Getting a smooth oil finish on cherry

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Forum topic by ivanivan posted 08-13-2013 05:30 AM 1455 views 0 times favorited 8 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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1 post in 1743 days

08-13-2013 05:30 AM

Topic tags/keywords: oil finish cherry sanding

I’m finishing a piece of cherry with a penetrating oil finish. The label on the finish says to prep the wood by sanding to no higher than 120 and makes no mention of multiple coats or any further sanding, wet or dry. I’m guessing 120 is recommended so the surface will be rough enough for better oil penetration.

I’d like to get as smooth a finish as possible, so I’m wondering if I should ignore the label and sand to a higher grit initially, or move into higher grits in between coats. I’m also not sure whether to involve wet sanding and whether to raise the grain with water and sand that down before applying the first coat. With so many options, I’m at a loss.

I understand cherry is a tight-grained, closed-pored wood. The finish ingredients are flax oil, lemon oil, and some lead-free dryers.

Please let me know what you think! :)

8 replies so far

View TCCcabinetmaker's profile


932 posts in 2350 days

#1 posted 08-13-2013 06:05 AM

oil and water don’t mix very well.

This is not a typical finish as most people know, looking at the ingrediants, it’s basically what guitar players put on the necks of their guitars, it will dry out over time and will need re-application most likely, it is meant to help preserve the wood, but not give it a traditional finish. With Cherry it’s usually best to sand to a minimum of 150, because you will usually see your sanding marks if you do not, especially if the wood is to be stained, but again this isn’t a normal finishing situation.

If I were you I would test this finishing product on a scrap piece of cherry, let it dry for a few days and see if you still want to proceed with this finish, follow the label, and you really shouldn’t have to put on more than one coat, though a second can be done if the wood sucks up the oil unevenly.

-- The mark of a good carpenter is not how few mistakes he makes, but rather how well he fixes them.

View Fred Hargis's profile

Fred Hargis

4984 posts in 2488 days

#2 posted 08-13-2013 11:38 AM

Second the idea of testing it on a piece of scrap. Second comment: I’m not one to over sand my work, but 120 seems fairly coarse for anything except maybe tool handles.

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

View CharlieM1958's profile


16274 posts in 4214 days

#3 posted 08-13-2013 03:41 PM

” With so many options, I’m at a loss.”

Well, you said a mouthful there!

People tend to swear by whatever has worked for them, but there are usually a number of ways to reach a desired result. I know that if I wanted a smooth finish on a cherry project I would definitely not be satisfied with sanding to 120. If you are set on using that particular finish, the first thing I would do is ignore the label, sand to whatever you want (400 if it was me), apply the finish and see what happens. The worst that can happen is you find it’s not penetrating well. If that’s the case, go to plan B and test your idea of applying the finish after 120 sanding, then progressing to finer grits between coats.

Of course, if it was me, I’d just use a finish I know will work well on smooth cherry, like Danish oil, or wipe-on poly.

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

View lysdexic's profile


5254 posts in 2618 days

#4 posted 08-13-2013 04:14 PM

Charlie – I am with you. I am a fan of wet sanding the first coat @400 with wipe-on poly, danish oil, or whatever. Not that my way is the right way.

-- "It's only wood. Use it." - Smitty || Instagram - out_of_focus1.618

View fredj's profile


186 posts in 1813 days

#5 posted 08-13-2013 06:12 PM

Stopping at 120 sounds odd to me. Everything I’ve ever done with cherry went to at least 220. Some bowls that I’ve turned have been sanded with much finer grits, finished with oil and came out just fine. As a rule I don’t wet sand or sand at all between costs of oil, but I have wet sanded with oil when the finish looked uneven. If I’m not mistaken flax seed is what linseed really is, as for the lemon oil, I wonder just what you have. Oil made from lemons or “lemon oil” furniture polish which contains petroleum distillates. I’d be very interested in hearing about how things turn out.

-- Fredj

View Clint Searl's profile

Clint Searl

1533 posts in 2356 days

#6 posted 08-13-2013 08:42 PM

To begin with, no drying oil will penetrate more than several wood cells deep. Not only are the oil molecules too big to squeeze through the wood cell interstices, but the polymerization that starts to take place on exposure to oxygen makes the linked oil molecules harden and create a barrier to further penetration. More applications of oil only thicken the barrier. Sanding to 120 versus 220 or higher leaves more fuzz for the oil to cling to, but has absolutely no effect on how much penetration occurs.

The concoction mentioned sounds like garbage.

-- Clint Searl....Ya can no more do what ya don't know how than ya can git back from where ya ain't been

View LakeLover's profile


283 posts in 1935 days

#7 posted 08-13-2013 10:52 PM

Clint, This is one of lifes big questions right there. If you thin out an oil with a solvent, does it let molecules slide in a tad farther?

I don’t have an electron microscope.

Same thing with wood that has darkened, due to light exposure, how far into the wood does that UV effect?

Recently I was given some left over white oak door casings, unused, that were sawn out of old barn beams. Must have been big beams looking at the end grain. They all had a fumed look, I assumed being in a barn they had a long slow ammonia treatment. Beautiful wood BTW.

View Clint Searl's profile

Clint Searl

1533 posts in 2356 days

#8 posted 08-14-2013 01:52 PM

LakeLover…thinning the oil doesn’t change the size of the molecules. The solvent may soak in, but the oil gets left behind.

-- Clint Searl....Ya can no more do what ya don't know how than ya can git back from where ya ain't been

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