Finishing Walnut - Woodworking Talk - Woodworkers Forum
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post #1 of 29 Old 10-25-2015, 05:30 PM Thread Starter
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Finishing Walnut

I just started working on building a Morris chair out of some walnut I picked up a while ago. All of the lumber looked dark when I first got it, but after surfacing it it has a wild variation in color. I know the sapwood and heartwood is different, but some pieces are dark brown like I'd expect while others are reddish brown. I'm almost thinking the pile of walnut was really walnut and cherry mixed.

For those of you more familiar with Walnut - is this variation normal? If so, should I try to find pieces that have a better color match, or is there a finishing technique I could use to even up the color?

Here are the leg blanks and the seat back slats that I had milled up so far.

Thanks!
John
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post #2 of 29 Old 10-25-2015, 05:34 PM
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The light colored pieces on the left do not look like any walnut I have ever worked with.

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post #3 of 29 Old 10-25-2015, 05:45 PM
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Lets see some closer pics of the grain of the wood on the left. Walnut has a distinct smell when sawn. Did the wood on the left smell the same as the wood on the right?

Walnut can have a lot of color variance. I always stain all walnut projects with walnut stain before finishing to pull the colors together.
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post #4 of 29 Old 10-25-2015, 06:19 PM Thread Starter
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I can't comment on the smell of the wood, I was wearing a respirator the whole time I was working on the wood. When I work on it some more I might have to see if I can notice a difference in the smell when working on the different pieces.

Here are a few more pics of the grain. The more I look at it I'm thinking the lighter pieces are cherry. The last pic has a turning blank of cherry next to it and they look pretty similar. If that is the case I think I'm going to have to scrap what I have done so far since all of the 8/4 boards I had looked to be the lighter colored wood, and I don't have enough 4/4 of the lighter boards to complete the chair either. I have plenty of quarter sawn white oak on hand so I could start over with that instead.
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post #5 of 29 Old 10-25-2015, 06:20 PM
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Lets see some closer pics of the grain of the wood on the left. Walnut has a distinct smell when sawn. Did the wood on the left smell the same as the wood on the right?

Walnut can have a lot of color variance. I always stain all walnut projects with walnut stain before finishing to pull the colors together.
Wait what? You stain walnut with a walnut color? I assume to even up colors, but doesnt that kind of defeat the purpose of using walnut to begin with?
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post #6 of 29 Old 10-25-2015, 09:34 PM
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Give the boards a sniff. Walnut has a very distinct almost chocolatey smell. I'm thinking you're right though, the boards on the left look like cherry, particularly with that burning

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post #7 of 29 Old 10-25-2015, 10:41 PM
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I believe the lighter boards may be cherry however the walnut you have is especially dark. It's not very often you come walnut that dark so you might think of a small enough of a project you can use all of it on and not have to get some more.
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post #8 of 29 Old 10-26-2015, 01:26 AM
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All the boards except the farthest right board look like cherry. The white stripe on the farthest right board is what walnut sapwood looks like. Cherry will darken considerably when exposed to sunlight, but will never come even close to matching walnut. Go smell both of the woods. I'm sure you can tell the difference. You could box up that cherry that is hardly fit for firewood, and send it to me.

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post #9 of 29 Old 10-26-2015, 07:19 AM
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I can't comment on the smell of the wood, I was wearing a respirator the whole time I was working on the wood. When I work on it some more I might have to see if I can notice a difference in the smell when working on the different pieces.

Here are a few more pics of the grain. The more I look at it I'm thinking the lighter pieces are cherry. The last pic has a turning blank of cherry next to it and they look pretty similar. If that is the case I think I'm going to have to scrap what I have done so far since all of the 8/4 boards I had looked to be the lighter colored wood, and I don't have enough 4/4 of the lighter boards to complete the chair either. I have plenty of quarter sawn white oak on hand so I could start over with that instead.
Yes, I agree, the lighter pieces are cherry. Top right picture, board on the left. The dark lines running in the grain are tell tell signs of cherry.

