Trouble getting a smooth finish on my walnut project. Please help!

  • Advertise with us

« back to Woodworking Skill Share forum

Forum topic by HuntleyBill posted 09-19-2010 04:42 AM 4252 views 0 times favorited 12 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View HuntleyBill's profile


103 posts in 3090 days

09-19-2010 04:42 AM

The pictures show my walnut project i am trying to finish. What I’m shooting for is a gloss smooth as glass finish. I am using Arm-R-Seal oil and urathane wipe on finish. I have 5 coats on when I took these pictures.
I would apply 2 coats then wet sand with 320. I then put on 3 more coats sanding between with 800.

It is my understanding that a light sanding the “level” the surface should do it but as you can somewhat see in the first picture that it still looks pretty rough. Oh..keep reading…......

I then sanded some more and it started to look like I sanded through. ( at least I think I did ) The surface looked smooth but when I polished it with polishing compound ( just a small area to see what would happen) it didn’t seem to shine much at all.

This third picture is a shot showing what seems to be sanded through.
Did I sand through?
Can you sand through 5 coats of finish with 800 grit paper?
Can you help me with advise on what I may be doing wrong or how to get the finish I am looking for?
Maybe I just need 5 more coats????

Thank you all

-- If you think you can, or think you can't...your right!

12 replies so far

View CharlieM1958's profile


16274 posts in 4218 days

#1 posted 09-19-2010 05:21 AM

It’s hard to get a glass-smooth finish on walnut without using a grain filler.

It can be done like you are doing it. You actually need to sand more. The trick is that first you must build up the surface with 5 or 6 coats, then sand back with a coarser grit, like 220, until you have leveled the surface to the point that finish remains only in the grain. At that point, you will have created a smooth surface to build your final finish on.

This is very much a trial and error process. Sometimes I multiple-coat and sand back several times until I am satisfied.

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View Lee Barker's profile

Lee Barker

2170 posts in 2850 days

#2 posted 09-19-2010 05:45 AM

Are you sanding with a block?

-- " his brain, which is as dry as the remainder biscuit after a voyage, he hath strange places cramm'd with observation, the which he vents in mangled forms." --Shakespeare, "As You Like It"

View PurpLev's profile


8535 posts in 3648 days

#3 posted 09-19-2010 05:50 AM

like charlie said – it seems like you need to fill in those grains as you have an uneven coat which prevents you from getting that glass smooth finish.

aside from that – since you are using wipe on finish, you’ll really need to build up coats before you can start sanding it down. thats why I like to start with brushing the first 2-3 coats to build up some film, then I move on to wiping so that each additional coat is thinner, dries faster, and spreads more evenly.

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View HuntleyBill's profile


103 posts in 3090 days

#4 posted 09-19-2010 04:39 PM

Thank you guys. I appreciate your feedback. I block sanded everything down with 220 wet and brushed on anther coat. It’s blotchy in some areas and I am assuming those are areas that either went through to wood or are just very thin. I’m guessing another couple of coats will clear that up.

Thank you again for your help.

-- If you think you can, or think you can't...your right!

View Ger21's profile


1074 posts in 3131 days

#5 posted 09-20-2010 01:05 AM

As Charlie said, glass smooth finishes on open pore woods usually is done with grain filler.

Using a wipe on finish isn’t doing you any favors, either, as it builds up very slowly. Don’t be surprised if you need 10-15 coats.

Also, you don’t need to wet sand between the coats. Just use a random orbit sander with 220 between coats, until all the pores are filled. At that point I’d put at least 3 more coats on, before final wet sanding and rubbing out.

-- Gerry,

View hObOmOnk's profile


1381 posts in 4127 days

#6 posted 09-20-2010 01:26 AM

When I want a smooth finish on walnut, I use a traditional pumice/oil grain filler, seal with shellac, then used multiple layers of oil-based varnish with wet sanding.

-- 温故知新

View Kindlingmaker's profile


2656 posts in 3526 days

#7 posted 09-20-2010 01:31 AM

Here’s another vote, like Charlie said. From your photos you have pretty much filled and sealed now you have to sand to your glass like surface and apply your final coats.

-- Never board, always knotty, lots of growth rings

View RichClark's profile


157 posts in 3430 days

#8 posted 09-20-2010 04:20 AM

I would keep going but try this… Put down and keep your TOP wet with your Finish… while and as it is wet sand it with your 220 block.. You’ll make a swarf of your finish and the wood that will fill the pores.. work it “across” the grain…. to your packing in the swarf. Let it dry and then sand it across the grain again… repeat till you cannot see them big huge pores anymore as depressions in the surface. You could cheat and get there faster if you just fill them. Go buy some neutral wood filler and mix a bit of it with some stain you have on hand… (darker the better). Use a tight knit (like and old bed sheet) piece of fabric and working in small areas rub in circles (maybe 6” square area), until it starts to dry. Again pushing it across the grain as it gets harder.. and move on till the top is all equally rubbed up… let it dry and sand it across the grain till it is down to the wood again. then start your finish again… it should only take a a few coats and its glass. (your photo’s are perfect pictures of them Pores… It will take ya for ever to get ahead of them as far as filling them up, because your also making the walls making them higher).

Finish is = → sand → Fill → Stain → Protect Skip one and its lost.


-- Duct Tape is the Force! It has a light side and a dark side and it Binds the Universe together!

View Jim Crockett (USN Retired)'s profile

Jim Crockett (USN Retired)

852 posts in 3733 days

#9 posted 09-20-2010 04:22 AM

If you take a look at my projects, you will note that I frequently use figured walnut for box tops. When I finish these tops, I will usually apply 5-6 coats of shellac (Armor Seal will work, just need to wait a lot longer for it to dry, like 1 week), then sand back to the bare wood. At this point if you hold the piece up to the light, you will see lots of shiny spots – these are the pores that still aren’t filled. Add another 5-6 coats, then sand back again. As you get close to sanding bare wood, check frequently. When the surface is a uniform dull sheen, you have filled all of the pores and leveled the surface. I should stress that you must use a sanding block to do this correctly.

Now that the pores are filled and the surface leveled, you can apply the finish of your choice and you should have a beautiful whatever.

If you want to find more information, Google “sand back” or “fill pores with shellac”.


-- A veteran is someone who, at one point in his/her life, wrote a blank check made payable to "The United States of America," for an amount of "up to and including his/her life".

View CharlieM1958's profile


16274 posts in 4218 days

#10 posted 09-20-2010 04:30 AM

I think the lesson here is that there are many possible ways to go. Any of the methods suggested here will work. I know I personally haven’t even scratched the surface (pardon the pun) when it comes to different finishing methods.

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View Dark_Lightning's profile


3161 posts in 3109 days

#11 posted 09-20-2010 04:46 AM

Grain filler seems like the least expensive and time consuming of finish methods for filling pores and such. I’ve built small projects by finishing and sanding; it’s easy when the project is small.

-- Random Orbital Nailer

View FredG's profile


139 posts in 3697 days

#12 posted 09-20-2010 04:48 AM

Some videos on finishing wood with large pores.
In this case Mahogany

-- Fred

Have your say...

You must be signed in to reply.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics