How to tell what wood will look like when it's finished? - Woodworking Talk - Woodworkers Forum
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post #1 of 30 Old 06-01-2017, 02:45 AM Thread Starter
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How to tell what wood will look like when it's finished?

This is basically a lumberyard etiquette question:

How do you tell what a specific piece of wood will look like once it's finished, without buying it? Is it considered acceptable to bring a cloth dampened with mineral spirits or paint thinner and give it a quick wipe, just to get a better look at the color/grain? Is there any way at all?

I'm asking mostly because I'm planning a new bookcase and trying to decide between cherry and mahogany. I have some cherry in my workbench and coffee table that has an incredibly beautiful, dark color that I would LOVE to see in a bookcase...but I also have a side table and one lone drawer in the workbench that are also made of cherry, but came out MUCH lighter - and I definitely would NOT want a bookcase of that shade. But I don't recall seeing a super significant difference between the two pieces at the lumberyard!

So...is there any acceptable way to get a preview of the finished wood while still at the lumberyard? Or is that just something that comes with experience and knowing what wood will look like?
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post #2 of 30 Old 06-01-2017, 07:18 AM
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Depends on the stain but sometimes you need a few coats, or the can needs to be shaken much more vigorously. You could stain the bottom of the plank of wood before assembling it. I have a friend that had to use 20 coats of stain because he didn't shake the can enough before applying. If you buy the same type of wood, like all pine, it should turn out the same for each piece.

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post #3 of 30 Old 06-01-2017, 07:24 AM
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You make "try " samples on scrap wood.

George
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post #4 of 30 Old 06-01-2017, 07:43 AM
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I think if you took a rag with thinner on it in a store they would run you off with a stick. I think you could get a pretty good idea by researching the wood on google images. Another option would be to find a veneer supplier online. Most sell a sample package which comes with a bunch of different veneers which are all labeled. This would be helpful to you identifying different species of wood too. Some lumber yards will cut lumber for people to fit in their car. If yours does this maybe they have small pieces of the wood you are looking at which you could buy cheap and test the finish on.
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post #5 of 30 Old 06-01-2017, 07:50 AM
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Bottle of water and a rag. A quick wipe with water will bring out the grain. It won't, obviously, show the finished look, with stain, varnish or other top coat, etc., but it will give you a good idea of what the grain will look like.
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post #6 of 30 Old 06-01-2017, 10:23 AM Thread Starter
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Thanks for the answers, guys. For clarification, this isn't about how wood will take a stain or how different varieties of wood will look...this is about how different boards of the SAME wood will look (so making scrap pieces or researching online won't really help me). I work without stains when working with hardwoods (except for oak), and as I said in my first post, I've seen cherry in particular to have a HUGE range of color, from a beautiful dark color to a much weaker and lighter color.

I guess I'll just try my luck at the lumber yard and hope I get better wood than I did next time. I can always find another use for cherry.
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post #7 of 30 Old 06-01-2017, 10:36 AM
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Quote:
I've seen cherry in particular to have a HUGE range of color, from a beautiful dark color to a much weaker and lighter color.
Most correct observation...

Cherry and many other species can have vast differences in they way the present when wetted...even from the same piece of wood...

Quote:
I guess I'll just try my luck at the lumber yard and hope I get better wood than I did next time. I can always find another use for cherry.
Wiping with water or even alcohol (what we use) is a standard practice to compare wood grain and basic behavior (aka presentation) when it will be finished (other than stain.)

Reputable Wood Suppliers would have no objection...They may (we do) ask to do this for or with you, while they help you make the best selection for your project.

Note...We seldom employ stains (not done for the most part in our work..or is a traditional staining system) and we only use traditional finishes and no modern finishes, so our entire interaction with wood and wood suppliers may be outside the scope of where you are and what you do...???
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post #8 of 30 Old 06-01-2017, 10:42 AM
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Most furniture gets an application of stain before the finish is applied. A stain can enhance the look of any wood. Since there are many varieties of stains, each brand, type and. Olof will effect the final look of the wood. The top coat of finish will also effect the final look of the wood.
If you're not using a stain, a wipe with a damp cloth will reveal what you can expect with a clear finish only.

If you don't have time to do it right the first time, when will you have time to do it over?
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post #9 of 30 Old 06-01-2017, 10:46 AM
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I'm guessing that you're the type of person who just has to peek at Christmas presents the day before and then pretend to be surprised it's still just another crappy sweater declaring you to be the world's greatest crappy sweater recipient.
I always like the element of surprise myself..
And by the way I AM the worlds GREATEST crappy sweater recipient. I never wear the damned things, but I still like getting them.

I figured it's time to change my signature so hold your breath. This is it.
Impressive, huh?
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post #10 of 30 Old 06-01-2017, 11:32 AM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by Jay C. White Cloud View Post
Most correct observation...

Cherry and many other species can have vast differences in they way the present when wetted...even from the same piece of wood...



Wiping with water or even alcohol (what we use) is a standard practice to compare wood grain and basic behavior (aka presentation) when it will be finished (other than stain.)

