Overwhelmed by finishes!

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Forum topic by DerekJ posted 03-03-2016 06:14 PM 986 views 3 times favorited 32 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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80 posts in 310 days

03-03-2016 06:14 PM

Topic tags/keywords: finish walnut choices boiled linseed oil arm-r-seal

I’ve spent HOURS reading forum posts on here and articles around the internet on various finishing products and processes. It is incredibly overwhelming! In the past I’ve always worked with pine and stain, then finish up with oil based polyurethane for dark colors and water based polycrylic for light colors or paint (doesn’t seem to yellow like the oil based).

Now though, I’m building an end table and TV console out of walnut and am trying to figure out how to finish them to look their best. I have a test piece where I applied Boiled Linseed Oil on one half, and General Finishes Arm-R-Seal Oil and Urethane Topcoat. I like the way the BLO brings out the grain more than the General Finishes, but I have some questions for you guys here….

1) If I used the BLO to finish the tables, would it be acceptable to use a 50/50 mixture of Minwax oil based polyurethane and mineral spirits as a wipe-on poly over the BLO? If so, would I need to do anything besides just wipe it on to get a great finish?

2) If I used the General Finishes, does that particular product provide enough protection for light use? The end-table will have coasters and a lamp on it, so there will be slight movement and a possible water drop here or there, but nothing terribly abusive.

3) Do you have another simple, but effective, finishing technique for furniture? I’ve read a lot about paste wax… is that a wipe-on and be done thing?

I want to keep my finishes simple – I know some of you guys have crazy concoctions and processes, but I’m looking for something easy to start with and grow into more from there.

-- Derek ~ Omaha, NE

32 replies so far

View Fred Hargis's profile

Fred Hargis

3848 posts in 1916 days

#1 posted 03-03-2016 06:40 PM

My favorite finish for walnut is a light coat of BLO to bring out the color, followed by a top coat appropriate for the use. or something that has to be durable, that’s almost always an oil based varnish. Your option 1 would be good, just be sure to use enough coats to get enough for the protection. Generally, wipe on finishes are though to be be a 3 to 1 equivalent: 3 coats of wipe on = 1 coat of brushed…but that’s only true in the broadest of terms. I believe Arm R Seal is marketed primarily as a wipe on finish, basically it will be the same as the thinned Min Wax (not a Minwax fan, so ArS is probably a higher quality). I’ve never used paste wax as a finish, so I’ll leave that to others. Just a last word on te BLO: it’s best applied in a one coat, let sit 15 minutes, then wipe off application. Let it cure overnight if top coating with an oil based finish, much longer if top coating with a waterborne. One other finish to consider that looks really nice on walnut is a coat of garnet shellac, nice by itself but usually needs a top coat of something to increase durability.

-- Our village hasn't lost it's idiot, he was elected to congress.

View chrisstef's profile


15484 posts in 2429 days

#2 posted 03-03-2016 06:44 PM

1) That sounds like a perfectly acceptable finish. You may need to scuff lightly between the poly coats though. You can arm r seal over the blo as well. Just give that blo plenty of time to cure in either case. 3 days to a week depending.

2) IMO, its one of the more durable finishes out there. Ive got a table I used it on and my 3 year old beats on it without any ill effects. And I mean he beats on it. Captain America, woody, buzzlightyear, lightning McQueen. mater have all taken turns romping on that poor table.

3) Wax offers no protection. To me wax is a “feel” thing. Its smooth and buttery. I like it on tool handles over a couple coats of shellac.

My fave finish for walnut is light walnut Danish oil to even out the colors and then top coat with arm r seal or shellac depending on its purpose.

-- "there aren’t many hand tools as awe-inspiring as the #8 jointer. I mean, it just reeks of cast iron heft and hubris" - Smitty

View MadMark's profile


970 posts in 876 days

#3 posted 03-03-2016 06:47 PM

There are more finishing recipes than there are wood finisers. The ‘correct’ finish for you only you can know. If you like it, its ‘right’.


