Struggling to find a finish - Woodworking Talk - Woodworkers Forum
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post #1 of 10 Old 11-28-2018, 02:16 AM Thread Starter
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Struggling to find a finish

Hi All - Hoping someone can guide me here. I have been reading forums for the past few days and am beyond confused on what kind of finish to use on my my wood project - I think it's Cedar, but it's not the Eastern Red Cedar, Picture below. I'm making a table/bar and I never realized how many finishing options were available. Originally I was just going to stain/polly using Minwax products but after a ton of reading, I haven't a clue what to do and I have read a lot of contradictory info.

I was thinking about using a bar top epoxy but from what I understand it's risky to use this over an oil based finish. Is that true ? I know there are some exceptions like MirrorCoat being tested with MixWax.

My goal is to bring out the wood grain, darken it a little, but I also want a strong finish that will not be damaged by drink spills, etc.

I started looking at spar varnish, but I'm not sure it has the kind of protection I'm looking for. I definitely like the way it looks thought. Others have suggested a shellac with a 2k polly over it which I've never heard of before.

If someone has a few minutes, can you provide some opinions. Thanks a lot.
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post #2 of 10 Old 11-28-2018, 07:02 AM
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option #1 would be to find a harder wood.
cedar is soft and after a period of time, will show every little
ding and fingernail mark.
depending on the use it will see over the years, I would go with
an epoxy designed for table and bar tops.
it is not really difficult if you have some basic skills, but can prove
to be a challenge and frustrating if done incorrectly.

you need to spend more time with the "search feature" for bar top finish.
welcome aboard !!

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post #3 of 10 Old 11-28-2018, 07:57 AM
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I agree with John that cedar wood is awful soft to make a top but if your family is gentle with it could work.

It's true you shouldn't put epoxy over anything but raw wood. I think since you are not an experienced finisher you should keep it as simple as possible and epoxy certainly not simple. The finish is difficult to apply and can get bubbles in the finish where you have to pass a torch over the finish to expel the bubbles. A bar top is too big of a project to get acquainted with working with epoxy.

A spar varnish is the wrong finish for what you are doing. A spar varnish is made soft to deal with the wood expanding and contracting a lot due to the temperature extremes with being outdoors. Being soft it's not going to be as alcohol resistant as a lot of finishes you might use. The worst of it is you would soon have abrasion marks all over it from people sliding things on the counter.

Shellac and Polyurethane. Polyurethane is temperamental working it. It's not one of the best for adhesion and shellac has a natural wax in it that polyurethane won't adhere to it. A dewaxed shellac such as Zinsser Sealcoat was developed for polyurethane to make it work so if you are going to seal the wood for poly be sure to use a dewaxed shellac.

You will have another dilemma choosing a finish. The wood you are using is light in color and oil based finishes will yellow and continue to yellow more and more as it ages. On medium to dark wood you don't see it but on light wood you do. If you are going to use an oil based finish try to picture the color as though you put a coat of amber shellac on it. Then if you use a water based polyurethane it won't bring out the grain unless you put a natural stain on it first. Now a water based finish is incompatible with the linseed oil in the stain. It's necessary to allow the stain to dry a week before topcoating with a waterborne finish. The water based poly isn't going to give you the chemical resistance you would get with an oil based finish but if you are careful not to let alcohol sit overnight on it should work. The only way you could get more protection would be with a catalyzed finish but they have to be sprayed. A precatalyzed lacquer would give you better chemical resistance but would be the best would be a Catalyzed Conversion Varnish. This would give you the protection you would get with a oil based poly.
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post #4 of 10 Old 11-28-2018, 11:55 AM Thread Starter
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Excellent information - I do appreciate the detailed response. You are correct in that I'm not an experienced finisher but I'm willing to try the epoxy if that's the best method of protecting the soft wood. You said that epoxy should only go over raw wood - does that mean that I cannot use anything to bring out some color prior to the coating ? Most of the table top epoxy youtube videos I've seen show at least a sealer coat that appears to darken the wood and bring out some of the grain. As you mentioned this wood is very light and I certainly want to darken it prior to putting on a clear epoxy coat. Thank you
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post #5 of 10 Old 11-28-2018, 03:22 PM
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Excellent information - I do appreciate the detailed response. You are correct in that I'm not an experienced finisher but I'm willing to try the epoxy if that's the best method of protecting the soft wood. You said that epoxy should only go over raw wood - does that mean that I cannot use anything to bring out some color prior to the coating ? Most of the table top epoxy youtube videos I've seen show at least a sealer coat that appears to darken the wood and bring out some of the grain. As you mentioned this wood is very light and I certainly want to darken it prior to putting on a clear epoxy coat. Thank you
As long as the sealer was compatible with the epoxy you could do that. You should check with the epoxy manufacturer to be sure. Perhaps it's in the instructions. There is easier ways to bring out the color, a natural stain will bring out the color all it's going to.

