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I am writing to ask about making maple blocks like these

wood blocks

other wood blocks

I have checked a few other posts here on stack exchange with regard to wood type and PU varnish, I will be using maple. I live in the EU and although beech is more available at hardware and big box brico stores, I want the lighter grain of maple.

I would like to achieve a result similar to the photos, good color with the woodgrain showing through. I am planning on doing a coat of acrylic paint followed by one or two coats of matte or satin (semi gloss) PU clear.

It is not important to be foodsafe or non toxic as it is for a sculpture, but i imagine that the orginal finishes are foodsafe and nontoxic.

I am a bit concerned about the coloring as it seems in the photos that it doesnt cover that much, perhaps it should be diluted? I have experience painting with acrylic on canvas and paper and varnishing or sealing wood but never painting acryl on wood then varnishing afterwards.

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    Welcome to Woodworking, please take the tour. In woodworking, as in life, there really is no "best". Especially if you don't tell us by what criteria you'd like "best" defined. Cheapest, easiest to apply, longest lasting? Also, this site isn't particularly good at "discussion" questions like "I want to see what everyone thinks". It's designed to answer objective questions for which objective answers can be supplied. You could edit your question to ask "what are the pros/cons of PU over acrylic paint on blocks" (or similar) - that gets an objective answer.
    – FreeMan
    Commented Feb 29 at 14:44
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    We actually have abundant previous Q&As that address the info you need here, including the all-important issue of food-safe finishes (although that should be "food-safe finishes, because all the data points to there being no need to make a distinction). The search on SE works perfectly, if you search for toys and finish, and food safe you will find them I promise. But I'm going to mark this as a duplicate anyway and the automatic message generated will include one of the previous Questions I'm referring to. But there are others that would be worth hunting down.
    – Graphus
    Commented Mar 1 at 7:29
  • You're encouraged to stick around and ask any further Qs you like, but for future reference "the best way to finish something like this" is never the ideal way to ask about something here as it invites opinion-based responses (and subjective Qs are discouraged). Instead ask for suitable ways to finish something IF you haven't been able to find that info independently (SE requires prior research). Always make it clear that you've done research already, tell us what you've found and ask a Question because you want more info about a certain aspect or you need clarification about something.
    – Graphus
    Commented Mar 1 at 7:32
  • Does this answer your question? What finish is suitable for a childrens toy?
    – Graphus
    Commented Mar 1 at 7:32
  • thanks @Graphus freeman for your responses, yes of course, whats the best way, isnt the most productive way to ask the question. i edited and rephrased
    – B. Chas
    Commented Mar 1 at 15:27

1 Answer 1

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I am a bit concerned about the coloring as it seems in the photos that it doesnt cover that much, perhaps it should be diluted?

The items pictured are likely finished in either:

  • a waterbased finish, which typically are completely clear (water-white) once dry; they will minimally affect the colouring of wood and do little to alter the colour of paints that they're applied over (other than the usual thing with varnish of slightly decreasing saturation if the surface finish is made more matt);
  • a commercial two-part finish such as catalysed lacquer which can affect colour essentially the same as described above.

It's not clear if your intended finish is a waterbased one or oil-based varnish however; the terms poly/polyurethane/PU can be used as shorthand for both types.

If it is the former you know what to expect.

If it's an oil-based varnish however expect a slight but noticeable yellowing of the wood even if applied thinly; I do personally think it's not an unpleasant colour change unless the varnish is applied quite heavily but personal taste is a huge factor here, with some people absolutely hating this colouring in maple..... and of course it's not what you're after here based on the pictured blocks.

I have experience painting with acrylic on canvas and paper and varnishing or sealing wood but never painting acryl on wood then varnishing afterwards.

Painting on wood with your acrylics won't present you with any new challenges :-) Paint adheres very well to wood even without a primer (the first coat keying nicely as long as the wood is clean and freshly prepared). It should also apply well since typically maple is dense and fairly uniform, but do be aware that small patches of wood can be much more absorbent than others due to differences in grain.

If you've never used a waterbased poly previously and that's what you end up using I'd recommend a wide golden taklon brush for application. Try to apply in long, smooth strokes and don't overwork the finish once it's down on the surface. And I highly recommend practising on some scraps before committing to finishing your project pieces.

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