Walnut finishing - Woodworking Talk - Woodworkers Forum
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post #1 of 27 Old 11-12-2016, 12:51 PM Thread Starter
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Question Walnut finishing

Hi there. I am new to the forum and new to working with wood short of deck projects and painting trim in my house! We are renovating our master bath and I'm going to pick out walnut next week for the vanity. I couldn't find an affordable slab but did find someone who will let me pick out pieces to bookend (I think that is the correct term?). Very excited. I think I'll choose black walnut and looking at keeping a live edge. That brings me to a million questions but I'll just start with a few.

As for the live edge. What is the procedure for smoothing it so it won't snag you if you lean on it?

For finishing, I've got a headache trying to decipher different products and methods. I would like it to be a very smooth and satin finish. Iridescent is the word that comes to mind. I'm concerned about water - it is a bathroom after all. But I've got this idea firmly planted in my head so hoping it is reasonable!

Also, are there major concerns with installation re: movement with changes in temp/humidity?

Please give this newbie some instruction on how to achieve a beautiful countertop!
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post #2 of 27 Old 11-12-2016, 01:11 PM
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I'm not entirely sure what you want the outcome to be. Walnut is generally a formal wood where live edge suggest rustic. You can finish the wood with polyurethane to make it water resistant and sanding the finish between coats will eliminate the snags. On the other hand the formal side of walnut you don't want to see the texture of the wood in the finish so the grain is filled with a pastewood grain filler prior to finishing. If the texture of the wood doesn't bother you then omit that step. When finishing with satin it's best to build the finish with gloss and use the satin only for the last coat. Layer by layer of satin tends to add a little cloudiness to the finish where the gloss is clear.
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post #3 of 27 Old 11-12-2016, 01:23 PM Thread Starter
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This is the general idea I'm going for....
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post #4 of 27 Old 11-12-2016, 02:11 PM
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Use an oscillating multitool with 80 grit sandpaper to start on the live edge to smooth it to your liking, moving through the grits up to at least 220 for any type of clear finish.

As far as finish goes, Steve is correct in that poly is your best bet. It is easy to apply, forgiving, and very water resistant. To minimize wood movement from moisture and humidity, finish BOTH sides of the top.

If you are looking to buy a slab, that's about it. If you are going to bookmatch 2 or more pieces in a glued up panel, make sure to find someone who can joint the edges for you to provide a tight, almost invisible joint. Use dowels, biscuits, a spline, or loose tenons to reinforce the joint. Pocket screws will not provide enough strength in a floating countertop. A slab is your ideal purchase here.



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post #5 of 27 Old 11-12-2016, 03:21 PM Thread Starter
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I wish I could afford a slab but my existing vanity space is 77" long (between 2 walls) so they get very, very pricey, not to mention hard to find that length! I'm not staying in this house forever or I'd shell out a little more.

I will ensure that the process he's using to glue up the panel will guarantee a tight joint.

What kind of poly is recommended - brand? (I have seen Waterlox in many places so far...) Thanks for the help!

Last edited by missdoc77; 11-12-2016 at 03:28 PM.
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post #6 of 27 Old 11-12-2016, 03:43 PM
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Originally Posted by missdoc77 View Post
I wish I could afford a slab but my existing vanity space is 77" long (between 2 walls) so they get very, very pricey, not to mention hard to find that length! I'm not staying in this house forever or I'd shell out a little more.

I will ensure that the process he's using to glue up the panel will guarantee a tight joint.

What kind of poly is recommended - brand? (I have seen Waterlox in many places so far...) Thanks for the help!
I would recommend a marine grade finish, such as a spar urethane or an outdoor poly. Also, if voc's are an issue for you, you can use a polycrylic (minwax makes a decent version) which is water based, so cleanup is soap and water. Plus, it is water resistant when cured. This also will prevent the finish from yellowing over time.

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post #7 of 27 Old 11-13-2016, 02:01 PM Thread Starter
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VOC's are definitely a concern so thank you for that recommendation.

I am starting to second-guess my choice of walnut. I think it's beautiful but am worried about using a grain filler and getting it right. I also like maple - perhaps that would be a better choice? Suggestions?
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post #8 of 27 Old 11-13-2016, 02:58 PM
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Originally Posted by missdoc77 View Post
VOC's are definitely a concern so thank you for that recommendation.

I am starting to second-guess my choice of walnut. I think it's beautiful but am worried about using a grain filler and getting it right. I also like maple - perhaps that would be a better choice? Suggestions?
A grain filler on Walnut with a polyurethane or polycrylic finish isn't necessary. Walnut is not a true open pore species. A quick sanding with 220 grit to level the surface after the first coat will leave a. Very smooth finish.

Maple is a good choice also, but it is the complete opposite color of Walnut, and can be tricky to stain properly to change it.