I think I would find some small project to do with epoxy to get acquainted with it before you start dong the counter. If it goes bad you would end up having to tear the top off and start over.
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post #6 of 10 Old 11-28-2018, 05:19 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks again Steve. Most of the table top epoxies that I've investigated thus far do not recommend using anything oil based, so would you suggest a water based stain as my base ? If so - can you provide a recommendation ? This is really where I'm struggling; trying to figure out a way of getting the look I want before I coat it.

Point taken on doing a test run on the epoxy before trying it on my project. I do have some experience coating concrete floors and use epoxy for patching things, so I do have some knowledge of the issues. I will definitely be reading directions thoroughly and following instructions.
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post #7 of 10 Old 11-28-2018, 06:13 PM
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As Steve pointed out, western red cedar is awfully soft for a table top. I'd be very concerned about what the ultimate denting of the wood will do to the top coat. I used to have a family room all done in western red cedar and it all was well dented from use. I replaced all of the woodwork with red oak. I'll bet epoxy will separate from the wood if impacted much. Varnish will likely hold up better if scuffed properly between applications to ensure proper bonding, but it will be dented after time. Quite honestly,. I wouldn't use cedar for a table/bar top. I'm currently building a coffee table for our living room which will see a lot of use with drinks and plates. I'm making the top (and the base boards) from hard maple. The rest of the carcass will be soft maple. The finish will be 1 pound shellac sealer, aniline dye, danish oil, and polyurethane wipe on varnish for the top coats.

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post #8 of 10 Old 11-28-2018, 07:20 PM Thread Starter
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I'm kind of committed at this point. This is not Eastern or Western Red Cedar, this is an Atlas Cedar which I believe is more durable. I've actually seen a few articles where people have used it for coffee tables, bar tops, and benches. I also saw something on the arborist website that the durability of the heart wood is actually quite good. Definitely not as desirable as a hard maple, but I'm going to try to move forward with it.

The finish you describe sounds complex - I've read about each of the components you mentioned, but I'm not familiar enough with them to know if that would work for me, and that's the reason why I posted this question. Just out of curiosity, do you apply the finish indoors in Ohio? How does that work with the low temps ? That's another issue I'm contending with.
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post #9 of 10 Old 11-28-2018, 08:27 PM
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Wow, never thoughtof atlas cedar. Last i heard of it, the species was on the endangered list. Anyway, yes I apply the finish I described in OH. I have a basement shop that is 64 degrees F in the dead of winter, but I use an electric space heater to warm it for finishing. The finish schedule is somewhat complex but I've used it for years successfully. The shellac sealer is used on woods that are prone to blotchig (like cedar). I like to use aniline dyes for color control, but I also use oil based stains found in paint stores and big box stores. I like to follow the coloring with an application of danish oil to bring out the grain and add depth to the finish. The top coats of poly are done with gloss until the final application with the desired gloss level. I rub the final coat with a white non-woven pad and wax. I apply all of this as wipe on finishes.
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post #10 of 10 Old 11-29-2018, 12:20 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks Jim - I appreciate the explanation. Interesting what you say about blotching as I've encountered that when staining pine. I guess this is something I'll need to keep in mind for the Cedar that I'm working on. Since the Shellac seals the wood, does the stain and danish oil adhere ?

I'm considering using my basement too - It's about 60 degrees in the winter but I have a stove that can get raise the temp. My concern is the smell, I usually wear a respirator but I get complaints about the fumes.
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