Smooth Finish On Open Grained Woods

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Forum topic by gfadvm posted 03-17-2012 03:31 AM 6298 views 2 times favorited 17 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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14940 posts in 2688 days

03-17-2012 03:31 AM

Topic tags/keywords: finishing open grain

Can you apply enough coats of finish to fill the open grain on woods that you don’t want to use grain filler on? Grain filler imparts color that is not always desirable if the wood has marked contrasts in color and you would like not to blend these together. That sounds confusing. An example would be zebrawood or walnut with contrasting sapwood where you want to keep the sharp demarkation between colors.

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

17 replies so far

View longgone's profile


5688 posts in 3306 days

#1 posted 03-17-2012 03:48 AM

Andy…if you apply enough coats of finish it will fill the pores of most woods…but it will give the wood that heavily sealed and coated glossy look. I use alot of coats of lacquer on my boxes and try not to get that glossy look that comes with alot of coats of finish. As more coats of a satin finish are applied it tends to take away from the fineness of the grain detail..because satin finises have addatives to take the gloss out…which in turn takes the sharrpness out….so I use most of my coats with a high gloss finish and apply the final coat with a satin finish after a 0000 steel woof buffing.
If you want that heavily sealed glossy look then it doesn’t matter…but I am not aware of another way to seal open grain without the sanding sealers.

View patron's profile


13603 posts in 3339 days

#2 posted 03-17-2012 03:54 AM

i used to use sealers first
but found they cost as much as the finish itself
so i just use the finish
and don’t have to clean the spray gun as much

good point greg
i just learned something new

thank you both

-- david - only thru kindness can this world be whole . If we don't succeed we run the risk of failure. Dan Quayle

View tomd's profile


2155 posts in 3768 days

#3 posted 03-17-2012 04:06 AM

You can fill the pores of some wood with many coats of finish, but some the pores are so large it becomes fruitless. On medium to large pore woods I use Crystalac a wood filler sold by Rockler it drys clear and is water based. It looks milky white till it drys which is very fast since it is water based and sands pretty good. It does dry clear and you can see you wood color and grain very clearly.

-- Tom D

View Roger's profile


20928 posts in 2802 days

#4 posted 03-17-2012 03:28 PM

very interesting questions Andy. I’m following along for the education

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

View dakremer's profile


2672 posts in 3090 days

#5 posted 03-17-2012 03:31 PM

If you used Crystalac, like tomd suggested, which is water based – could you not use an oil base finish then?? Is poly (wipe-on or not) considered water base or oil based??

-- Hey you dang woodchucks, quit chucking my wood!!!!

View HalDougherty's profile


1820 posts in 3235 days

#6 posted 03-17-2012 04:27 PM

I finish a lot of gunstocks made from either laminated walnut, maple and/or cherry in a lot of different combinations. My goal is the same as yours, fill the pores in the walnut, and leave the cherry and maple the original color. I sand to 220 grit, then start applying coats of tung oil while wet sanding with the black sandpaper they sell at auto paint stores. It wet sands great and the microscopic sanding dust and polymerized tung oil fill the pores. When I can look over the surface with the light at an angle and not see any dimples, I wet sand one or two more times. I’m trying to get the pores filled and almost everything else sanded off. Then I use a mixture of pure tung oil and thinner (50-50 ratio) then mix the combination with exterior spar varnish. (50-50 by volume) I never make up more than a small amount because a little goes a long way.

4 oz tung oil
4 oz thinner (mineral spirits)
8 oz exterior spar varnish

The light colored woods are still light and the walnut looks as smooth as the maple or cherry. Each coat of my varnish mixture is rubbed in with very fine stainless steel wool. After 5 minutes I wipe any varnish that’s not dry away and wait 24 hours to apply the next coat. It takes about 2 weeks to finish each stock. That’s why I sell 99.9% of my stocks unfinished!

-- Hal, Tennessee

View CharlieM1958's profile


16274 posts in 4216 days

#7 posted 03-17-2012 04:37 PM

+1 for Crystallac. And yes, you can wipe oil-based poly over it.

To answer your original question, Andy, yes. If you definitely want to stay away from grain filler, what I have done is apply the finish fairly thick, using a foam brush. Don’t worry about surface imperfections because you’re going to sand them away later. Do a couple of coats this way, then sand it back a bit with 220 grit until everything is level. You may have to repeat this sequence a time or two, but you’ll be able to tell by sight and touch when the grain is well filled. Now finish sand it to 400 or so, and you are ready for your final finish coats.

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

View gfadvm's profile


14940 posts in 2688 days

#8 posted 03-17-2012 10:00 PM

Wow! I got a lot of good replys to this one. I share Gregs concern about getting that plastic look with lots of coats and I usually knock the gloss down with a Scotch pad and wax. I wasn’t aware that there was a clear grain filler. I’ll check that out next time I’m at Woodcraft. Hal, 2 questions: what grit do you wet sand with? and do you wipe the slurry off after wet sanding? I appreciate you all taking the time to reply. EDIT I noticed several mentioned sanding sealers. I thought they were to prevent blotching when staining. Do they also fill the pores? I don’t think they do but I’ve been wrong before!

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

View rance's profile


4258 posts in 3158 days

#9 posted 03-19-2012 05:39 AM

Nice question and discussion Andy.

-- Backer boards, stop blocks, build oversized, and never buy a hand plane--

View chrisstef's profile


17385 posts in 3004 days

#10 posted 03-19-2012 12:49 PM

When i wet sand open woods i use 320 grit and wipe the slurry off across the grain to fill the holes.

-- Its not a crack, its a casting imperfection.

View Bill White's profile

Bill White

4930 posts in 3958 days

#11 posted 03-19-2012 01:49 PM

There are some good WB polys available. I use Modern Masters.
I don’t use spar. It is primarily for exterior stuff.


View Earlextech's profile


1161 posts in 2689 days

#12 posted 03-19-2012 02:29 PM

Clear grain filler from Aqua Coat – the best on the market.

-- Sam Hamory - The project is never finished until its "Finished"!

View vonhagen's profile


534 posts in 2363 days

#13 posted 03-20-2012 05:56 AM

coversion varnish or laquer till all pores are filled, a full fill or piano finish can be tricky, you dont want it to look like plastic. a polyester finish is the best but its banned here. soon everything will be banned except water and whiskey. the whiskey is to drink after destroying your project with going green water finish.

-- no matter what size job big or small do a job right or don't do it at all.

View gfadvm's profile


14940 posts in 2688 days

#14 posted 03-20-2012 08:13 PM

Thanks Blaine. I’m currently experimenting and have layed 10 coats of shellac on a horizontal surface. It looks nice but there are still some ‘craters’ visable. I’m going to continue the heavy applications of shellac just to see what it takes to fill them!

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

View vonhagen's profile


534 posts in 2363 days

#15 posted 03-21-2012 12:30 AM

try thinning your shellac and do thin coats, i aways get craters from going to heavy or thick, are the craters in pores or grain defect? if not and the craters keep reapearing in different spots then thin it down. also level down that surface by wet sanding or use red scotch brite without burning thru to bare wood. you want just enough to fill the grain but not to much or you will get that plastic look. before applying any more coats you must get out those craters inspect it close to see if the craters are shellac or wood, a good magnifier is a must have tool , i use a zeiss optivisor that is 2.5 diopter and shows me up close not only in 3d but stereo as well and solves alot of probems that are to small for the naked eye, from sharpening to measuring to finishing and inspecting tooling i use them daily.

-- no matter what size job big or small do a job right or don't do it at all.

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