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Forum topic by superstretch posted 08-02-2011 05:00 AM 2849 views 0 times favorited 42 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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1531 posts in 2934 days

08-02-2011 05:00 AM

Topic tags/keywords: humor finishing

Hey all.

My family has this nasty habit of using stain and poly on everything they make. They had me suckered into it until I came across and used (first) tung oil finish, then danish oil, and then, most recently, dewaxed shellac.

Please comment here to help prevent any more crazy flecked QSRO/WO, burly walnut, and figured maple from being mutilated by stain and plastic.

Do your part and help awareness of this issue grow so my family can reap the benefits of deep lustrous grain, mind-boggling curls, and insane chatoyance that can never be achieved this way.

The stain/poly combination is the Comic Sans of the woodworking world. Lets do our best to take the time to research into what finish is right for what we want to make!

Leave messages for my brother and tell him to stop being crazy!

Also, he’s probably going to kill me, so if you don’t see any contribs for me in the next few days, send the paddywagons! :D

-- Dan, Rochester, NY

42 replies so far

View Loren's profile


10477 posts in 3889 days

#1 posted 08-02-2011 05:17 AM

I don’t like stains. I like dyes a lot better because they are transparent.

View woodworkerscott's profile


361 posts in 3055 days

#2 posted 08-02-2011 05:20 AM

I’m with ya all the way. I hate stain, whether poly is on it or not. Stain ruins the natural beauty of wood.
The fact that some woods require preconditioning to prevent blotching says it all. (some woodworkers need to learn to do this if they are going to stain. too many blotch jobs out there). When I make items for my folks they have me stain it with stain they have picked out. I have tried to show them the errors of their way, but they won’t listen.

Keep it natural and show the woods natural beauty. Gotta love the oils; keeps the wood preserved for ages and is the easiest to repair if needed. Nakashima and Maloof have wrote specifically on not using stains…that is good enough for me.
Thanks for posting an important topic.

-- " 'woodworker''s a good word, an honest word." - Sam Maloof

View Jim Finn's profile

Jim Finn

2688 posts in 3163 days

#3 posted 08-02-2011 05:40 AM

I agree with woodworkerscott I use no stains at all. Just clear finishes.

-- No PHD just a DD214 Website>

View MedicKen's profile


1615 posts in 3703 days

#4 posted 08-02-2011 05:42 AM

Stains….we dont need no stains

-- My job is to give my kids things to discuss with their

View BobTheFish's profile


361 posts in 2793 days

#5 posted 08-02-2011 05:49 AM

I use poly a lot, but mainly because I don’t have the tools for lacquer or other hardcore finishes. I love oil finishes because they tend to leave the wood the closest to its natural beauty. But, that comes at the cost of being less resistant to water, oxygen, and other elements that might damage the wood, unless you’re willing to invest a LOT of time into building up a good oil finish.

So, although it’s not what I prefer, it’s the best suited to a number of jobs where wear and tear or elemental damage and time are a bigger concern than look. When I FINALLY get started on a table I’ve been putting off for two months already, I’ll probably go with a danish oil (which contains poly), or a whole hell of a lot of coats of oil (probably follow something like this: )

Overall, Poly’s good for what it is: an easy apply finish that looks decent with good protection. Unless it’s a piece I am intending to put a lot of effort into (meaning it’s for personal enjoyment and I’m damning all costs anyhow), I’ll go with poly for the screw around sort of projects.

What I, personally hate, is when someone uses so many layers of finish that the piece might as well be dipped in plastic. Or the shiny finishes that have been polished so much it barely resembles wood anymore. It’s wood. It’s a natural product. It’s not meant to look like it came out of a glass factory, or press mold. It’s not supposed to have that sheen. As long as my finishes don’t look like that, I’m happy.

