I'm working on a live edge walnut slab coffee table. This is a photo of the bottom side of the table before any finish is applied sanded to 220 (for reference the holes are for threaded inserts that take a 1/4-20 bolt -- I machined metal legs that mate to the table):
I finished the bottom using Emmet's Good Stuff, which is a gel polyurethane oil based varnish. I applied a few coats, scuff sanded, and then used steel wool to apply some wax. I used some cotton rags to polish the wax by hand:
It's pretty hard to capture the grain/reflections with my iphone, but in general I liked the results. That stated I'd like something that pops the grain a bit more on the top side. The Good Stuff contains "synthetic oils" (whatever that means) that do penetrate the wood nicely, but it doesn't have quite the pop I'm looking for. Additionally the color of the wood doesn't quite match, the look I was hoping for seen in examples like:
I'm hoping to get a richer/darker tone in the heartwood while maintaining a nice contrast with the sap wood (it's fine by me if the sap wood darkens up a bit too so long as it maintains that nice contrast seen in the above examples).
I've been reading a ton about finishing and was hoping to get some feedback on the following finishing schedule for this piece:
- 1-2 coats of oil (either boiled linseed, tung, or something like a danish oil). The idea of this step is to pop the grain more than the good stuff is capable of as well as possibly darken the color of the wood a bit.
- 1 coat of dewaxed shellac. The idea here is to provide a sanding sealer, optionally use a darker shellac (maybe amber?) to help darken the wood as well (augmenting step 1), and provide an interface to other finishing products. (perhaps this step is unnecessary if the next step isn't needed?)
- Pore filler. Not really sure about this step -- I've been reading a bunch about it/watching youtube videos and it's unclear to me if this will help accentuate the pores (which I would imagine would help pop the figure) after the first two steps in this process. From what I understand I think I'd want to use an oil based pore filler. I am under the impression that I should sand this stuff off so it just stays in the pores. (Maybe I can combine the first three steps into one step by wet sanding the oil and using the slurry as wood filler?)
- Few coats of Good Stuff to provide a nice hard durable finish on top.
- Rub out the good stuff with sand paper up to ~1200 grit to get a satin finish.
Any feedback on the above steps, combination thereof, and the proposed reasoning behind them would be helpful. Perhaps there other other better ways to approach this as well. A few notes: I'm doing this in a garage with minimal access to professional equipment so spraying isn't really an option for me. I'm 100% an amateur/hobbyist so super expensive equipment probably isn't realistic (though I do have access to a tool library and would consider investment in low-medium cost tools).
------- EDIT -------
After trying several different permutations I finally finished the table. I ended up making a test board of a piece I cut from the slab:
The combinations I tried were:
- 1 part Boiled linseed oil 1 part mineral spirits
- 1 part Boiled linseed oil 1 part mineral spirits second coat wet sanded with the grain
- Maloof oil (1/3 poly, 1/3 BLO, 1/3 tung)
- Maloof oil second coat wet sanded with grain
- Good stuff
- 1 part BLO 2 parts mineral spirits
- Tung oil
- 1lb dewaxed blonde shellac to test as a sanding sealer
I then top coated those with good stuff to see what the final effect would be.
The sample board below shows the work, but it's probably impossible to see any differences given the lighting and iphone camera. Suffice it to say there was a notable difference between all options. How much and who noticed is debatable, but if you looked closely there were lots of differences. All the oil products definitely popped the grain much better than the good stuff. Qualitatively I'd say that BLO darkened the wood (especially the sap wood) more than the tung oil. Interestingly the 2 parts mineral spirits 1 part BLO came out darker than 1 part mineral spirits 1 part BLO. Maybe the mineral spirits thinned it more so that it was able to penetrate deeper? Wet sanding the second coat definitely did something to the pores. I've read in a few places that it's debatable whether this technique actually fills the pores since you're wiping away after a few minutes anyway. In any event those sections' pores were much more visible (e.g. darker) to a degree I didn't like.
The shellac absolutely sanded easier than the good stuff. This was to be expected, but I was shocked at how much smoother of a surface I got from this.
In the end I decided that I liked what the BLO and tung did to the wood. They both popped the grain and made it "richer", but in different ways. Rather than picking/choosing/overthinking it I just mixed 1 part BLO 1 part tung and 2 parts mineral spirits. That way I could tell myself I got the best of both worlds :)
I could have just used the maloof finish, but I didn't see much point of using the poly in the maloof finish since I was going to get a poly top coat from the good stuff anyway. Also though the differences were slight I preferred the pure oil to the maloof.
I did use the dewaxed shellac as a sanding sealer, which I was happy with. I got a much smoother surface than I think I would have if I used the good stuff, but who knows -- I'm sure it's possible to get a very smooth surface with the good stuff as well.
After that I used 4 coats of good stuff removing excess almost immediately. I scuff sanded between coats. Finally I applied neutral liberon black bison wax with steel wool and polished by hand with rags.
I'm really happy with the finished table. I think it looks and feels great. Compared to another larger table I did with just good stuff I think the grain pops a lot more due to the oil. I get a much more "3d" look to the figure. The oils appear to have definitely darkened the wood in a way that I like. The wax finish over the good stuff leaves a really nice smooth surface, which I really like.
Obviously the number one driver for the look of the finished table is the wood itself. That stated I could have probably done anything and it would have turned out nicely, but since I chose this route I'll say it was the best!