OK, lets finish up the second group of test subjects. It took a while to get these results versus the others for a few reasons. 1) the cure time on Walrus Oil was 4 whole weeks, which was much longer than the others and 2) I was working with Waterlox to understand which finishes would be best for furniture use so I made sure I was testing the most applicable products.
For details on the testing process, take a look at my original post here.
For the summary PDF for each finish tested, look here.
Walrus Oil Cabin Walls and Floors Finish:
Walrus oil is a zero VOC, buff-in oil that is made with 100% food grade products. It is applied with a white applicator pad or cotton cloth, buffed in, buffed off, and repeated (they recommend two applications).
The appearance was pretty good. I gave it a 4/5 stars in its category. It wasn’t quite as deep as some of the others, and it drew out a little more blotching in the cherry. The cure time (4 weeks) is rough. It’s hard to make a piece of furniture and keep people/objects off of it for that long.
The full report is here, but here’s a photo:
As you can see, there is some evidence of water spotting and wine spotting. Admittedly, it’s very minimal, especially when compared to most of the other “all natural” products. I am not prepared to give it a recommendation in all applications, but I think it would be appropriate in all applications except those where exposure to sustained moisture is possible (such as a table top).
It outperformed my expectations, and it is really quite impressive considering you can basically drink the stuff (don’t do that though).
Waterlox TrueTone Buff-in Tung Oil:
This is a newer product from Waterlox, though the company has been around for over 100 years. They made their name in Tung Oil, and it makes sense that this formula would also be tung oil based.
While it does have some VOCs, it is considered low VOC compliant. It smells quite pleasant, with no hint of any solvents except for maybe a citrus solvent.
Waterlox has a VERY detailed guide for how to apply their product on their website, so I won’t belabor that aspect. I followed the application manual to the book.
I am very pleased with the overall results. The color and appearance were really nice; it had more depth and color than most of the other buff-in products, and a much more attractive sheen I thought. Little to no blotching was visible.
Neither water nor wine left a visible spot on the finish after 8 hours of exposure, though I should not that there was a slight grain raise that could be felt after the water and wine were wiped off. Though technically that indicates some penetration of the finish, the fact that there wasn’t any staining or degradation of the finish lead me to believe that could very easily be repaired with a simple wipe-on of more finish.
I recommend Waterlox TrueTone in all applications.
Waterlox Original Tung Oil Sealer, Low VOC formula:
As I mentioned above, Waterlox has been making their Original Tung Oil Sealer/Finish for well over a decade. This particular formula is their low VOC formulation which uses the same resins but a different solvent to be compliant with states who have VOC restrictions.
Again, the application guide on their website is very thorough. I will say application was very easy, though the sealer smelled terrible. The finish smelled fine.
The finish showed absolutely no sign of staining, grain raising, or finish degradation from the 8 hour test. Honestly, I am not terribly surprised; among the older woodworkers I know, many swear they have been using Waterlox for decades with outstanding results.
I have heard some people say that the Original, non-VOC Compliant formula is even nicer in terms of application, but I cannot speak to that personally.
I recommend Waterlox Original Tung Oil sealer in all furniture applications.
First things first: I think a change in terminology is needed. When I call this a showdown, it makes it feel like a winner takes all scenario. In fact, I even found myself leaning that way on the first round. That was NOT my original intent. My intent was, and is, to test the capabilities of different finishes on the market and determine where they can/should be used in woodworking.
So, why a second round? My three recommendations are all still great finishes, but I received a LOT of questions from other woodworkers about whether or not I had tested their favorite finishes. Coincidentally, all of these were either Low VOC, zero VOC, or bio-based finishes.
I should mention, both Rubio and Odie’s from the previous test both claim one or more of those environmental attributes.
The allure of these finishes are multitude, and every single one claims some kind of advantage over the other so I won’t labor too much on the differences.
To avoid repetition, the parameters were exactly the same as the last test: same board of cherry, same procedure for applying the finish (by that I mean, specifically to each manufacturer), and the same liquids being tested on the finish. The one exception is I decided not to retest with acetone; only the lacquer failed last time, so it seemed unneeded.
This round included Vermont Natural Coatings Ploy-Whey (a water-based poly that uses milk proteins for the finish agent), with their hydro-lacquer underneath. I purchased the samples myself from VNC. The claim was that the Hydro-lacquer would interact with the tannins and make the Poly-whey appear to have more of an oil-based finish. I did NOT find that to be true on this sample. The finish looked very much like a water-based poly; somewhat lifeless to be honest.