As for stain. Another thing I have intense distaste for usual. I hate making a piece of wood look like another species. Which is how most stains are sold. I mean, look at the colors: “cherry”, “mahogany”, “walnut”, “red oak”, and even “pine”. don’t stain maple a “pine” color!!! JUST BUY F*ING PINE!!!

But, stains DO have a place. Chestnut is a great stain color to mute the grain of oak I discovered. And red oak tends to have a bit too vibrant a grain pattern, especially on old boards. As such, I like to add a little stain color to the wood to mute the grain a bit. In no way am I trying to pass oak off as an artificial “cherry”.

Instead, I use the stain to enhance something very mildly in the wood as it is. I also OCCASIONALLY stain veneers when I’m working with them to get a match on an existing piece with an existing stain in the realm of refinishing. Typically, the reason for this is because the piece is already stained, or because the stain is so deeply embedded that removing it can be nigh impossible, or, simply because the piece was originally intended to be stained, (although, usually in that case I go with lighter, more “wood enhancing” color choices, like a few caned chairs I plan on staining a cherry reddish color, rather than the existing stain obscuring “black” color that completely hid the original characteristics of the wood).

So although I definitely agree with your stance, I’m not as adamant about it, and prefer to have some relatively specific allowances.

EDIT: Crap! I wanted to also mention that your “Danish Oil” has a poly in it, though it’s not the same as going strictly poly. When I’m talking of oil finishes in the first bit, I’m talking about straight up oils: BLO, Tung, et al.

I love the straight out oil look, but it’s not durable enough for all purposes unless you put A LOT of work into it.

Also, I wanted to ask what specifically you meant by “poly” finishes. Do you also include epoxies? Or perhaps acrylics? Do you differentiate between wipe on oil based poly and your standard “paint on” water based poly approach? Because water based polys are a strict no-no in my house. I’ll only go with a wipe on oil based poly when I use a poly.

View Craftsman on the lake's profile

Craftsman on the lake

2848 posts in 3679 days

#6 posted 08-02-2011 05:55 AM

Poly okay but I’m a big believer in the natural color of the wood. Oak has a beautiful grain. Then someone goes and makes it dark. Maple is gorgeous as a white wood. People stain it all manner of colors. The only wood type that I’ve seen improved with coloration is mahogany and maybe cherry.

-- The smell of wood, coffee in the cup, the wife let's me do my thing, the lake is peaceful.

View Pyamed's profile


34 posts in 2934 days

#7 posted 08-02-2011 05:58 AM

hahaha, you’re such a funny guy…... Don’t blame me when that MASSIVE tree in front of your house “accidentally” falls the wrong way.

-- Kevin - Rochester, NY

View hObOmOnk's profile


1381 posts in 4369 days

#8 posted 08-02-2011 02:41 PM

Note: So-called “Danish Oil” doesn’t necessarily contain “poly”.
For Example, Watco Danish Oil does not contain “poly”.

-- 温故知新

View danr's profile


154 posts in 3426 days

#9 posted 08-02-2011 02:55 PM

Have any of you every used a 50/50 combination of poly and tung oil? (I usually cut it with a little bit of mineral spirits also). This can be brushed on and wiped off. I find that this gives you the best of poly (good protection) and the tung oil (wipe on/off).

As for stain, I used it when the piece dictates it. For example, a QSWO Greene and Greene table I completed recently wants be kind of dark in color. I started with a yellow Transtint dye (to make the QS fleck pop out), followed by a mohagany toned oil stain (for the nice rich brown tone), followed by Zinzer amber shelac (for that antique patina tone).

I say that you should use what makes sense and/or what the customer is looking for. I actually don’t like to finish very much and would rather hire it out if I could.

View CharlieM1958's profile


16281 posts in 4459 days

#10 posted 08-02-2011 03:24 PM

The only good reason to stain something, IMO, is if you are trying to match something else. However, I won’t join in on your poly-bashing. If it’s done right, a poly finish can look the same as a hand-rubbed oil finish, but with much better protective properties. (That’s not to say I approve of a thick glossy layer slathered on with a cheap brush.)