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post #9 of 27 Old 11-13-2016, 09:28 PM
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VOC's are definitely a concern so thank you for that recommendation.

I am starting to second-guess my choice of walnut. I think it's beautiful but am worried about using a grain filler and getting it right. I also like maple - perhaps that would be a better choice? Suggestions?
If you use a oil based grain filler there is nothing to be afraid of. It brushes on like a thick paint and you let it sit for a couple minutes and thicken and squeegee the excess off the flat surfaces and the edges with a coarse cloth. You just then allow it to dry overnight and lightly sand any of it that is on the surface and it's ready to finish. Anything goes wrong you can use a little mineral spirits and it washes off.

Another option would be to use alder. With a walnut stain it can look very much like walnut without the open grain to contend with.
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post #10 of 27 Old 11-14-2016, 09:28 AM Thread Starter
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Thank you Steve! I've run across many of your posts as I Google for info! As I understand, a grain filler will need to be tinted?

No comments on Waterlox products, here, yet. I've seen it recommended over and over in various forums and I read a lot on the product website. In the interest of time as far as getting this wood finished, it seems like an easy product to use, will not have to be sanded between coats and has a long-standing history. Have y'all used it before? Is it good?

Thanks a lot for all of the help. I'm excited to do this project but nervous I'll mess it up! LOL Plumbing, tile, tubs, floors.... that doesn't scare me and this is my 3rd bathroom reno. But goofing up a beautiful piece of wood makes me hesitate!!
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post #11 of 27 Old 11-14-2016, 05:43 PM Thread Starter
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Is there an appropriate part of this forum to ask about installation tips? Please direct me there and I'll copy over...

I have a 77" x 21" alcove and will go wall to wall with this countertop. I'd like it to be "floating" but realize the weight of it will pose a challenge there. I have looked into concealed brackets but they are very expensive considering the number I'd have to use. We've thought about bolting a ledger onto the 3 walls. My main concern is if it is installed on a ledger, does it need support across the front edge? Will it sag over time? I'll only be installing a single sink and it will otherwise not have additional weight on it aside from the normal vanity stuff.
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post #12 of 27 Old 11-14-2016, 05:53 PM
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Originally Posted by missdoc77 View Post
Is there an appropriate part of this forum to ask about installation tips? Please direct me there and I'll copy over...

I have a 77" x 21" alcove and will go wall to wall with this countertop. I'd like it to be "floating" but realize the weight of it will pose a challenge there. I have looked into concealed brackets but they are very expensive considering the number I'd have to use. We've thought about bolting a ledger onto the 3 walls. My main concern is if it is installed on a ledger, does it need support across the front edge? Will it sag over time? I'll only be installing a single sink and it will otherwise not have additional weight on it aside from the normal vanity stuff.
I would recommend ledgers on 3 sides. With the thickness of the slab, you won't have any issues with sagging over that span as long as it is supported in the rear. Predrill the ledgers with a drill bit slightly larger than the screw threads so the screw slips freely in the ledger, and screw the countertop in place from underneath. Paint the ledgers to match the wall color and they will all but disappear.

Cost effective, simple, hidden, and easy.

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post #13 of 27 Old 11-14-2016, 08:35 PM Thread Starter
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Perfect. That's exactly what I was thinking of doing. I appreciate the advice, everyone. Will post pics when we get it going. Wish me luck!
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post #14 of 27 Old 11-14-2016, 10:07 PM
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Thank you Steve! I've run across many of your posts as I Google for info! As I understand, a grain filler will need to be tinted?

No comments on Waterlox products, here, yet. I've seen it recommended over and over in various forums and I read a lot on the product website. In the interest of time as far as getting this wood finished, it seems like an easy product to use, will not have to be sanded between coats and has a long-standing history. Have y'all used it before? Is it good?

Thanks a lot for all of the help. I'm excited to do this project but nervous I'll mess it up! LOL Plumbing, tile, tubs, floors.... that doesn't scare me and this is my 3rd bathroom reno. But goofing up a beautiful piece of wood makes me hesitate!!
Most of the grain fillers available are made in a natural color where on walnut would need to be tinted. Mohawk Finishing Products sells grain fillers in walnut and mahogany tint. You can grain fill and stain the wood all in one step.