Reputable Wood Suppliers would have no objection...They may (we do) ask to do this for or with you, while they help you make the best selection for your project.

Note...We seldom employ stains (not done for the most part in our work..or is a traditional staining system) and we only use traditional finishes and no modern finishes, so our entire interaction with wood and wood suppliers may be outside the scope of where you are and what you do...???
Most helpful response yet! Thank you. As I said, I have no intention of staining the cherry, and I just want to make sure the wood I'm getting will be fairly uniform throughout the whole project (rather than, say, changing from dark to light halfway through the piece!).

Off-topic...what "traditional finishes" do you use? I LOVE tung oil when the durabiilty of polyurethane isn't needed, but i'm always looking for more options.
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post #11 of 30 Old 06-01-2017, 12:01 PM
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I hate to see stains used on beautiful woods. Last summer we did a job using 35,000 bd ft of quartered sapele. The inferior decorator had it bleached then a heavy grey "stain" applied. It looked painted. She bragged about how she only did the finest work with the best materials.
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post #12 of 30 Old 06-01-2017, 12:09 PM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by Larry Schweitzer View Post
I hate to see stains used on beautiful woods. Last summer we did a job using 35,000 bd ft of quartered sapele. The inferior decorator had it bleached then a heavy grey "stain" applied. It looked painted. She bragged about how she only did the finest work with the best materials.
That is absolutely horrifying. I'm with you, man...that's why I made a point of not using any stains at all with my coffee table.
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post #13 of 30 Old 06-01-2017, 03:38 PM
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We have professional finishers on the forum. I'd like to hear their opinions regarding stain or no stain.
Put me down on the side of using a stain on almost any type wood. I think it brings out the grain and enhances the wood. This includes Walnut, Oaks and Mahogany.
Non-professionals, those that have had poor experiences with staining and those that like to skip all the steps they can always say they like it "natural" with no stain.
Yes there's many differences of opinion, but that's what makes our world go round.

If you don't have time to do it right the first time, when will you have time to do it over?
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post #14 of 30 Old 06-01-2017, 04:05 PM
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I ask my local supplier if I could bring paint thinner with me and They did not have a problem with it. If you have a project that you would like to have wood that is really close to the same color this is a good way. Of course depending on what finish you are going to apply the color may be lighter or darker than with just paint thinner. But weather its lighter or darker the color should be consistent. Good Luck
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post #15 of 30 Old 06-01-2017, 04:14 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mackman View Post
This is basically a lumberyard etiquette question:

How do you tell what a specific piece of wood will look like once it's finished, without buying it? Is it considered acceptable to bring a cloth dampened with mineral spirits or paint thinner and give it a quick wipe, just to get a better look at the color/grain? Is there any way at all?

I'm asking mostly because I'm planning a new bookcase and trying to decide between cherry and mahogany. I have some cherry in my workbench and coffee table that has an incredibly beautiful, dark color that I would LOVE to see in a bookcase...but I also have a side table and one lone drawer in the workbench that are also made of cherry, but came out MUCH lighter - and I definitely would NOT want a bookcase of that shade. But I don't recall seeing a super significant difference between the two pieces at the lumberyard!

So...is there any acceptable way to get a preview of the finished wood while still at the lumberyard? Or is that just something that comes with experience and knowing what wood will look like?
Something I haven't noticed anybody mention on here yet that is VERY important... cherry gets darker as it ages. It's possible that the color variations in your workbench are due to age. Additionally remember sap wood is always lighter and will never be the same color.
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post #16 of 30 Old 06-01-2017, 05:03 PM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by Masterofnone View Post
Something I haven't noticed anybody mention on here yet that is VERY important... cherry gets darker as it ages. It's possible that the color variations in your workbench are due to age. Additionally remember sap wood is always lighter and will never be the same color.
This is actually something I just discovered via research. I suppose it's possible that the dark stuff got hit with some sunlight while the lighter stuff was shaded. Whether or not I bring in something to pull the grain/color out, I think i'll set the cherry outside in the sun for a week or two and hopefully get it to that beautiful darker shade. Also, how do you tell when the cherry in a lumber yard is sap wood?


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Originally Posted by Toolman50 View Post
We have professional finishers on the forum. I'd like to hear their opinions regarding stain or no stain.
Put me down on the side of using a stain on almost any type wood. I think it brings out the grain and enhances the wood. This includes Walnut, Oaks and Mahogany.
Non-professionals, those that have had poor experiences with staining and those that like to skip all the steps they can always say they like it "natural" with no stain.
Yes there's many differences of opinion, but that's what makes our world go round.

Well, I have neither had poor experiences with staining nor do I want to skip steps (although I do admit that being able to knock down high spots without worrying about removing stain is VERY nice). But when I look at my coffee table and know that it's the natural appearance of the wood giving it all those vibrant hues, it makes me very happy. :)
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post #17 of 30 Old 06-01-2017, 06:30 PM
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[QUOTE=mackman;1676201]
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Originally Posted by Masterofnone View Post
Also, how do you tell when the cherry in a lumber yard is sap wood?
It's extremely obvious. The sap wood is almost white when compared to the heartwood.
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post #18 of 30 Old 06-01-2017, 06:46 PM
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You just go right ahead and "test" it for color

You can ask beforehand. There are several ways, including a wet wipe kept in a ziplock bag or a small spray spritzer filled with alcohol. IF they have any problems with you "testing" it, tell them politely you are attempting to match a piece which you have also brought with you. If they still have a problem.... leave without saying "goodbye" ....

Others have not read that you wanted to "test" at the supplier, with no staining and not when you get it home.
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The answer to your question will only be as detailed and specific as the question is detailed and specific. Good questions also include a sketch or a photo that illustrates your issue. (:< D)
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post #19 of 30 Old 06-01-2017, 07:33 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Toolman50 View Post
We have professional finishers on the forum. I'd like to hear their opinions regarding stain or no stain.
Put me down on the side of using a stain on almost any type wood. I think it brings out the grain and enhances the wood. This includes Walnut, Oaks and Mahogany.
Non-professionals, those that have had poor experiences with staining and those that like to skip all the steps they can always say they like it "natural" with no stain.
Yes there's many differences of opinion, but that's what makes our world go round.
Well Toolman....here goes the storm!!! LOL It is an opinion to use or NOT to use stain....

MY personal opinion of stain is.....IF you want a piece a different color....SPEND the money for that type of wood quit being cheap...
MY opinion is also why take a expensive wood and change the color???
MY opinion is IF you have to use stain what is it your hiding????
I can take a clear finish and bring out things most never knew was in the wood...it's all in how it's applied.
I guess by now you've figured out I'm not a fan of stain.....Wood is absolutely beautiful without stain, IF you don't like the sapwood, cut it out....matching grains and patterns make a world of difference without having to stain to "blend" the color. I don't personally like gloss so I final coat with a semi or flat BUT only one coat as the more used the milkier/dingier it appears. That is my Professional opinion.

Mackman, Denatured alcohol is the product to use, most larger major highend lumber sellers use it....it brings out the grain and chatouancy and evaporates quickly without effecting the color or leaving a residue....I'd personally mix it 1/2 and 1/2 with water to prevent the flamability....it burns with 0 to very little visibilty and flashes quickly. Cherry does range in color BUT more depending on where it grew AND how it was processed. Finish....IF I have time I prefer waterlox. Jay has some good info on finishes especially towards more historic and nature friendly.

Cherry....awe the beauty!!! Keep us posted with a thread on the build!!
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Last edited by Tennessee Tim; 06-01-2017 at 07:36 PM.
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post #20 of 30 Old 06-01-2017, 11:36 PM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by woodnthings View Post
You can ask beforehand. There are several ways, including a wet wipe kept in a ziplock bag or a small spray spritzer filled with alcohol. IF they have any problems with you "testing" it, tell them politely you are attempting to match a piece which you have also brought with you. If they still have a problem.... leave without saying "goodbye" ....

Others have not read that you wanted to "test" at the supplier, with no staining and not when you get it home.
Very helpful, thanks! Yeah, I think I really could have titled the thread better to ask a clearer question.

Quote:
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Well Toolman....here goes the storm!!! LOL It is an opinion to use or NOT to use stain....

MY personal opinion of stain is.....IF you want a piece a different color....SPEND the money for that type of wood quit being cheap...
MY opinion is also why take a expensive wood and change the color???
MY opinion is IF you have to use stain what is it your hiding????
I can take a clear finish and bring out things most never knew was in the wood...it's all in how it's applied.
I guess by now you've figured out I'm not a fan of stain.....Wood is absolutely beautiful without stain, IF you don't like the sapwood, cut it out....matching grains and patterns make a world of difference without having to stain to "blend" the color. I don't personally like gloss so I final coat with a semi or flat BUT only one coat as the more used the milkier/dingier it appears. That is my Professional opinion.

Mackman, Denatured alcohol is the product to use, most larger major highend lumber sellers use it....it brings out the grain and chatouancy and evaporates quickly without effecting the color or leaving a residue....I'd personally mix it 1/2 and 1/2 with water to prevent the flamability....it burns with 0 to very little visibilty and flashes quickly. Cherry does range in color BUT more depending on where it grew AND how it was processed. Finish....IF I have time I prefer waterlox. Jay has some good info on finishes especially towards more historic and nature friendly.

Cherry....awe the beauty!!! Keep us posted with a thread on the build!!
This is very nearly my thoughts exactly (except I'm definitely a semi-gloss guy when I use polyurethane). The only hardwood I've stained so far is oak, and that's how I plan on keeping it: It was a bookcase for a friend that came out quite well, and at a price they could afford (unlike if it was actual mahogany or walnut). I don't see myself staining any other hardwood, especially not cherry! I'll see if I can grab some denatured alcohol to take in to the yard.

I've heard waterlox tossed around a lot on this site. Looks like it's a tung oil-based finish with some extra urethane in there?
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