Next were Osmo Polyx Oil, and Tried and True Original. The Osmo sample was provided to me by the manufacturer, but the T&T was some I had purchased a while ago. Both left a nice finish on the wood, with a good sheen. The Osmo had slightly nicer coloring on the wood, but it maybe was a bit more plastic looking.
Finally, a product called Bumblechutes. This one actually wasn’t on my radar at all, but someone recommended I try it and Bumblechutes was happy to send a sample along. It’s actually a cutting board oil; I let the owner know this was a furniture test and it was meant to be brutal, and he still wanted to test it.
Let’s get down to brass tacks:
Vermont Natural Coatings Poly-Whey (Top left): This finish performed really well. I found no noticeable damage to the sheen from the wine, water, or ketchup. No staining at all. I recommend this finish for all woodworking projects. Here’s the caveat: I would probably only use it on painted finishes that required a top coat, or perhaps with a shellac sanding sealer coat underneath. The VNC just really needs something to deepen the color if it’s going over raw wood. Since it’s a water based poly, it’s crystal clear and would look great on a painted surface.
Osmo Polyx Oil (Top Right): This finish also performed really well. I found no noticeable damage to the sheen from the wine, water, or ketchup. No staining at all. I recommend this finish for all woodworking projects. I need to get a better feel for how to apply this finish. It seemed to be quite thick, and was brushed on, but I believe there are quite a few more ways to apply it depending on the project.
Bumblechutes All-in-one wood conditioner (Bottom Left): I thought this finish applied very nicely. It smelled wonderful, and the finish looked nice. That being said, it showed damage from all three of the liquids applied. The wine staining was significant, as was the water spotting. The ketchup damage wasn’t terrible, but it was noticeable. I do not put a recommendation on Bumblechutes for furniture projects as a durable finish. I think you could use it in a few situations, such over milk paint. In that situation, the milk paint is the actual finish, and the wax is just an added layer of protection for the paint. Of course, it could also be used in its original target market: cutting and charcuterie boards.
Tried and True Original Finish (Bottom Right): I was REALLY hoping this finish would pass each test. I used it on a small chair I built, and I think it leaves a nice finish on the wood. Unfortunately, both the wine and water caused some issues in the finish. The ketchup was far less noticeable, but still there. I am going to give T&T the same recommendation I gave to Odie’s oil: I think you could use it on chairs, small boxes, bowls, interior compartments of dressers, etc. But, I would not recommend it for high traffic or horizontal surfaces, especially those where they may be exposed to sitting moisture.
One thing I did NOT cover (but would consider covering in the future) is the reparability. T&T specifically says their finish can be very easily reapplied to repair damage. I definitely think the water spot could be repaired fairly easily, but it would take a fair amount of sanding to remove the wine stain; I’d venture it would take about as much effort to take the wine stain out of a polyurethane, so I am not sure there’s a huge time savings on a major repair.
Stay tuned, there are still a few more finishes left in this round, but they’re still curing so I am waiting another week or two to test them!
When I wrote this blog a few years back, my goal was to offer free walk-throughs of my woodworking plans. At the time, I was VERY new to woodworking and underestimated 1) the time it would take to build these plans and 2) the lack of other quality, DIY friendly plans in the marketplace.
This blog isn’t setting any internet traffic records, and I am not an “influencer”. What has happened, though, is my custom business has taken off like a rocket. While I want to keep offering plans and responding to questions people have about building them, it’s become a strain on my (otherwise paid) limited time in the shop.
All this to say, I am transitioning all my plans into a paid format on Etsy. I will still try to keep them affordable, around $15. This way, I can still offer the old plans (along with my support to anyone building them along the way) and even start to justify the design time on new plans as well.
When you talk about wood finishes, it can be a sensitive subject. People have VERY strong opinions on which finish is the best. In reality, each project can have its own set of special uses and needs that make a certain finish better or worse for that application. Cutting boards, for example, are best finished with beeswax and mineral oil because of their food-safe qualities, but they would be a terrible finish for a table because they offer little in the way of scratch resistance.
My goal was to try and add some systematic method to test out a few of my favorite finishes, and a couple of very popular finishes on social media, and see which ones hold up and which ones don’t.