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

View superstretch's profile


1531 posts in 2934 days

#11 posted 08-02-2011 03:33 PM

I don’t bash poly by itself.. I’m specifically referring to the stain/poly combo. I use poly on quite a few things that already have a DO ‘basecoat’, but prefer to use something like a good wax if the surface doesn’t need to be waterproof.

@danr – QSWO just begs to be ammonia fumed

My grandpa was a firm believe in letting wood speak for itself. He rarely made a piece where he would have to alter the color, but did so on occasion to match his “clients’” house/specs/furniture. I say clients in quotes because, as far as I know, he never charged for anything he made

-- Dan, Rochester, NY

View Bertha's profile


13551 posts in 2934 days

#12 posted 08-02-2011 03:34 PM

What is in tinted Danish Oil? Is it a dye? I dislike standard pigment stains like the rest of you but I can’t say I don’t use them on occasion. I remember when I first started off, I had about 20 cans of stain. Now I think I have one or two and those are just to match the wood on my home’s exterior.

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

View superstretch's profile


1531 posts in 2934 days

#13 posted 08-02-2011 03:43 PM

I’m pretty sure its a dye.. Its remarkable how flexible dyes are and what they can be added to.

-- Dan, Rochester, NY

View BobTheFish's profile


361 posts in 2793 days

#14 posted 08-02-2011 04:03 PM

hobo, it has a varnish in it. to wit, “Varnish is a transparent, hard, protective finish or film primarily used in wood finishing but also for other materials. Varnish is traditionally a combination of a drying oil, a resin, and a thinner or solvent”, and “Polyurethane varnishes are typically hard, abrasion-resistant, and durable coatings.”

So maybe it isn’t poly per se, but it’s something that acts in such a capacity.

To me, and this is just my own observation here, when you dilute the varnishes in oil, they don’t exactly behave like varnishes as much as they do oils…. until you start building up coats.

When you use a varnish straight on, it takes on its own characteristics.

Also, to justify stain at least a little bit:

Not stained:

Not stained:

Sometimes the stain can work VERY effectively, provided it’s for an intended purpose.

As for stain/poly blends, it’s hard to find just straight out premixed stains anymore. And the poly blends can be different too. Hell, Minwax has at least three different combinations of poly stain out there. They’ve got the polyshades crap, their “wood finishes” line, which you can tell because the stains don’t build color and develop a sealed coat, and then their gel stains, which, anything in gel form I’m sort of suspicious of….

I THINK Cabot’s ok, but I haven’t tried it yet, (because I don’t stain much), but otherwise, I’ve only really seen the “mix your own” route in the non-poly/not-suspiciously-poly world.

I think I own a tiny little can of chestnut gel, and of the “wood finishes”, I have a tiny can of driftwood, a can of sedona red, and a can of red mahogany.

View Cosmicsniper's profile


2202 posts in 3400 days

#15 posted 08-02-2011 04:56 PM

If the wood is good, it can speak for itself. Otherwise, it needs help. But to say that wood needs to be natural is a good way to become a poor woodworker, if that is your profession. People like their wood colored, either to match this or go with that.

The confusion is that people assume that color MUST come from staining…and it doesn’t. Whether in the wood with dyes and stains or over the wood with toners and glazes….there are a lot of choices…and none of them are wrong. However, I prefer to apply my color over the wood. This is because, as I said, not all wood is good…much of it needs help, especially when parts are reclaimed or from different batches. So, when the color is over the wood instead of on it, you can pull the pieces together. Because most of us use film finishes, so you can’t tell how the color was applied anyway.

Some projects work very well with the stain/poly mix….so I’m not certain the animosity against this combo. Whereas I tend to avoid stains in favor of dyes, lots of people do it, and that doesn’t make it wrong. Oh, and BTW, many “stains” are both a stain AND a dye…and because of this, some work more favorably than others.

-- jay,

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