|Project by illusioneer||posted 05-09-2016 03:53 AM||3086 views||10 times favorited||14 comments|
When I started my little project, the last woodworking project I tried were some oak bookcases I built 20+ years ago. They were not fine craftsmanship but did last in our home for 15 years. So to say I was not current in woodworking is an understatement. The kitchen remodel was planned for several years, but we could not agree on the countertops. “I could always make them out of wood” I said several times… Then one day a yes came back.
I started researching wood and finishes. I came upon an article about coloring cherry with a strong oxidizer (potassium dichromate) great! Waterlox kept showing up as a good countertop finish, bam!
Wood, color and finish done time to find some wood. I found a local mill and handed a stack of cash to the man…a voice from somewhere within me said “you’ve got one shot at this”... I panicked.
My Subaru Outback and my soul were burdened as I hauled 120 board feet of cherry home.
I knew I would have to stretch the 8’-10’ boards to over 12’ for this project. I cut lap joints and snap! I had boards over 12’. This is about the time I realized these countertops would have to be hand planed, in place. So off to eBay in search of a hand plane…old planes don’t die, it turns out. They just need some TLC. So I won a questionable Stanley #7 and hoped I could salvage it. It took 2-3 days but I now have a very nice antique plane, and cabinet scraper, and a rabbit plane and…. You have to be careful when you start shopping on eBay.
I lined up my boards and planed the adjoining edges together (learned that online). Then came the big glue-up… What the heck IS a caul, anyway? After days of research and planning AND making cauls, I had 2 monster panels that were decidedly not as flat as my imagination had planned. If I thought hand planing the sides of 12’ boards was a lot of work… I now had a 12’ long 5’ wide panel to face plane on both sides… The next couple of weeks are a fog of blisters and sore muscles. I try not to remember this time in my life. I did glue-up the second panel though.
I almost forgot! The color and finish I checked off my list before starting this project? My wife wasn’t crazy about the test pieces I made. So I began experimenting with colors and finishes during the whole project… More about that later.
After flattening my 2 panels I cut 1.5” around the perimeter to fold and glue to the underside, turning my 3/4” wood into 1 1/2” thick panels around the edge. You end up with book matched grains that look really cool. I routed a large ogee edge and this is when I realized that 15” of overhang created a WHOLE LOT of leverage that needed support. I wanted a floating look for the overhang, and after a couple of failed attempts I finally used 1” square steel tube and welded it together where it needed more strength.
Back to the color and finish… Cherry is tough to love at this point. Fighting the ever changing grain in the highly figured wood while planing was enough to make me wish I had chosen mahogany or anything except cherry. When it comes to coloring cherry I tried everything. I finally hit on something we both liked. First a double coat of 1lb shellac then General Finishes cherry dye stain over Mohawk’s ultra penetrating dark red mahogany dye stain… I know these products are not suppose to work together, but I had tried everything at this point. The first test piece was 6”x6”...and looked awesome. So I used the sink cutout ~18”x24” to see if it worked on a larger scale… It did! Ok so 3 months of making and remaking sample finishes had paid off. I mounted the countertops with brass wood screws and fender washers in oversized holes and eagerly approached the crowning moment of any wood project… Finishing.
I diligently recreated the techniques I had tested and it looked awful! Okay, don’t panic! It’s wood… Sand it down and try again. I sanded it down and decided to run more test pieces before my second attempt. I used the cutout from the cooktop and created a gorgeous piece… Okay, maybe I didn’t have enough shellac to keep the dyes from over penetrating. I started again, making sure I used plenty of shellac. I used the tried and true techniques I used on my test pieces…it looked awful! Okay, time to panic!
Best I can tell, if your finishing something 2’ long or less it works great. But on 48 square feet of counter it looks really bad. So I sanded it down again and re-routed the edges, they were losing depth and definition.
In the end I went with the color and finish I had decided on before starting… Potassium dichromate and Waterlox. While some might consider the months of trial and error, looking for the perfect coloring and finishing technique for cherry, a waste of time. I don’t! I learned more about coloring highly figured cherry (in 3 months) than many will learn in a lifetime. The most important lesson is… If you want to color your project, DON’T USE CHERRY. Potassium dichromate is the only way I’ll ever try to color cherry again.
In the end. We are extremely happy with the results.
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