I chose to use Zinsser Shellac as my “baseline” finish. It’s been around for centuries, is inexpensive, easily found in big-box hardware stores, and is non-toxic. I use shellac quite a bit on small projects, but have never used it on full-size furniture because I was concerned it wouldn’t provide enough durability, especially against wine and beer spills (alcohol is the solvent used for shellac).
The other finishes from my normal roster were General Finishes Arm-r-Seal and Mohawk Finishes Dura-coat Lacquer. Arm-r-seal is a wipe-on, oil based Urethane that I use extensively, especially for table tops. I have first hand experience with it on my own furniture, and I know it works well. I have begun to use Duracoat more and more these days; it looks great, sprays well, and dries fast. But, I know that acetone is a thinner for it, so I’ve always been curious how it would hold-up against something like nail polish remover.
Two finishes I have very little experience with are Rubio Monocoat and Odie’s Oil. I will openly admit I am VERY skeptical of short-cuts when it comes to finishing; I even put primer under my “paint and primer in one” paints when I do walls. I love the idea of a non-toxic, beautiful finish that is easy to apply, though. So, it was a matter of putting these to the test. Ultimately, if they perform well, I’d have no reason to continue using my other finishes which require more precautions (the lacquer, especially, requires organic vapor masks).
To test everything, I took 5 cut off pieces of cherry from the same board. Each piece was sanded to the manufacturers instructions, and applied that was as well. The Rubio was sanded to 120 grit, but everything else was sanded to 220.
The first, and least important test for this application, was the appearance test. Rubio got a pass on the color portion, because all I had was a white tinted finish; that being said, all reviewers in a blind test thought the sheen of the Rubio was the worst of them. Odie’s oil finished next to last; they claim you can get a better sheen by sanding to much higher grits, though. Arm-r-seal finished just behind the Shellac and Lacquer, which both had great satin sheet, deep color, and very little blotching (which cherry is known for).
The most important part was the durability test. I let the finishes cure for three weeks after application; this is important, as Rubio specifically requires this much time without using the accelerator product, and Odie’s oil has a fairly long cure time as well. The selling point is that, once cured, these “hard oil” finishes are supposed to be very durable; both of these products are routinely sold as flooring finishes.
The idea was to test four, common household liquids against the finishes to see how they would perform. Each piece was separated into a grid, and marked so that the wine, water, ketchup, and nail polish remover could be applied in an isolated area.
The NPR would be applied, left to sit for 30 seconds, then immediately wiped off with a clean paper towel. The idea was to imitate the most common way NPR would be exposed to a table; accidental spill, run to get towels, wipe to clean.
The wine, water, and ketchup were applied with a dropper and left to sit for 12 hours. This was meant to simulate what people with kids already experience daily; messes that often are left without our knowledge for long periods of time. They were then wiped with a damp cloth to remove all surface liquid, and wiped with a dry cloth.
The results were both surprising, and not. Three finishes performed very well against the NPR; Odie’s Oil, Arm-r-seal, and Rubio Pure. Acetone is a fairly strong solvent, so it was great to see these perform so well. Shellac performed acceptably; there was some minor discoloration, but for being such a simple finish, from a chemical standpoint, that was surprisingly good. The Duracoat, as expected, failed. Lots of finish displaced or removed. This was NOT very surprising; acetone is a thinner for lacquer, so I knew this would strip it.
The real test was the overnight test. Here, some real differences appeared. Starting at the top, the Arm-r-seal passed with flying colors. No discoloration from water, ketchup, or wine.
Next up was the Duracoat. No discoloration from the water, wine, or ketchup either. Just the absolute slightest dulling of the sheen where the wine was, but you have to look very, very hard to see it.
Shellac was the real surprise performer here. I was sure the alcohol in the wine would spell disaster for the shellac, since alcohol is used to dissolve it. In fact, there wasn’t any noticeable discoloration or sheen degradation from the wine. The water did, however, leave a noticeable spot.
Odie’s Oil failed in all three cases. A noticeable pink tinge where the wine had been, an noticeable water spot, and a sheen degradation from the ketchup, though it was admittedly slight.
I say this last part with the following disclaimer; the people at Rubio are incredibly friendly, helpful, and their color options are great. However, their finish just critically failed the durability test. As you can see, there is substantial staining from the wine, a noticeable water mark, and a noticeable ketchup mark.
So what is the take-away here? What are my recommendations? Well first, like I said, people have very strong opinions about finishing regimens; if any of these products has worked well for you, and you’re satisfied with it, continue to use it! Odie’s oil is a great option for people who don’t have the ability to spray a finish, or maybe live in an apartment where they can’t be using an oil based, wiping varnish like Arm-r-Seal.