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Wait what? You stain walnut with a walnut color? I assume to even up colors, but doesnt that kind of defeat the purpose of using walnut to begin with?
Not at all. Walnut can be all over the chart in color. The nice thing about walnut, the grain of sapwood looks the same as heartwood. Stain pulls all the colors together.

I don't woodwork as a hobby, I make my living working wood. My clientele doesn't want zebra looking walnut cabinets.
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post #10 of 29 Old 10-26-2015, 08:28 AM
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When I use walnut I do not use any type of stain. I much prefer the natural look.

George
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post #11 of 29 Old 10-26-2015, 09:30 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks for the info. I tried smelling the boards, I couldn't smell much from the darker boards but the lighter ones had a distinct smell.

I'm glad decided to post the question now until waiting until the end of the project - it would have ended up being a funky looking chair. I'll have to go through the stack now and figure out what's what. For the stuff I milled up so far I guess I could keep the legs for turning blanks and the thin stock is just about the right size for shaker oval boxes so at least it won't go to waste.
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post #12 of 29 Old 10-26-2015, 10:39 PM
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A lot of arts & crafts furniture was built from cherry ya know.
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post #13 of 29 Old 10-27-2015, 12:56 AM
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A lot of arts & crafts furniture was built from cherry ya know.
Same for a lot of shaker furniture too. No need to write the cherry off as a lost cause!

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post #14 of 29 Old 10-27-2015, 11:26 AM Thread Starter
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Don't get me wrong, I like cherry. The problem is I don't think I have enough on hand to finish the chair in cherry and I don't want to go out and buy more, especially when I have ~600 bd. ft. of quartersawn white oak on hand. The original plan was to use oak since I have a lot and it is pretty traditional for arts and crafts furniture but I got this "walnut" cheap so I decided to use that instead since the other furniture I have in the room where this is going is walnut. I may have enough actual walnut out of the pile to finish the chair but I'd have to use laminated legs which I don't know that I want to do. Also the last pieces of walnut I have are real nice 18 inch wide 5/4 stock 10 feet long and I'd rather save them for something like a table top instead of cutting it into smaller pieces for the chair.

I would like to eventually get some more cherry for some shaker furniture, but the pieces I have milled so far are too small for the other pieces I'd like to build from it. The 23 inch legs are too short for a table and the 7/32" thick back slats are too thin except for making shaker boxes. I need to make some tool handles so I should be able to put the leg blanks to good use too.
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post #15 of 29 Old 10-27-2015, 11:47 AM
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Arts and Craft furniture was mostly made from quarter sawn oak.

The mighty oaks grew tall and enveloped the forests and kept the walnut and cherry from growing in such large numbers. With the clear cutting done just over 100 years ago, it paved the way for the bumper crop of cherry we now have in the northern states.

With the planting practices we use today. We do well with our lumber and will probably never have a problem with forests, trees and hardwood lumber.

To the OP. Sorry for your luck on not having enough walnut. The oak would probably be more true to the furniture style, especially quarter sawn.

Al


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post #16 of 29 Old 10-27-2015, 04:36 PM
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Agree the boards on left are cherry. IMHO it's sacrilege to stain any wood, just let the woods natural beauty show.

That bowl was perfect right up until that last cut...
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post #17 of 29 Old 10-27-2015, 07:05 PM
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Agree the boards on left are cherry. IMHO it's sacrilege to stain any wood, just let the woods natural beauty show.
I also stain cherry with cherry stain.

Speeds up cherry's natural aging process.
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post #18 of 29 Old 10-27-2015, 07:12 PM
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Agree the boards on left are cherry. IMHO it's sacrilege to stain any wood, just let the woods natural beauty show.
I also stain cherry with cherry stain.

Speeds up cherry's natural aging process.

Here's some cherry we finished a few weeks ago. Pantry cabinets are 8' tall.
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post #19 of 29 Old 10-29-2015, 08:52 PM
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Arts and Craft furniture was mostly made from quarter sawn oak.

Al
Gustav Stickley would agree with you.
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post #20 of 29 Old 10-29-2015, 10:06 PM
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Gustav Stickley would agree with you.

You must have never seen a stickely catalog. Cherry was a popular option as well as quartersawn whiteoak.
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