-- Madmark -

View DerekJ's profile


80 posts in 310 days

#4 posted 03-03-2016 06:49 PM

Thank you both. Does brand of shellac matter much? Bullseye comes up when I search for it online. Also, Fred, do you have a link to the garnet shellac you referenced?

-- Derek ~ Omaha, NE

View chrisstef's profile


15484 posts in 2429 days

#5 posted 03-03-2016 07:02 PM

Shellac has a shelf life so brand does matter, kind of. The SealCoat stuff off the shelf is a dewaxed shellac in a 2 pound cut, there are others that still contain the wax. Garnet may or may not, I’m not 100%.

Ive been using Brooklyn T&C shellac flakes lately and I really like it. Its nice and clean. I mix to about a 1 1/2 pound cut with denatured alcohol. is a good spot for flakes along with theshellacshack

There’s a bit of a learning curve to shellac but, for me, I enjoy using it and the quick dry times are appealing. In a nut shell, it dries and becomes tacky quickly so I apply it with one to two brush strokes max or else you end up smudging it. It take some feel to get it right but once you do its pretty fun to work with.

Like mark said, eventually youll find a schedule that works for you. When you do, stick with it.

-- "there aren’t many hand tools as awe-inspiring as the #8 jointer. I mean, it just reeks of cast iron heft and hubris" - Smitty

View Fred Hargis's profile

Fred Hargis

3848 posts in 1916 days

#6 posted 03-03-2016 07:06 PM

When using shellac under a “poly” anything finish, the general recommendatiomn is that it be a dewaxed version…I follow that advice. (The problem isn’t the shellac. It’s the urethane resins which don’t adhere well to, well, anything. That’s why you scuff sand between coats with a urethane.) The only ready made dewaxed is Zinnser Seal Coat, and it’s not a colored shellac. Bullseye is a Zinnser Shellac and comes in amber and clear, but both still contain the wax. The garnet shellac will have to be bought as flakes and mixed with DNA for use. If you mix only what you need, the flakes keep a very,very, long time when stored in a refrigerator. There are a number of vendors who sell shellac flakes.

-- Our village hasn't lost it's idiot, he was elected to congress.

View HokieKen's profile


1541 posts in 561 days

#7 posted 03-03-2016 07:13 PM

I’ve been using your #1 finish above on an Oak dresser I’m working on. Coat of BLO, let it cure, thin coat of wipe-on poly, (then I put on a glaze but you won’t need that with Walnut). Once it’s all complete and assembled, I’ll do a couple brush on coats of poly on the top for protection then finish with a couple coats of wipe-on poly and rub out to a “satin” sheen.

I will caution that when you cut poly with MS (which is what I do), it’s best to use glossy poly. There are adders in other sheens that sometimes don’t cooperate quite right when you thin it down.

-- Kenny, SW VA, Go Hokies!!!

View pintodeluxe's profile (online now)


4827 posts in 2236 days

#8 posted 03-03-2016 07:16 PM

Sure, start with an easy wipe on finish like General Finishes Arm-R-Seal. If it is a small project, or no stain is involved, that may become your go-to finish.

I frequently have large projects that have a stained finish. For me wipe-on finishes aren’t the best. You will find that MULTIPLE coats are required to build a finish. Wipe-on finishes can lift off stain and create uneven coloring. I spray lacquer to solve this problem. Since there is no direct contact of an applicator with the project, no stain can lift off.

The second reason I spray lacquer is the speed. I can apply two even coats in one day, and that’s all it takes for a nice durable furniture finish. My favorite product lately is Rudd Duracat-V non-yellowing lacquer.
Gravity feed guns are so inexpensive now, if you already have a compressor it is worth a try.

-- Willie, Washington "If You Choose Not To Decide, You Still Have Made a Choice" - Rush

View DerekJ's profile


80 posts in 310 days

#9 posted 03-03-2016 07:27 PM

What size compressor? I have a little Senco trim compressor, would that do it?

-- Derek ~ Omaha, NE

View redesigningwood's profile


139 posts in 257 days

#10 posted 03-03-2016 07:36 PM

I agree with the OP!