Here’s what I recommend though, based on my personal furniture building experience:
-If there’s any chance your furniture may be exposed to acetone through nail polish remover, go with General Finishes Arm-r-seal. While it didn’t get the highest spot on appearance, it only just barely trailed the lacquer and shellac, and did incredibly well in all four durability tests. The recoat time is a drag; as much as 24 hours between coats. But, if that doesn’t bother you, it’s a great option.
-For furniture that won’t be exposed to NPR or acetone (really anything except coffee tables and end tables), I highly recommend Duracoat. And, honestly, even if it might be exposed to acetone, I still recommend it; you can buy a spray can of their “blush retarder” that almost instantly repairs any acetone damage; lacquer just redissolves into itself. Mohawk also sells a “post catalyzed” version of their lacquer, which is supposed to be solvent resistant, but I have no experience there.
-If you want a non-toxic, inexpensive, easily repaired finish then you need to be looking at shellac. I am going to go ahead and say it’s unsuitable for table tops, based on the water spotting. But for dressers, chairs, book shelves, or any other non-table surfaces, I cannot recommend it highly enough.
-EDIT: I’ve reevaluated my recommendation on Odie’s Oil. I left the original below, but here’s where I think I land on Odie’s: Go ahead and use it for anything where you’re not concerned about moisture. Essentially, I don’t recommend it for horizontal surfaces.
Why the change? I had a bit left, and I used it to finish the inside of the drawers of a dresser. It applied well, looks pretty good, and was quick and non-toxic. I know there’s practically ZERO change I spill wine, water, or ketchup in there. So, for chairs, boxes, dressers, bed frames, etc. I think I can give it a recommendation. I still think the appearance was inferior to the other three, though it wasn’t terrible. I still give it a very firm “not recommended” for any kind of table top or moisture-prone surface.
ORIGINAL: I do not place a recommendation on Odie’s oil for furniture, especially table tops and high-wear surfaces. The single coat is attractive, but it doesn’t mean much if you have to refinish the table frequently. When a piece leaves my shop, I want to know that I won’t be fixing the finish for years to come. I think this is a great option for tool handles, cutting boards, chairs even. But I give it a very solid “do not recommend” for furniture.
-I wouldn’t use Rubio Monocoat under almost any circumstance. The sheen was judged as the worst, and it failed worst of all on durability. They don’t recommend it for cutting boards (I don’t believe). I know other builders who use it for brush handles or tool handles; I think that’s about the only circumstance it could hold up in. But frankly, just use shellac then; it’s a lot less expensive.
It’s been a while since I posted anything to the blog! Most of my DIY tips and ideas have been focused on small little tips on Instagram (@dibwoodworking), and I have been swamped with my custom work (www.edelweisswood.com).
However, it’s time for another awesome collaboration with Osborne Wood Products! It’s always fun to collaborate with them to highlight a new product, and this lift hardware is definitely something I haven’t worked with before. As in previous times, they provided me the legs for this build and the lift hardware for free in exchange for me writing the instructions to install them. I built this one on spec this time, without a client lined up, so this one will likely get sold at a slight profit (but a discount to full price to make up for the materials I was provided). Just in the interest of full disclosure!
The table legs are the Osborne Lakeland Coffee Table legs in Cherry; the legs have a shaker look to them, and cherry is a classic shaker style wood, so it seemed to be a good fit. We’ve done enough of these builds together that I won’t have to spend too much time going through the details on the general construction of the table. Dimensions are 40″ x 24″ for the table top. From leg-to-leg, these dimensions are 37″ x 22″. Look back at my puzzle table post in regards to making the aprons, with mortise and tenon construction.
Because the brackets are so deep, the aprons need to be a full 4.5″ wide. Use 3/4 inch stock for the aprons. Glue everything together overnight, checking to make sure the frame is square by measuring the diagonals.
Build the table by gluing up together boards of 3/4″ thick stock (aka 4/4). Using a circular saw with and edge guide, or a track saw, cut the table top to final dimensions. Round over the edges slightly, and sand the table top; start with 80 grit, then move through 120, 150, and then 220 grit. Do the same with the table frame throughly; the legs came pre-sanded at 150, but you’ll need to get the aprons to 150 as well before everything gets sanded to 220.
