For some background: I am a guitar player, and I know of a variety of different woods ("tone woods" as they're referred to in relation to guitar building), but I have absolutely no clue in terms of handling or finishing wood in a more raw state. So please know that I am going into this small project with no experience, and please forgive me if I misuse any terms or make incorrect assumptions.

I recently purchased a beautiful slab of Rosewood from an exotic wood shop near me. I intend on sitting it on brackets to create a "floating" bookshelf.

I've been told that the slab is unfinished, and, when I asked for suggestions, the store clerk who assisted me shrugged his shoulders and said "just grab some oil finish from Home Depot." A quick google search, however, led me to believe that I should be very careful. Here is one example of an article I saw.

I currently have a desk from Herman Miller that is built with Mahogany, and I love the finish on it. It's smooth/dull/soft to the touch. Visually, it is not polished and doesn't have much luster. If I run my finger along the desk, perpendicular to the grain, I can feel the grain of the wood as miniature, paper-thin valleys under my fingertips. I treat it with Feed-N-Wax Wood Polish & Conditioner about once a month. Here are images of that mahogany.

I'm sure you can see where I'm going with this . . . I would like to apply whatever process necessary to have the new Rosewood I picked up match, tactically and visually, the Herman Miller desk. Not just for the sake of matching, but because I love the way it feels and looks.

Here are images of the Rosewood slab. Could you please give me your thoughts on this? I want to treat the wood as respectfully and minimally as possible while still obtaining the effect i'm after. Would this require a professional's help? Is there any sanding or turning (I don't really know what turning is) that would need to take place?

Thank you so much. This is my first post here, and i'm really looking forward to your responses!


Here are some additional photos that might better show the grain of the wood.

UPDATED QUESTION/TL;DR: How do I make the Rosewood feel and look the same as the mahogany?

UPDATE 2/18/2022:

The rosewood has been professionally finished with shellac and beeswax. The result looks and feels amazing!

  • OK first off sorry to disappoint you, but pretty sure that's not rosewood. One early clue is that rosewood is no longer available commercially (unless old stock) because of being certified as an endangered species by CITES. Wood IDs are notoriously difficult to do online but rosewoods, although there are many types from multiple sources, tend to share certain characteristics — you're probably familiar with the from guitar fingerboards — which appear to be absent from the pictured board. Not that this is any way changes what you might do finish-wise, but I thought you'd want to know.
    – Graphus
    Jan 29, 2022 at 23:13
  • Hi @Graphus, I really appreciate your comment. I purchased the slab from a reputable specialty lumberyard with over 30 years of experience and the largest selection of wood species on the East Coast. The man who sold this to me said he doesn't think he'll see this wood again. It is Dalbergia Spruceana (Amazon Rosewood), and if you google it, the wood in the images looks quite a bit like what I purchased today.
    – 286642
    Jan 30, 2022 at 0:06
  • Well if this is Amazon rosewood it just goes to highlight why wood IDs can be so difficult! I'm very familiar with what's colloquially known as Rio rosewood from vintage Stanley plane handles, and Dalbergia spruceana is supposed to closely resemble it (although general colouring tends more tan/orange than red/brown). More than that, Dalbergias almost ubiquitously have defined black streaking in the heartwood, which seems conspicuously absent from the pictured board. Also the texture should be denser and smoother/more waxy; don't know if I'm being thrown by a very coarse sanding texture [contd]
    – Graphus
    Jan 30, 2022 at 17:21
  • which I presume other observers will be too. Anyway, the species is actually semi-irrelevant to finishing recommendations (very different woods can be finished the exact same way) but this was still useful to delve into since the coarse surface finish has a direct bearing on preparation — it's not absolutely necessary, but I would definitely want this scraped or sanded smoother before embarking on the finish-application steps. BTW good news on that front, there are some very simple finish options that even a first-timer should be able to get good to excellent results with.
    – Graphus
    Jan 30, 2022 at 17:27
  • Hey, I just added some pics to the OP. I splashed some water on the wood to show the grain a little better. Any thoughts? Re: "scraped or sanded" is this a process that i'd tackle on my own? or does this take special equipment? I want the job to be done as precisely as possible--the surface should be totally level
    – 286642
    Jan 30, 2022 at 18:14

3 Answers 3


Would this require a professional's help?

Although you could get a pro to help with this I believe the project is well within the grasp of a first-timer given the limited scope of what's needed here.

It is actually the preparatory stages are where most of the hands-on time and effort will be expended, by comparison the finishing steps (which you might possibly be more concerned with) require far less time, skill and effort to complete to a high standard.... finishing can be at core a simple process, it is only woodworkers who tend to unnecessarily complicate it :-)


From what we can see from the photos your board is flat enough (certainly sufficiently flat for a shelf) that it just needs to be smoothed off before finish application.

