Question about oak finishing, need help

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Forum topic by Oldtool posted 07-19-2013 01:28 AM 3654 views 1 time favorited 20 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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3354 posts in 3482 days

07-19-2013 01:28 AM

Topic tags/keywords: question oak finishing

I am in the processing of finish an oak dining room table, first time I’ve used oak, and I’m experiencing a problem that I don’t understand:

Three board oak top on the table, dyed dark mahogany using TransTint, and attempting to finish with General Finishes Arm-R-Seal, three coats so far.

The attached photos show as best I can manage, the perceived problem: the darker softer grain is either soaking up the wiping varnish faster than I can apply it, or it’s being wicked away to the harder lighter portion of the grain.

I plan to try a coat of shellac next, to seal the grain, but before I do I would like to ask;
Do you think the shellac help or hurt the situation?
Do you have any idea whether the grain is soaking up the Arm-R-Seal, or is it being wicked away?

I would appreciate any assistance from those of you with oak experience, will be very much appreciated. Thanks in advance.

One last note: I flooded the top when applying the varnish, about 45 minutes prior taking the pictures.

-- "I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The point is to bring them the real facts." - Abraham Lincoln

20 replies so far

View Loren's profile


11324 posts in 4939 days

#1 posted 07-19-2013 01:36 AM

This may work:

Apply a coat of wiping varnish. Wait until it starts to get tacky,
then wet sand it with used stearated sandpaper 150 grit or finer.
This tends to make a sticky slurry which fills the pores.

Try a sample first. If you didn’t sand with stearated paper, try
what you have.

View Dallas's profile


3599 posts in 3778 days

#2 posted 07-19-2013 01:45 AM

SOmewhat I agree with Loren, but you are using a wiping finish.
I would first let it cure before you add any more.
Read the directions that GF gives….. DO NOT FLOOD!

A wiping finish is thinned out with mineral spirits and will soak in quickly. You are paying extra for the minearl spirits.
Put it on, let it cure and then add another coat.

Good Luck.

-- Improvise.... Adapt...... Overcome!

View Dave's profile


11435 posts in 4131 days

#3 posted 07-19-2013 04:29 AM

The wiping finish would be my first choose. If it fails to get you what you are looking for.
I think the shellac will help the problem.
Let what you have cure good.
Bust the seal with some 0000.
Use a blond no wax at about a pound and a half.

-- Superdav "No matter where you go - there you are."

View tomd's profile


2222 posts in 5061 days

#4 posted 07-19-2013 06:02 AM

Oak has very large open pores, what you are seeing is your finish drying and sinking down into those pores. Oak should be filled before finishing, I realize you have already started finishing the top, so if you want a very smooth surface you have two options 1. keep putting on many coats of finish and sanding between till the pores fill up level with the top. 2. Let what you have cure then sand off then fill and finish. I have done it both ways and filling first is easiest, filling with finish requires applying many coats, going by you pictures I would guess 5 to 8 heavy coats and sanding level between each coat. I am not an expert and I know you will get other advise, it’s just my experience with finishing oak and all large open grained wood. Good luck.

-- Tom D

View Oldtool's profile


3354 posts in 3482 days

#5 posted 07-19-2013 12:17 PM

Gentlemen, thank you all. I didn’t realize how porous oak is, having never used it before.

I’ve not decided how to proceed, still considering all options offered. I’ll describe the process with the project posting.

Thanks again, your responses much appreciated.

-- "I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The point is to bring them the real facts." - Abraham Lincoln

View bondogaposis's profile


6069 posts in 3642 days

#6 posted 07-19-2013 12:33 PM

This is what you are dealing with.

All of your finish is going into those large tubes. For red oak table tops it is best to use a filler first to seal the larger pores before applying finish. I’m not sure what you do now. Loren’s suggestion sounds promising, I would certainly experiment on scraps first. Get a long piece of scrap and bring it to the level of finishing that you have on the table then mark off different sections and try several treatments and see what you like best before doing anymore on the table.

-- Bondo Gaposis

View CharlesNeil's profile


2501 posts in 5161 days

#7 posted 07-19-2013 12:39 PM

dont use the shellac over the Arm R Seal, let the finish dry well, usually its a case of the deeper grain wicking up the finish, ,if you let it dry it should stop. Often in deep pored wood, the softer grain takes up alot of finish and it takes a while for it to dry, and form a seal, and when more of a like product is applied it resoftens the non-dry finish down in the deep pores and it just keeps doing it, until you give it time to dry ,as in a couple of days. Arm R Seal is a very good finish and dries well. Shellac would have been a good choice prior to the Arm R Seal, but not now. Applying shellac now would possibly seal in uncured finsh in the deep grain, which would present issues , as well it could also lift (crinkel up) the still uncured finish on the hard grain areas. Just let it dry really well . You will be fine.

