I am trying to maximize the chatoyance in some knotty Claro walnut I got. After planing I am using a cabinet scraper because I was told that sandpaper causes the wood to have a lot less chatoyance, due to it looking like terry cloth at some scale.

I am going to finish with arm-r-all by general finishes.

Any tips for maximizing the chatoyance?


I think this is one of those things you should do some comparative tests with, see the differences with your own eyes on your wood, prepped as you've done it.

Without using dyes or other colourants to selectively enhance parts of the figure the general idea is to use a clear finish and generally one with some sort of yellow or amber colouration.

Just as you can use shellac for it you can use varnish applied directly to the wood to enhance chatoyance. Either one can give a very good effect. With standard commercial varnishes some believe particularly if the first coat or two are thinned (I'm not convinced this is necessary, I thin varnishes only to make them easier to apply).

But there are many who believe the effect is enhanced further if you oil the wood first and from what I've seen in my own experiments I would tend to agree. I do have to admit though that often the difference is slight, sometimes very slight. However, as oiling is only one extra step and doesn't take long I don't think there's any harm in doing it as part of your standard finishing regimen for this purpose*.

You can probably use any drying or semi-drying oil for this. BLO was the standard choice for many years among Western woodworkers. You can use tung oil instead if that's what you have. The two oils work very similarly in this regard, much more similarly than fanboys of either would have one believe.

Further reading:
“Popping” the Grain by Stephen Hatcher (PDF).
maximum chatoyance on Fine Woodworking Knots.

*As long as you're not trying to keep the wood as pale or whitish as possible in which case definitely don't oil.

  • Thanks. Can I use jojoba, coconut, argon, or olive oils?
    – jbord39
    Feb 8 '17 at 1:34
  • I'm pretty sure none of those will dry, coconut, olive and jojoba definitely not and I'm fairly sure argan won't either. If you don't have any BLO or tung in the house flax oil (raw linseed oil), walnut oil, safflower oil and some forms of sunflower oil are semi-drying oils. But remember that oiling is not an absolute must-do, you should try a test with your topcoat alone and see how it looks.
    – Graphus
    Feb 8 '17 at 8:28

My first response was "What's chatoyance?" So like any modern computer user I did a quick Google search. Nice.

I found a concise article on the Rockler site that answers my question as well as that of OP.

First, my question: A term that's borrowed from the gemology world that refers to a cat's eye effect seen in certain stones, frequently quartz. In wood it refers to to areas of wood where the effects of quickly changing light and dark grain produces a different effect depending on angle of view. I think that I have seen it most on the backs of music instruments, although images from the afore mentioned Google search shows it can pop up in almost any wood project.

OP's question:

Any tips for maximizing the chatoyance?

There is a method of staining where a dark stain is applied and then wiped away. This should cause any end grain that presents itself to absorb the dark color. Then a light stain is applied which is allowed to color all of the wood, but should have little effect on the now darkened end grain. Follow this with varnish or oil.


Upon further review I find that good old @Graphus has made two references to chatoyance previously: this and this. They were not near the top of my Google so I missed them.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.