Why are we doing all of this sanding before final assembly? Well, because the table top is attached to the frame by the lift brackets, and the hardware is difficult to finish around, it’s best to finish everything ahead of time.
I chose to use a spray lacquer from Mohawk Finishes called Duracoat; it gives a really nice sheen, and deepens the color of the cherry nicely as well. Cherry has a strong tendency to blotch when it is exposed to oil finishes; over time, the blotching will even out as the cherry darkens, but I prefer to use a spray lacquer initially to minimize the blotching up front.
Now, the main reason I am doing this write-up is for the instructions on using the lift brackets, so let’s start in! I found the best way to place these was to start by cutting a board that we will use as a “cleat” to attach the hardware to the inside of the aprons of the table. The reason we’re doing this is to allow us to make sure the brackets sit exactly flush to the top of the frame, and parallel to the table frame as well. My brackets had just a slight tilt off parallel to them, so this was necessary to make sure the lift action was perfectly parallel.
Make the cleat only as deep as the main portion of the bracket itself (1 and 7/8 inches). The bracket is 11.75 inches long, but to make sure these is enough room for the bracket to tilt backward when it opens, we will want to leave an inch of clearance behind. The best way to accomplish that is to cut the cleat 12.75″ long, which gives you a consistent one inch spacer to help place it.
Temporarily attach the brackets to the cleat using 5/8 inch #6 screws; two should be plenty. This will allow us to clamp the bracket and cleat in place for alignment.
Turn the table upside down, and place the frame on the table top so that it is evenly centered vertically and horizontally. Clamp the table top down firmly; we don’t want it to move as we attach the brackets in place.
Place the back of the cleat against the back side of the leg, making sure the part that attaches to the table sits flush to the table top. One of the nice things about the Osborne brackets is that the holes for attaching the top are elongated, which allows the wood to move if you use a solid surface table top. The bad part? The holes are quite wide, so wide that I couldn’t find any screws at Lowes with a wide enough head that it won’t just go through the hole. The best solution I could find was to take a 5/8 inch long, #6 screw with a round, flat head and a couple of washers; a #6 washer and a #8 washer. The #6 washer wasn’t quite wide enough to cover the hole, but the #8 was. The two stacked together worked perfectly. Attach all three to the table top before moving on to the side that attaches the aprons.
With the table in this position, you’ll only have easy access to two of the holes that attach the bracket to the apron; that’s plenty to hold it in place to get access to the last two. Drill a pilot hole, and use a flat headed screw 1.25″ long to secure the bracket to the apron, passing through the cleat on the way through.
Once each bracket is attached with two screws, you can lift the apron and frame up, and place the final two screws.
The brackets run smoothly and with a fair amount of ease, but I don’t want to risk and racking forces throwing the frame out or causing any issues. Normally, the frame and apron would be attached to each other, and there wouldn’t be much need for corner brackets. In this case, I decided to add some using pocket screws. I don’t normally prefer pocket screws for furniture joinery, but this is a perfect situation for it.
Cut some pieces with 45 degree miters on each edge side, and then place them in the pocket jig as such to cut the pocket screws.
Put one in each corner of the table, using the bottom side of the brackets as your guide.
That’s it! Your table is now ready to go. Give it a test run; it has a great, soft close action and gives a nice height for working from a couch.
I talk a lot in my blog and my tutorial plans about how important it is to get properly dried and acclimated lumber. If you don’t have a large lumber yard that you trust, like I do, how do you make sure what you’re getting will work?
I knock home center lumber a lot on here, but I understand that for a lot of you it may be your only option. The biggest problem with lumber from Home Depot, Lowes, and Menards is that it’s kiln dried to general construction standards. That can mean it’s “dried” but only to about 20% moisture content. In a house, where the entire frame is nailed and screwed with large fasteners and hidden behind drywall, you’ll never notice or care if the wood shrinks or cracks. In furniture, it makes a huge difference.
Here are links to two amazing (but incredibly technical) resources on wood movement.
I’ll summarize the main ideas as it relates to this recent bargain load of lumber I got.
Lowes had this entire cart of mostly yellow pine for about $22. They graded it as mostly “unsuitable for use.” We woodworkers know better. While warped and knotted, this would be the perfect wood for a workbench. A few trips on a jointer and planer and it would be indistinguishable.
They told me, from the get-go, that they’d accumulated this lumber over the course of a few months. I had a suspicion then that it had already done most of its acclimating. But, there was also an easy way to verify it.