You can do this final smoothing by sanding or scraping. While I would normally recommend scraping over sanding there's a learning curve to scraping and a few gotchas, so if you're going to do all the work yourself sanding is probably your best option.

Finish sanding is a process of progressively removing the scratches from the previous grit while keeping the surface flat.

I'm guessing the existing texture was produced by 80 grit, so starting at 120 is appropriate and you'll go from there. You don't need to sand to a particularly high grit so the progression of sanding grits you can use is fairly short, e.g. 120, 150, 220.

You can sand more finely than this (and many do, especially when power sanding) but beyond a certain point you see zero benefit after finish application.

For just the one shelf you can do this work entirely by hand; back the paper1 with a hard block and be careful not to 'lean over' when sanding near edges to maintain the flat surface and prevent unintentional rounding of crisp edges.

Sanding manually is a lot more work than with a random-orbit or other finish sander but for just one board it won't be too bad, and for a single project buying a power sander is arguably overkill. If you intend to do some future projects starting from bare wood however a sander does make more sense; although in that case I would strongly recommend you look into scraping as an option or at least an adjunct to sanding.


Given your requirements for what you want it to look like you can use many common (traditional) finishing options as well as some modern products. I'm going to recommend three, in my approximate order of preference (please note that other people would order this list differently).

Wiping varnish
Everything you need to know to get started on this is in a previous Answer, here in an excerpt from Flexner on Finishing by Bob Flexner. In recent years wiping varnish has, understandably, become a very popular finishing option amongst amateurs and pros alike because it's nearly impossible to screw up. As a result there is tons more guidance available on this online if you feel you need to read or see more to get comfortable with the process before you try it for yourself. But I promise this is literally as easy as it seems.

Wiping varnish has one chief advantage over competitive wipe-on finishes such as "Scandinavian oil" and "Danish oil" and "Tung Oil Finish" (which are all basically the same3) in that it will dry hard through and through. It can be applied in exactly the same manner while providing more protection, although admittedly you're unlikely to need the extra protection for a shelf.

As you're finishing just one board for now and you'll be diluting at least 1:1, possibly as much as 1:3, only a small can will be needed. Don't forget to buy mineral spirits as well :-)

There's a good chance that your Herman Miller piece is finished in lacquer as it was the primary commercial finish through much of the second half of the 20th century — almost all MCM furniture has lacquer on it if still bearing their original finish.

This doesn't mean you need to use lacquer to match the look and feel however.

Many finishes are approximately equal in looks once fully dried, in fact the blended finishes mentioned above were originally formulated to match the lacquer finish on imported Scandi furniture!

Because you don't have spray equipment you're looking at rattle-can versions. This is in general an expensive way to buy any finish, but for a one-off it makes sense. In the US there are many brands (Deft, Mohawk, Rust-Oleum, ReRanch, Minwax to name a few) and different types on the market, so you'll need to do some shopping around if you want to go with lacquer. As long as you get an untinted or clear lacquer it doesn't matter hugely what type you get as far as final looks go, but an acrylic lacquer should be lower or low in VOCs making it a bit more user-friendly than some others.

Spraying a uniform coat is not rocket science but can take a couple of tries to get the knack. I suggest you use the underside to practice on. Don't fret if you get bad results, lacquers can be wiped off when fresh using solvent, or sanded off after drying if necessary.

A modern wax/oil finish
I wouldn't normally plug just one product but I'm going to specifically refer to Rubio Monocoat here. I don't use it myself and have no affiliation, this is based on the opinions of a few woodworkers I trust.

Monocoat seems to consistently perform, to live up to its hype.... in strong contrast to one or two competitor products.

It is incredibly easy to use, honestly even easier than wiping varnish. As you might expect the name refers to the fact that the manufacturer instructions are to apply just the one coat, but, numerous users report that they get a better-looking and more consistent finish by applying a second coat. So one or two coats and done, with an easy-as-pie application method.

So where's the downside? Depending on what you're used to paying for finish you might experience, ah, 'some' sticker shock — RRP for a smallish can is 70 bucks, versus $30-60 for nearly three times as much polyurethane4 O_O

Additional point:

I treat it with Feed-N-Wax Wood Polish & Conditioner about once a month.

You shouldn't need to polish a wooden surface anything like this often except for high-traffic items that see a lot of abrasion, or if using a product that wears off too easily.

With a hard finish in good condition you might only wax once a year, if that. Regular dusting and the occasional wipe with a damp cloth if needed is all that the bulk of furniture needs, with very occasional waxing for a modicum of added protection and for maintaining sheen (or adding back sheen lost to wear and cleaning).

A simple paste wax like the venerable Johnson's product is generally to be preferred for this purpose.

