Veneered Sofa Table #6: Experimenting with Veneer Finishes

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Blog entry by SPHinTampa posted 11-21-2011 11:33 PM 6839 reads 0 times favorited 8 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 5: Finishing the base Part 6 of Veneered Sofa Table series Part 7: More fun with finishing »

This weekend was more like chemistry class than shop time. I have been experimenting with finishes for the rotary cut bubinga (kevazinga) panels. If I could get a clear coat that did not change the raw wood color, I would be happy. But so far most of my choices have darkened up the raw wood. I am really looking for a clear wood finish that enhances the grain without darkening it. Or a decent coloring that keeps the contrast against the mahogany border without obscuring the grain.

In order to decide on a final finish, I created some test boards. Sanded thru grits 120-150-180-220. I was hoping that the sanding would “liven up” the board a little. After I did the initial veneer pressing, a lot of the figure seemed to become muted. Sanding did not impact the figure.

I have received some great input on finishing from Mr. Clippinger. I watched a few Charles Neil videos on youTube (ended up ordering his 10 disk series) and read through my Jeff Jewitt and Michael Dresner books.

So here is what I tried:

1. Oil only
2. Oil tinted with van dyke brown (making figure pop on the wood whisper)
3. Trans Tint bright red liquid dye, mixed in water to manufacturer baseline (2 oz dye in 2 qt water)
4. Trans Tint mahogany red liquid dye, mixed in water to double the manufacturers recommended strength
5. Aniline wine red powder dye, mixed in water
6. Aniline orange powder dye, mixed in water
7. First coat, water based black dye – sand back aggressively using 180 grit, followed by by bright red coat
8. First coat, water based brown dye – sand back aggressively using 180 grit, followed by bright red coat

I picked my favorite … which was approach #8 and then made a test board with various top coats.

1. Tung Oil
2. Wipe On Varnish
3. Spray Laquer
4. Water based Poly

To be honest, I am not happy with any of the results:
- The tung oil (pure tung oil) as well as BLO, darkened the natural wood too much for me
- I am not enthralled by the coloured finishes

I think I will try with another scrap board next week by first scraping the wood to bring out the grain better, followed by a few different types of clear coats – water based poly, brushing lacquer etc …

Any inputs or opinions are welcome.

-- Shawn, I ask in order to learn

8 comments so far

View schuft's profile


123 posts in 2658 days

#1 posted 11-22-2011 12:45 AM

Made a lazy susan with African mahogany veneer earlier this year, finished it with just a clearcoat (4 coats) of GF's water-based polyacrylic. I was pretty happy with the results. I don’t have a picture of it, but can try to supply one if you like.

View Eric_S's profile


1565 posts in 3246 days

#2 posted 11-22-2011 02:09 AM

I used only a few coats Arm R Seals Oil and Polyurethane Top coat on my nightstand’s veneered curly cherry tops. Maybe test that one out? It darkened the veneer slightly but didn’t affect the grain or contrast. Check out the second pic down on the left.

-- - Eric Noblesville, IN

View Roger's profile


20929 posts in 2855 days

#3 posted 11-22-2011 02:16 AM

it’s amazing to see how much difference there is between different stains, and finishes.

-- Roger from KY. Work/Play/Travel Safe. Keep your dust collector fed.

View Bigrock's profile


292 posts in 3013 days

#4 posted 11-22-2011 02:58 AM

For color go with water base dyes. They are removal if you don’t like the color wipe it off with water or they can be sanded back to the to the darkness you want.
You will have to seal it with something. One pound cut of Blond Shellac or Arm-or Seal, both will have to be sprayed very light coat. Very, very light scuff with 600 Sand paper.
Top coat can be water base. General makes a very good one. 4 to 7 coats sprayed. Start sanding after 2 or 3 coats with 400 to 600 paper.
After you finished let it set a week and them buff it with 1000, 2000, 3000 and 4000 Abralion Pads. ( Sand using soapy water) Pads available from Bowling Beat.
I think this maybe you can get the clear finish you want.
You can go to this web site and see a Cherry finished this way. I wished it was mine.

View RBWoodworker's profile


441 posts in 3403 days

#5 posted 11-22-2011 02:59 AM

Hi Shawn..

ok..I see what your trying to accomplish.. I believe you want the grain to “pop”, but not be darkened or altered which I can’s the oils in BLO and tung that give the grain it’s pop, but..also causes the grain to my past experiences, if I want the grain to pop..I have to use the BLO’s or shellacs..and of course..expect a darker colored your case.. the bubinga will not only go darker.. but the mahogany will too and balance themselves out..If I wanted no pop..and a natural non darkening look..I sprayed lacquer on it, but the lacquer I used is called “Water White” and that pretty much kept my color the same.. the standard production lacquers have an amber hue to them, but the water white was clear..if you really want a whitish color.. I have sprayed General Finishes High Performance right out of the can and my piece looked like it had a slight whitish haze to it.. but just slightly..I think no matter can have one..or the other.. a slightly darker finish but a grain that pop’s.. or.. almost no pop and a more natural look..

the other option is the Arm-R-Seal.. you can give that a try and see if you can get the best of both worlds..but I really think that will darken the veneers also..

another thing you can try if you use extreme caution is try sanding the veneers to 400 grit to burnish them and then try the finishes that you want to use, to pop the grain..that might work also..

let me know how things go with what I suggested and I will work on more options in the meantime..

-- Randall Child

View Ger21's profile


1075 posts in 3182 days

#6 posted 11-22-2011 04:32 AM

Try 2 coats of shellac (dewaxed) as a sealer, followed bu water based polyurethane. The shellac will give you the depth without changing color, and the water based poly will build up without adding any color.

-- Gerry,

View RBWoodworker's profile


441 posts in 3403 days

#7 posted 11-22-2011 04:55 AM

the shellac will darken it because the shellac has an amber tone to it..not a lot..but some..

-- Randall Child

View Ampeater's profile


441 posts in 3798 days

#8 posted 11-22-2011 06:06 PM

Take a look at the Hall Table that I made a while back.

I think that the maple strips helped to really show off the grain pattern of the bubinga veneer. I did not use any dyes or stains. The natural color is the best and is changed only a small amount by the finish.

-- "A goal without a plan is a wish."

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