I took the lumber home, let it sit a week, and then tested it with my moisture meter. Every piece registered right about 7-8% moisture. Using the resource above, and knowing that my humidifier keeps my house consistently between 30-40% moisture, I know that the wood is already at equilibrium in my home. Perfect!
But what if it weren’t? If I bought all brand-new yellow pine, I’d expect it to be about 20% moisture. The USDA chart tells me the tangential coefficient is about 0.0026 for long-leaf pine. So, as the moisture content drops to 7% from 20% (a 13% difference) , I can expect my 2×12 to shrink by 13 x .0026 x 11.5″= 0.3887 inches, or about 3/8ths of an inch!
Is 3/8ths of an inch a big deal? Absolutely, especially when combined with bad DIY building technique that constrains the wood. Lets say you made a kitchen table using popular DIY plans. It’s 40″ wide yellow pine, and you took it straight from the shelf, screwed four boards together, and used Kreg screws to fasten it on all sides to the table base.
Using the calculations above, we know the wood is going to move. In this case, you have 13 x .0026 x 40″ of movement, or 1.35 inches! In other words, by doing absolutely nothing but sitting there, your table will become 1.35″ narrower in a matter of just a few months.
OK, so who care’s about an inch of width though? Will your dinner party be any less comfortable with a 39″ wide table? Well, because you fastened the table-top to the base with a rigid system of nails, as the wood tries to shrink it’s not going to be able to do so; the screws holding it to the table apron won’t let the boards shrink. Instead, either your table will warp substantially as the wood curls in on itself, or you’ll get large cracks in the top as the wood violently splits at its weakest points.
Truth be told, even if you DID use proper table fasteners, like figure-eights or z-clips, I’m not sure they could help with a 1.35″ degree of shrinkage.
Here’s a fine assortment of examples from the web of people that were burned by wood movement:
So, if the only option you have is to use lumber from Home Depot or Lowes, get yourself a $30 moisture meter. When you select your lumber, bring it with you and pick the driest boards you can find. Then, let them sit until they’re at LEAST 10% moisture, preferably less, before you work with them. It takes patience, and planning, but it’s much better than putting time, effort, and money into a project that ends up like the ones above.
When my daughter asked if I could build a baby doll bed for her doll, Bella, I was thrilled.
This was such a fun project to build, and I was even able to involve her in the whole process. This design was selected by Sophia; she picked one from a catalog that she liked. Then, she sketched some crayon schematics (basically, taller headboard than footboard). Finally, she sketched the double heart that she wanted on each board.
I am making these drawings and designs 100% FREE so that you can build one with your child. The templates for the head and foot board are here: baby crib plans. If you print each one on a full sheet of paper, you’ll be able to trace out this exact design.
I’ve posted about shellac, previously, as part of my finishing regimen. However, I’ve never truly talked about how amazing this finish is, and how truly simple it is to use.
Let’s start with what shellac is: unlike polyurethane, laquer, and most other commercial finishes, shellac is 100% natural. It’s actually the secretion from the Lac insect. Yes, it’s basically bug poop. But before you let that gross you out, you should know that you’ve actually eaten this stuff before!
The flakes of lac are collected and processed. In that form, they can come in a few different tones (amber, garnet, blonde). Each of these colors has its own unique coloring effect it will add to the wood. The flakes are mixed with alcohol, and can be applied using a brush, rag, or sprayer. Importantly, at this point, they still contain a substantial amount of natural wax. Each subsequent coat of shellac slightly dissolves the underlying coat, which makes the shellac build a finish quite well. One of the most prized finishes, the French Polish, is accomplished using shellac. The wax, however, means that no other finishes will stick to shellac in this form.
Sound complicated and the opposite of the “simple” finish I promised? Don’t worry, there’s an alternative.
Premixed shellac is widely available! Home Depot and Lowes carry the Bullseye (Zinsser) brand in both Amber and Clear. The Amber shellac is a waxed shellac. The clear is dewaxed. Both are available in quarts, gallons, and spray cans.
While nothing will stick to waxed (amber) shellac, the dewaxed stuff is practically a miracle finish. EVERYTHING (practically) sticks to dewaxed shellac, and it sticks to everything.
One of the biggest struggles in finishing is compatibility; say you want to use a colored stain or dye, but it’s water based. If you try to use an oil topcoat on a water stain, you can be asking for trouble (watch homemade salad dressing after it’s settled, as an example of how that combo works). Water and oil don’t mix! You could use a water based finish on top, but they often look dull and they aren’t typically as protective.