As far as waterlox I don't use it so I'm reluctant to comment. I know it's basically tung oil which makes for a pretty good water resistant finish. Then only bad is it's a very slow drying finish. It might take as much as a week between coats. The best way to tell if a coat is dry enough for another coat is to briskly rub the finish with a clean dry cloth and smell it. When the smell no longer rubs off onto a rag it's ready.
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post #15 of 27 Old 11-15-2016, 05:11 AM
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I'm not entirely sure what you want the outcome to be. Walnut is generally a formal wood where live edge suggest rustic. You can finish the wood with polyurethane to make it water resistant and sanding the finish between coats will eliminate the snags. On the other hand the formal side of walnut you don't want to see the texture of the wood in the finish so the grain is filled with a pastewood grain filler prior to finishing. If the texture of the wood doesn't bother you then omit that step. When finishing with satin it's best to build the finish with gloss and use the satin only for the last coat. Layer by layer of satin tends to add a little cloudiness to the finish where the gloss is clear.
I'm not sure what you mean when you say walnut is a more formal wood? From what I have seen walnut is frequently the most sought after wood for live edge tables and shelves. At least from the people I know it is. I have never heard of anyone saying walnut isn't rustic.
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post #16 of 27 Old 11-15-2016, 07:33 AM
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I'm not sure what you mean when you say walnut is a more formal wood? From what I have seen walnut is frequently the most sought after wood for live edge tables and shelves. At least from the people I know it is. I have never heard of anyone saying walnut isn't rustic.
What I meant is for hundreds of years walnut and mahogany have been the wood of choice for high end well made furniture. It's the furniture you usually find with a glass like finish on the top.
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post #17 of 27 Old 11-15-2016, 12:03 PM Thread Starter
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Steve Nuel I am trying work up the nerve to use a grain filler because I think I'll be happier with a smoother finish. Reading up and watching some videos, etc. You mentioned Mohawk and I can get it locally. My biggest fear is the color. If I choose pieces with some sapwood, won't the tinted filler be undesirable?? What do I do about that?

My local Woodcraft carries this.... would that be what I need?
http://www.woodcraft.com/product/857...filler-pt.aspx

Last edited by missdoc77; 11-15-2016 at 12:13 PM.
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post #18 of 27 Old 11-15-2016, 12:21 PM
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Steve Nuel I am trying work up the nerve to use a grain filler because I think I'll be happier with a smoother finish. Reading up and watching some videos, etc. You mentioned Mohawk and I can get it locally. My biggest fear is the color. If I choose pieces with some sapwood, won't the tinted filler be undesirable?? What do I do about that?
You really won't need it with the finish you are applying. Grain filler is more for an open pore species such as red oak that soaks in the film as it dries. Walnut is very dense, and doesn't do this near as bad.

Sand the top to 320 grit. Put your first coat of finish on it, allowing 24 hours for cure. Sand it level with 400 or 320 grit paper, and apply a second coat. Allow to dry to touch, and apply a 3rd coat. Using a white finishing pad, lightly buff the surface to remove any nibs or dust particles.

Allow 48 hours for full curing, flip the piece over, and apply at least two coats of finish on the bottom side of the counter. This is to minimize wood movement, and help to prevent warpage. Make sure to apply finish to all the edges as well, especially the end grain.

You can then install the top on the ledgers.

No way would I use a grain filler on a project piece without practicing on scrap first. Especially if you need to tint to match. And furthermore, especially if I had never done it before,and it isn't truly needed.

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post #19 of 27 Old 11-15-2016, 01:25 PM Thread Starter
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You really won't need it with the finish you are applying. Grain filler is more for an open pore species such as red oak that soaks in the film as it dries. Walnut is very dense, and doesn't do this near as bad.

Sand the top to 320 grit. Put your first coat of finish on it, allowing 24 hours for cure. Sand it level with 400 or 320 grit paper, and apply a second coat. Allow to dry to touch, and apply a 3rd coat. Using a white finishing pad, lightly buff the surface to remove any nibs or dust particles.

Allow 48 hours for full curing, flip the piece over, and apply at least two coats of finish on the bottom side of the counter. This is to minimize wood movement, and help to prevent warpage. Make sure to apply finish to all the edges as well, especially the end grain.

You can then install the top on the ledgers.

No way would I use a grain filler on a project piece without practicing on scrap first. Especially if you need to tint to match. And furthermore, especially if I had never done it before,and it isn't truly needed.

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Ok, well I'm going to trust your judgement and skip the filler. Hoping the forecast here in Houston holds true next week - if so I'll have great conditions for doing this in my garage. Low-mid 70's and very little humidity. For once I'll be hoping it doesn't rain! Maybe a little cool (should I round up a space heater?) but the low humidity is a blessing because that doesn't happen very often!!
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post #20 of 27 Old 11-15-2016, 05:12 PM
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Ok, well I'm going to trust your judgement and skip the filler. Hoping the forecast here in Houston holds true next week - if so I'll have great conditions for doing this in my garage. Low-mid 70's and very little humidity. For once I'll be hoping it doesn't rain! Maybe a little cool (should I round up a space heater?) but the low humidity is a blessing because that doesn't happen very often!!
Sounds like the weather should be about perfect conditions for finishing.

Don't worry about the heater unless it's going to be less than around 40 degrees in the shop.
Poly (and polycrylic) can be applied anywhere between 40 and 110 degrees without issues, although it does take longer to cure in cold weather.

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