. this is exactly what Charles said’s a sheen issue..on this chest your making, trust me, your nephew will not be looking at what finish you used but the wear and tear will be considerably more noticeable over time when the Maloof finish dries and becomes dull thus Sam’s recommendation of re-coating once a year.. with the Arm-R-Seal, you won’t have that issue and any water damage will not be an issue with the Arm-r-seal but as you found out, will be with the Maloof poly blend.. and No, the wax will not offer any better protection either..

Link to the new rocker below

-- Randall Child

View Marshall's profile


151 posts in 3554 days

#6 posted 11-01-2012 10:19 PM

Thanks everyone for the replies. I’m new to the site (and relatively new to woodworking), and I’m amazed by how quickly people respond and with great advice!

I’m using Arm-R-Seal Satin Oil and Urethane Top Coat. In addition to the “plasticy” look, I’m seeing a ton of dust in the finish. I looked back at a few of my other projects around the house, and I dont see the same issue (again all in qswo). I dont know if its a technique issue, if the difference in the wood is making it more noticeable, or if my basement is just a lot more dusty now.

I’m using a foam brush to apply. I try to keep the coats as thin as possible but still provide complete coverage…

Thanks again everyone for the advice and suggestions!

-- Marshall -

View RBWoodworker's profile


442 posts in 4850 days

#7 posted 11-01-2012 10:30 PM

can you take a picture of this dust your talking about and send it to me? I’m curious at to why your getting this and maybe I can offer a solution..

-- Randall Child

View Joe Lyddon's profile

Joe Lyddon

10963 posts in 5551 days

#8 posted 11-01-2012 10:39 PM

I think I can safely say…

If Sam Maloof developed it, used it, and made it available for others to use, you KNOW it is the Best finish that he would use on his work.

-- Have Fun! Joe Lyddon - Alta Loma, CA USA - Home: ... My Small Gallery:

View Dave G's profile

Dave G

337 posts in 3546 days

#9 posted 11-01-2012 10:41 PM

Hi, Given it’s a kids piece I personally would put at least one top coat of poly on it. Wears like woodpecker lips; looks very good. I think it has the best compromise between durability and appearance.

I have put the poly over Watco oil without problems on lots of pieces over the years.

It should be mentioned that there are some very good general finishing references available cheap:

This is Flexner’s.

-- Dave, New England - “We are made to persist. that's how we find out who we are.” ― Tobias Wolff

View fussy's profile


980 posts in 4549 days

#10 posted 11-02-2012 02:31 AM

The thing is, Maloof’s finish is mostly oil. He developed it because it looks GOOD on walnut. Protection is relative. Kids can tear up a woodpecker lips finish and you would still be left with trying to repair it. That would be hard. Oil finishes are easy to apply and easier to repair. If they’re not going to be using a chemistry set on it, I would use the Maloof’s.


-- Steve in KY. 44 years so far with my lovely bride. Think I'll keep her.

View Fuzzy's profile


299 posts in 5487 days

#11 posted 11-02-2012 03:05 AM

I remember Sam giving an interview in which he said something to the effect that he needed something quick & easy, so he tried his blended finish. He NEVER said it was optimal, or even good … just quick & easy. All the wannabees jumped on it with the above stated logic that if Sam used it on HIS OWN projects … it must be simply wonderful. Problem is, it offers almost zero protection from anything … but, it IS quick & easy.

-- - dabbling in sarcasm is foolish … if you’re not proficient at it, you end up looking stupid … ... ...

View RBWoodworker's profile


442 posts in 4850 days

#12 posted 11-02-2012 04:58 AM

The “Oils’ in Sam’s finish not only amber the grain, but also pop’s the figure where there is figure. Shellac does that also, but is harder to apply.. Sam’s finish is foolproof in simply wiping it on and then wiping it completely off. It’s hard to fail with a finish so simple.. Don’t get me wrong..I have used his finish and still use it where it calls for it, but if I want protection..I have to use a more durable finish..if I want the same look but a more durable finish..I use the Arm-R-Seal or I spray shellac followed with a varnish of my choice..there’s a lot more work when using the other finishes, but they offer better protections..

-- Randall Child

View CharlesNeil's profile


2501 posts in 5369 days

#13 posted 11-02-2012 12:18 PM

Ok, here we go, now before you chastise me on this, try it, it is one of those things, we have done for years and it simply works, as we have discussed sheen is the issue with looking like plastic, and oils in a heavy film like the Arm R Seal are definately more prone to collecting debris, because of the long open time,. The trick we use here with the spray deft, is done to simply lay down a satin sheen ( they have other sheens), it dries super fast and leaves a very thin film, but over time as the finish wears, it remains the same, the lacquer is almost negliable , again we have done this for years, and never an issue, but be sure to test. Just give your Arm R Seal a light scuff with some 600 to be smooth,( it should be dry enough to dust when sanded) and just do a single wet coat, if it needs more let it dry and repeat, You can also rub the finish to a desired sheen, but this is just way too simple and easy , again try it before you knock it, but also be aware your using a flammable lacquer product and take precautions, I also just got some minwax satin lacquer, did well

Don’t want to hammer on this, but when you understand that the sheen is the plastic look, not to say a totally grain filled ,slick surface doesn’t have a more plastic look than a surface that the grain pattern shows, but the sheen is the big deal, here is another example

View Everett1's profile


233 posts in 4032 days

#14 posted 11-02-2012 01:23 PM

My vote is for SAMs method

The kid is going to beat it up no matter what. Fixing SAMs finish will be my h easier than a straight up poly finish

I personally switched to a mix of blo/spar/min spirits. Works great. I stopped with tung since its expensive and spar replaces the waterproofing that it added. So easy to fix later on and make the piece look brand new

-- Ev

View Manitario's profile


2818 posts in 4381 days

#15 posted 11-04-2012 04:19 AM

In essence, the Sam Maloof finish is just a variation on Danish Oil, or any other number of oil/varnish blends on the market. If the Sam Maloof finish makes the walnut look good, then use it, and then just wipe on a few coats of wiping varnish for added protection.

-- Sometimes the creative process requires foul language. -- Charles Neil

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