The solution? Seal Coat shellac!
After the water stain has dried a day or two, put on two or three coats of this heavily thinned shellac (sanding in between, lightly). The shellac adds warmth to the otherwise dull water stain. And, it acts as a barrier between the water and oil finishes.
What else do I love about shellac? From the can with a brush, it is ready to recoat in about an hour; from the spray can, they say as soon as the first coat is tacky (5 minutes, tops). That’s an exceptionally fast finish! I’m sure denatured alcohol isn’t exactly healthy for you, but it’s much less caustic, I think, to breathe than the oil based finishes (I still wear a respirator mask).
Since it’s all natural, it’s basically edible once it’s cured. I don’t recommend chewing on your new bookcase, but if you’re making a kid’s toy, I’d go with shellac.
What else? Well, it is a crazy good stain and odor sealer. Many primers are even shellac based, specifically because of that quality. A gallon of amber shellac is about $40 at Home Depot right now. That’s about on par with a cheap polyurethane like Minwax. The equivalent amount of Arm-R-Seal, my favorite oil varnish, is about $60.
Are there downsides to this miracle finish? Well, yes, of course. For one, it’s alcohol soluble, do you won’t want to use it on a dining table, bar, or coffee table. Because it’s mixed with alcohol, it’s highly flammable; maybe even more prone to spontaneous combustion than an oil finish.
But wait! Both of these things are secretly benefits, too. The solubility means you can repair scratches and such in seconds, seamlessly. And even though it’s more combustible in the short term, it dries way faster than oil based finishes. You can lay it out flat, in within about ten minutes the whole rag is dry; a linseed oil based finish may take 6 hours to fully dry. Alcohol is also water soluble, which means you can dunk your used rag in a bucket of water before you lay it flat to dry; that helps reduce the spontaneous combustion risk.
Looking back on the last year and a half, I’ve done a LOT of fun projects. I’ve had collaborations with Osborne Wood, personal projects with exotic lumber, etc. But, looking back at the original purpose of DIB, I welcomed this next commission as a chance to tie in my custom business with the blog!
What if you don’t want ebonized, inlaid, or acrylic furniture? What if you just want some Pintrest-worthy “rustic-chic” furniture? If you’ve been reading my blog long enough, you’ll know there are tons of issues with how those DIY websites design and build their furniture.
When my client asked me to build a table similar to this, I knew there were some things I would have to do to make the project last.
I used these legs for the coffee table and these for the end tables. They are “knotty” pine, which I was told is a white pine in their case.
The first thing I did was buy high quality lumber, from a lumber yard. Pictured are sheets of white pine veneered, 3/4 inch plywood and slabs of 2″ thick, locally cut white pine. I ended up needing one extra slab. This stuff is kiln dried; when pine is fully dried, it’s really stable, unlike the hardware store stuff that has to continue drying out. If you absolutely can’t find a lumber yard that carries white pine, you COULD use construction lumber from a hardware store. If you do, buy it a couple months early and let it sit in your basement to dry out. It’ll warp, but better to do it BEFORE you surface everything than after it’s built.
Instead of using pocket screws to create the top, which would cause warping and cracking as the wood moved seasonally, I used the plywood (very stable) as the base. I cut a rabbet cut (which is just a groove that’s on the outside of a board) that the plywood would sit in.
The mitered corners were reinforced with biscuits on the inside of the miter. You could use mails, splines, dominos, etc.
To attach the top to the legs, I put pieces of 4/4 pine on the bottom of each leg, glued, with a single deck screw going in to add extra support. That glue joint has end grain on the leg, which doesn’t hold as well, so the screw gives the glue some added strength. The 4/4 squares are glued to the top and bottom and held with 23 gauge pin nails while the glue dries. Those glue joints are all “long grain” and are very strong.
By using scrap MDF pieces to fill in the depth under the tables, I provided a stable basis with a very strong glue surface.
For the stain, I used General Finishes Antique Oak. It’s a water based stain, which reduces the blotching that pine characteristically shows when stained with oil stains. The pockets of pitch and sap in the pine become dissolved by the oil solvents, and you get uneven coloring. With water-based stain and poly, this is almost eliminated.
No full walk-through on this one; it was a commission piece, so I don’t give away the full process there. But, these general guidelines will give you a “Shabby Chic” looking table with long-lasting construction techniques.
