11 different finishes on Walnut - the initial coat (long but awesome) *UPDATED*

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Forum topic by lumberjoe posted 02-18-2014 04:42 AM 18100 views 7 times favorited 39 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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2899 posts in 2754 days

02-18-2014 04:42 AM

Topic tags/keywords: finishing shellac blo tung oil arm-r-seal teak oil danish oil waterbased poly

So I decided to “bust some myths” about finishing. Most notably that pure tung oil and boiled linseed oil based finishes pop grain better than anything else. Here is what I used (note Lacquer omitted – can’t spray inside and too cold outside). All the walnut has been sanded to 220 grit

Zinsser Shellac (3lb cut right out of the can, waxed, brushed)
Minwax semi gloss poly (I thin it 50/50 with MS to make a wipe-on)
Pure tung oil
Watco Teak oil
Watco Natural Danish oil
Custom blended finish (“Maloof” finish)
General finishes Arm-R-Seal (Gloss)
Varathane soft touch Matte poly (waterborne)
Varathane Ultimate waterborne poly (oil modified, full gloss)
2lb Cut dewaxed superblonde shellac (brushed)
2lb Cut dewaxed superblonde shellac (french polished)

I generally do this with scraps from pieces I am using for a project. You can see how wildly one species can vary in color

This has been pore filled already – 1lb cut of dewaxed shellac, let it dry, then rub with a french polishing pad – but only alcohol on the pad. The pad is tapped on some pumice periodically to work the dried shellac and walnut into the grain. I didn’t do a terrific job here (It will show later)

The rest of them. Taped off so I can see the natural wood after for a real comparison.

First coats applied

1st padding session. French polish brings out every single little defect (lazy pore filling and planer snipe that wasn’t visible before). This looks like crap compared to the final session and after rubbing out with rottenstone; but getting glossy.

Pure tung on the top, my custom finish based on Sam Maloof’s finish on the bottom – Poly, tung oil, boiled linseed oil, and solvent. My skepticism of boiled linseed oil popping grain better than pure tung oil is fading a bit.

Waterborne “poly” (gloss) vs minwax semi-gloss. Not too much difference yet. I thinned the oil based poly to wipe it so there is barely any there. That side will be much darker

Watco “teak oil” vs Canned Shellac.

Not too much difference here actually. The shellac will be much glossier. I’m not sure what is in “Teak” oil but I actually like it. I use it on razor stands because it is an outdoor finish. My guess is Tung oil and a spar varnish. It doesn’t build a film, but is really glossy for an oil/varnish.

Natural Danish oil vs waterborne Matte Poly. Both “natural” finishes. The matte waterborne acrylic side looks like there is nothing there. By the way, this Varathane soft touch matte poly is AWESOME.

And here is the kick in the nuts I wasn’t expecting. Dewaxed shellac (brushed) vs Arm-r-seal. I always thought shellac (even as a washcoat which is what this basically is) did a terrific job at popping grain. Not even close.

I am going to follow the proper finishing schedule on all of these finishes and rub them out as well. Interested to see the final results


39 replies so far

View Randy_ATX's profile


881 posts in 2947 days

#1 posted 02-18-2014 04:52 AM

I’m always interested in these types of comparisons. Will the final results be posted in this thread? I’d like to know what your top 3 choices will be once you are done.

-- Randy -- Austin, TX by way of Northwest (Woodville), OH

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1329 posts in 2441 days

#2 posted 02-18-2014 05:08 AM

Cool. I am about to do some table legs in walnut and was going to do straight BLO. I’ll be interested to see your results. Thanks for taking the time to share this with us all.

-- The Wood Is Your Oyster

View lumberjoe's profile


2899 posts in 2754 days

#3 posted 02-18-2014 05:45 AM

I would never use BLOCK (or straight tung oil) as a finish. Maybe try a danish oil.


View Handtooler's profile


1628 posts in 2638 days

#4 posted 02-18-2014 12:19 PM

Yes, Absolutely show us more. Neither Flexnor nor Charles has done such a very nice comparison that I’ve seen. Useful knowledge.

-- Russell Pitner Hixson, TN 37343 [email protected]

View Kaleb the Swede's profile

Kaleb the Swede

1906 posts in 2475 days

#5 posted 02-18-2014 12:24 PM

Thanks for this lumberjoe. This is really eye opening to different finishes and to somebody who knows nothing about them, a great help

-- Just trying to build something beautiful

View mahdee's profile


4291 posts in 2273 days

#6 posted 02-18-2014 12:38 PM

Thanks Joe, Like to see how they turn out. I have come to like Teak oil because it is so easy to wok with.


View SpartyOn's profile


40 posts in 2652 days

#7 posted 02-18-2014 01:41 PM

Thanks for taking the time to do these comparisons, Joe. Very helpful. Looking forwad to the final results!

View CharlesNeil's profile


2496 posts in 4376 days

#8 posted 02-18-2014 01:43 PM

We actually did a ton of this stuff , all sorts of finishes, unfortunately it was for our book .

View Clint Searl's profile

Clint Searl

1533 posts in 2867 days

#9 posted 02-18-2014 02:07 PM

The experiment is cute, but won’t prove anything. The simple fact is that anything that “wets” the wood will emphasize the grain pattern. Claims of differences between various concoctions due to reflectance, refraction, or some other optical phenomenon are meaningless gobbledygook. Any observed differences are 99.9% due to a change in color carried by the finish.

-- 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 lumberjoe's profile


2899 posts in 2754 days

#10 posted 02-18-2014 02:58 PM

Clint, go read some finishing books and troll another thread please


View lumberjoe's profile


2899 posts in 2754 days

#11 posted 02-18-2014 03:00 PM

Charles, your book is awesome. I would highly recommend it to anyone


View moke's profile


1419 posts in 3282 days

#12 posted 02-18-2014 06:42 PM

Joe, even in the magazines they make their recommendations…top tool…etc…
Which one do you now prefer? The Arm-r-seal looks awesome from my perspective….what say you?
BTW—-thanks for all your efforts….good post

-- Mike

View CharlesA's profile


3386 posts in 2303 days

#13 posted 02-18-2014 07:14 PM


I agree that there is some gobbledygook on this thread, but I I find it in your almost indecipherable post. If someone takes wood and uses different finishes with observed differences, how is that meaningless? Do some finishes “wet” the wood more deeply and with longer lasting results? Popping the grain is not always mymgoal in finishing, but this is still interesting.


-- "Man is the only animal which devours his own, for I can apply no milder term to the general prey of the rich on the poor." ~Thomas Jefferson

View lumberjoe's profile


2899 posts in 2754 days

#14 posted 02-18-2014 07:48 PM

My goal when finishing first is protection. Some of these finishes would never even be considered for furniture. This is very un-scientific and I just want to experiment with looks alone.

There are a lot of perceptions about popping grain, appearance, etc. I want some empirical evidence so I know what I am dealing with down the road


View ex-member's profile


186 posts in 2280 days

#15 posted 02-18-2014 08:47 PM

There’s one in every thread. I’ve been that one, so I know. Clint, every piece of wood will take a finish differently than the next. This is highlighting some very impressive differences, in general, about how these finishes affect one species and none of them could be considered stains so just chill. This is interesting. Now play nice or go to another thread.
I, for one, can’t wait to see the finished pics…and maybe a month of aging as well.

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