View Dan's profile


51 posts in 3628 days

#8 posted 07-19-2013 12:54 PM

this is the same issue i had with just starting out with Red Oak, but from the picture it looks flooded and not wiped back off with a dry cloth. If it is a high gloss, this magnifyies this effect from the glossy area. You should be rubbing this gloss back to dry, then scuff it with the paper describe in a earlier reply, or scuff pad and tack cloth it. For a table use with foods and drinks, the Minwax system is an error free wipe on poly , but there system offers a heaver oil based poly that fills in the pores in 2 coats. sanding inbetween them and follow up with the wipe on poly. check it out here: ; there are other articals to help here. Minwax is the easiest system i have used and always looks great with out rubbing your arm off. check out the minwax system online and videos for their applications. Good Luck !

-- Dan Stine, Galion Ohio

View Earlextech's profile


1164 posts in 3981 days

#9 posted 07-19-2013 01:12 PM

I’m with tomd and CharlesNeil on this. I would have filled the grain before finishing myself. Live and learn is how we all grow.

-- Sam Hamory - The project is never finished until its "Finished"!

View a1Jim's profile


118297 posts in 4868 days

#10 posted 07-19-2013 01:32 PM

You have Charles Neil’s opinion ,case closed ,he’s the expert on finishing.


View Oldtool's profile


3354 posts in 3482 days

#11 posted 07-19-2013 10:11 PM

Well, as a1Jim so eloquently put it, Charles is the Expert, so I’ve decided to wait 2 or 3 days before applying any more Arm R Seal.
This seems the best solution, has no adverse effects that could effect the table, so wit it I.

Thanks all for assisting, I’ll know better if there’s a next time with oak.

I’ll post when finished, detail results.

-- "I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The point is to bring them the real facts." - Abraham Lincoln

View SebringDon's profile


95 posts in 3231 days

#12 posted 07-20-2013 12:19 AM

I have a similar problem with Red Oak, because the wife wants a dark, dark finish. I can’t use a sanding sealer before stain, as I don’t get a dark enough finish to satisfy her, so I end up applying coat after coat of poly.

Any suggestions for getting a kona-dark yet sleek finish on Red Oak without a zillion coats of poly? Unfortunately, in the middle of south Florida, there are no lumberyards, and Red Oak is the best the big box stores have to offer. Other hardwoods triple my price and mean a 150-mile or better round trip.

-- Don

View Clint Searl's profile

Clint Searl

1533 posts in 3652 days

#13 posted 07-20-2013 01:30 AM

Strip it and redo with ZAR stain and waterborne poly. Let the stain cure for at least a week, followed by a rubdown with maroon scotchbrite before the poly.

-- Clint Searl....Ya can no more do what ya don't know how than ya can git back from where ya ain't been

View tomd's profile


2222 posts in 5061 days

#14 posted 07-20-2013 02:12 AM

Here’s my 2 cents, stain as dark as you want then fill with Crystiliac filler sold by Rockler. It fills and drys transparent so there is no color change. Sand filler flat as normally done then any finish will go over it and give you a very smooth surface. This is good if you want a smooth finish on oak.

-- Tom D

View Edziu's profile


151 posts in 4342 days

#15 posted 07-20-2013 03:51 AM


Red Oak is a very porous wood, as people have already noted. You’re not doing anything wrong, but you should be doing a little more agressive sanding (with a flat block!) in between coats of finish. That way, you’ll fill the pores up some, sand off the top. Fill the pores up some more, sand off the top. Fill up the pores some more, sand more off the top. Now move to slightly less agressive sanding techniques, like 0000 steel wool, gray scotchbrite pads, etc. and do one more coat of finish (two if it makes you happier.)

BUT, What you are experiencing is exactly what should happen with a normal finishing process for Red Oak. If you wanted some super-smooth ballroom finish, why not just get Formica? The point of most finishing is not to obscure the great qualities of the wood, but to highlight them. By slathering on stains and fillers and 10 coats of finish, you’ve obscured the wood to no end. Trust me, with three coats of Arm-R-Seal you’ve got more than enough protection for a serviceable, long lasting finish.

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