It’s time for the exciting conclusion to this coffee table build: the ebonized walnut top with inlay banding. I know, it sounds complicated! It really isn’t though; you can do all of this build with a circular saw and a router, if that’s all you had.Start by ripping some 4/4 walnut into strips that are 1 5/8″ wide. This will allow for a 3/8″ deep tongue that will go into the plywood, and a 1.25″ solid frame for the plywood. The plywood piece should be 50″ long by 27″ wide. You’ll note that this is a bit different from the measurements I put in the last part for the total dimensions. It’s going to actually be 52.5 x 29.5″ wide. I was originally planning on a 1″ board but 1.25″ looked better. Plane it to be exactly as thick as the plywood.
Using a slot cutting bit with a 1/4″ tall cutter, cut a groove on every edge of the plywood that is centered. Try to get as close to centered as you can when adjusting the bit depth; my plywood had a 1/4″ thick MDF core I used to line everything up. To ensure it’s dead centered, flip the plywood and route again from that side.
Now, create a matching, centered tongue on the walnut lumber that is 3/8″ deep. You can use a router table; I used a dado on my table saw. You could also use the same slot cutting bit, using the bearing to guide it. You have options!
I decided to add a really, really subtle to the bottom of the walnut frame. The legs have a 4 degree slope on them, so I added a 4 degree chamfer to the underside. I used a featherboard to hold it tight, and put that slight chamfer on with the table saw. Barely noticeable, but trying to pull elements together on this design.
Using the miter sled on your table saw, cut mitered corners on everything. Make sure they’re as tight as you can get them and dry fit everything together. Once it looks good, place some Titebond Dark glue in the groove, put everything together, and clamp.
I like to put a spline on all my mitered corners to reinforce them. Miters are mostly end-grain joints, so by adding a spline you add a method to connect them with long-grain, which glues better. The easiest way I’ve found to do this on a large piece is use two cutoffs to create a flat reference edge. Then use the slot bit.
Now comes the truly magical part: ebonizing! Take that solution we set aside a week ago, and strain it through a coffee filter. I tried a few different dilution rates, and I settled on 50% of the mixture plus 50% more vinegar. This gave it a deep, rich black color but allowed some of the grain to still show through.
The reason this works is the mixture we created is actually iron-acetate. It’s a chemical that, when it reacts with tannins in wood, turns the wood black. Any wood with a high tannin content will work; oak, cherry, or walnut. Since walnut is already pretty dark, you may have better results. The grain is also more subtle than oak.
Apply it with a clean soft rag, making sure the walnut is uniformly damp, but not soaking wet. Here’s a video showing me applying some!
To protect the thin veneer on the plywood for the next stage, coat the top with two coats of a dewaxed shellac sanding sealer. This will keep the ebony from being removed as well.
Mark out your corners. I decided to use 1 inch in from the edge of the walnut plywood. These lines are there to tell you when to stop your router; you’ll use a sharp chisel to clean up the corners.
The inlay banding comes in 40 inch sections. We will use four of them for this table, using a scarf joint to create the longer sections. It’s 13/16ths of an inch wide. You’ll need a straight cutting router bit and a router with a guide fence to route the channel. My router came with a guide, but you may need to buy one depending on your model. You can also clamp a straight edge to the table and use that to guide your router. Make sure you check the depth of cut on a scrap before attempting it on the table.
The only tools you need for cutting the inlay are a sharp knife and a straight edge. In theory, they should be 45 degree angles on each corner. I found the fit turned out better if I used the knife to mark the inside and outside corners, then connected them with the straight edge.
With a funky pattern like this, you’re shooting more for a close match on the miters; it’s very difficult to get an exact pattern match. I was happy with the results. Glue them in using Titebond liquid hide glue. It is urea based, not water based, meaning it won’t swell the inlay and make it warp. Put a straight piece of wood with painters tape on top and clamp it down to hold everything flat.
On the two long sides you’ll need to splice a small strip of veneer in to get the length we need. This is a good place for a scarf joint. The pattern lends well to it as well. Cut a line along the slope of one of the shapes, match it to the other piece, glue in tight for an almost invisible seam.
This is a good time to attach the frame. Use 1″ pocket screws. The guide on my kit says I can use 1.25″ but I found they almost punch through.
Sand, very lightly, with 220 by hand to remove the router marks. Then apply topcoat as usual. I did 3-4 coats of General Finishes Arm-r-Seal in Semi-gloss.