1 Paper is a shorthand here, "sandpaper" now commonly means actual sandpaper as well as film-backed, cloth-backed and screens-based abrasives.

2 Also bear in mind the top, front edge and maybe both ends need to be sanded more smoothly. Depending on the final positioning of the shelf the bottom might only be sanded further as practice for sanding the top.

3 They are some blend of varnish and oil, thinned down with additional spirits.

4 Which if converted to wiping varnish will be extended to double to quadruple the volume!


There is no better teacher than experience. Finishing isn't rocket science but some practice on a board that is less important will help you get a feel for what happens at each step of the process and it will help you know if the process you have followed will give you the result you desire.

An easy finish to apply is a Danish oil and it does create a low luster finish. The process boils down to wiping or brushing on the oil and wiping off any excess. Here are the details:

  1. Start with a silky surface.
  • Start with an P80 grit sandpaper and then move to a 120 grit. This can be done by hand or with a random orbital sander.
  • Wet down the surface with a little water to raise the grain and sand with a 220 grit sandpaper.
  1. Three coats creates a durable finish.
  • Brush or wipe on the oil - there are several makers of Danish oil, I've had good success with the Watco brand. Flood the surface with oil then stand back and watch how it soaks in. Some areas of the wood will be thirstier than others and will soak up more finish. They will look duller than the rest of the surface. Reapply oil to these areas until they can't drink any more.
  • After about 30 minutes wipe the surface with a clean rag to remove any oil that remains.
  • Then, for the next 30 minutes, check the surface periodically for dots of oil seeping back out. Wipe off any that you find.
  1. The next day work the entire surface with 000 steel wool. After the steel wool rub wipe the surface with a clean rag to remove the dust.
  2. The second and third coats go on like the first. Each coat needs a full day of drying time. After the third coat work the entire surface with a 0000 steel wool.
  3. After the third coat is dry a coat of wax will give the wood a nice depth and feel.

Most finishing processes have similar steps with slight variations. Experimenting with this process on some scrap wood will allow you to gain experience and see how the finish will look before working on your expensive wood.

  • "easiest finish to apply is a Danish oil" Absolutely not the case. Wiping varnish is exactly as easy to apply (it can literally have exactly the same application method, although there are other options). And one of its other key advantages which is related to this is that it has certain superior drying characteristics. Plus it offers superior protection, not that this is likely needed for a shelf, just mentioning it for completeness.
    – Graphus
    Feb 1, 2022 at 16:58
  • @Graphus I have removed the offending words.
    – David D
    Feb 1, 2022 at 17:00

I have found that a hand-planed surface can be smoother than almost anything produced with sandpaper. After all, planing cuts the wood; sanding grinds them. If you have a sharp smoothing plane, there you go - no sanding needed.

If you aren't going the hand-planing route, then I would encourage you to clean up your board between each sanding with either a shop vac, a tack cloth, or both. Yes, it's an extra step; I've found it helpful.

You might also consider shellac as your finish. It's very easy to mix up (you SHOULD mix your own) and you can get super-blonde shellac that won't contribute much to the final color (I'm assuming you like the color). Secondly, shellac gives a decent amount of protection against most "general shelf use-type stuff."

Ask a group of n woodworkers how to finish something and you'll end up with at least n + 1 answers...

  • 1
    Did you read question?
    – Volfram K
    Feb 3, 2022 at 5:59
  • Um, it's quite some ask suggesting the OP buy a hand plane (at least semi-premium for some assurance of quality straight out of the box), the associated sharpening supplies, then learn how to sharpen and how to set up a hand plane so it works properly and then bootstrap himself to learn hand-planing to a high enough standard that he doesn't risk ruining what I presume was a very expensive piece of wood. Also, while I agree shellac is an excellent finish and absolutely provides enough protection for a shelf it doesn't exactly have a reputation for being beginner-friendly.
    – Graphus
    Feb 3, 2022 at 13:34
  • 1
    I wanted to mention this separately.... "If you have a sharp smoothing plane, there you go - no sanding needed." Finish planing is rare. I'm not sure where you are in your woodworking journey and how long it took you to get to where you are, but I strived for YEARS to get to the stage where I could finish plane reliably and repeatably (although still not with 100% assurance of success, which is why I became such a fan of scraping). Amongst the 20 or 30 woodworkers I know who have hand planes and use them regularly only two of them routinely finish their wood off the plane.
    – Graphus
    Feb 3, 2022 at 13:40
  • While I agree that finish planing is difficult, it's not impossible. I thought it was worth mentioning. Further, I find shellac very friendly as long as you pay attention. These are, after all, only suggested solutions to the question at hand. I thought they were useful and informative. I'm sorry if you didn't. Feb 6, 2022 at 3:50

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