I too have serious issues with finishing. Spray on lacquer doesn’t seem to coat great, BLO seems to wear quite quickly especially on outside furniture, and my dark stains are always splotchy!

Educate the OP so I can lurk and be educated too!!!

-- Mat

View Fred Hargis's profile

Fred Hargis

3848 posts in 1916 days

#11 posted 03-03-2016 07:53 PM

BLO, by itself, is a very poor finish. It forms a very weal film that just isn’t suitable for most stuff. Think of it as a color/grain enhancer that needs something on top for protection. Outside stuff is really a different class of finishes (uv protection needed) and quite a bit different.

-- Our village hasn't lost it's idiot, he was elected to congress.

View OSU55's profile


1039 posts in 1412 days

#12 posted 03-03-2016 10:38 PM

Finishing is its own set of knowledge and skills, and requires the same kind of time and practice commitment as other ww skills. Here are a couple of excellent books on the subject:

Great Wood Finishes – Jeff Jewitt
Understanding Wood Finishing – Bob Flexner

Just to confuse you more :<) I’ll throw a curve in. I use a water based BLO emulsion stain base, Target WR4000, for 3 reasons – 1) can use Transtint dyes to get any color I want (TT won’t mix with any oil based products), 2) dries in 1-2 hrs, 3) gives the grain pop of BLO. Yes it raises the grain, easily dealt with by pre-raising the grain with water then lightly sanding. That would be the coloring step.

If you don’t want/need any more color, I find MW poly to give about the same ambering as BLO. Try this – cut some MW poly 50% with mineral spirits. Cover your test sample with it, and keep the sample surface wet by continuing to brush/wipe with mix for ~ 10-15 min. If it gets sticky just add a little more of the mix. Wipe it off and let dry for a couple of hours. Compare it to your BLO sample and report back.

At least for the tops of a TV console and end table, I would want some film thickness, so I would brush on a couple of coats of poly thinned ~20%, using a high grade white china bristle brush. Lightly sand between coats and after 2nd with 600-800 to remove nibs. After curing, rub down with steel wool for satin or rub it out like a dull car paint job if you want gloss. Wipe on would be sufficient for all other surfaces.

View gfadvm's profile


14932 posts in 2113 days

#13 posted 03-04-2016 01:11 AM

I like wiped on Spar Urethane on Walnut as it contains “long oils” that pop the grain like BLO. I mix the Spar/MS 2 parts Spar to 1 part MS.

-- " I'll try to be nicer, if you'll try to be smarter" gfadvm

View mummykicks's profile


85 posts in 1225 days

#14 posted 03-04-2016 04:18 AM

I’m a big fan of shellac. I buy the cans in the big box stores and use a can gun and spray away. No spray gun, no mixing, no hassle and it’s plenty durable and easy to touch up. It says it’s dewaxed. I’ll either stain it first and then shellac, or BLO and shellac. After that I’ll throw a coat of paste wax.
My favorite combo for oak is the general finishes gel water based stuff. Do cranberry red first, then the black on top of it with shellac on top of that. Gives it a really nice ‘aged’ look where the red kinda peeks through and it means that you don’t have to struggle to get it on even or anything else for that matter. Looks black from a distance but has nice coloration up close.
My mom, who is now 83, has been refinishing furniture longer than most people have been alive and loves the oils (I think tung oil is her favorite) and hates the poly, claiming that the poly is a real pain to deal with come refinish time or if it gets dinged somehow.
For whatever that is worth.
I went through the same process of being overwhelmed by the whole finish universe and finally decided that I just really didn’t want to get into the whole varnish spraying, clean up, vapor etc..

View BurlyBob's profile (online now)


3486 posts in 1688 days

#15 posted 03-04-2016 04:23 AM

I’ve used poly for the most of my projects. I’ll thin like your doing and apply numerous coats using polyester cloth to avoid lint. I let it dry hard sometimes 48 hours or more between coats and a light sanding with finer sandpaper the closer I get to the last coat.

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