first project, need advise for finishing

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Forum topic by mikeob77 posted 02-23-2014 04:04 PM 1006 views 0 times favorited 15 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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6 posts in 976 days

02-23-2014 04:04 PM

Topic tags/keywords: cherry chisel carving finishing question

This is my first carving project, I have been working on this for over a month now so I don’t want to screw everything up on the finish. Its made from cherry
I have carved down the scales and sanded at 80 grit as I go, I still have to sand a few more times.
I looked at a few pictures of finishes on cherry wood and bought “tried and true varnish”
When I looked at a few how to finish videos I realized cherry is no where near as easy to finish as expected.
Is there something else I should be using?
if not what would the proper procedure be for using the “tried and true varnish” on such an intricate piece I was hoping to minimize the sanding I have to do.

15 replies so far

View Jim Finn's profile

Jim Finn

2390 posts in 2344 days

#1 posted 02-23-2014 04:38 PM

You need to sand way past 80 grit. 180 would be more like it before finishing. I think that your great carving would look good with a gloss finish, sprayed on I think.

-- "You may have your PHD but I have my GED and my DD 214"

View nailbanger2's profile


1041 posts in 2566 days

#2 posted 02-23-2014 04:53 PM

Cherry can get pretty blotchy. I would recommend some of Charles Neill’s blotch control before putting anything else on it.

-- Wish I were Norm's Nephew

View Bob Areddy's profile

Bob Areddy

192 posts in 2824 days

#3 posted 02-23-2014 05:30 PM

I love using tung oil varnish with cherry. Brings out the color without hiding anything. Then I’d spray it with a lacquer.

Maybe what you should do is a very small sample carving that matches some of the relief carving in this piece to do some test finishes to see what works.

-- --Bob

View mikeob77's profile


6 posts in 976 days

#4 posted 02-23-2014 05:35 PM

how long would the tung oil take to cure before I can spray the lacquer?
also how many applications of tung oil would it take?

I like the look the tried and true varnish gives but what I am really looking for is something that will bring out the grain as best as possible and have a glossy finish. I like the idea of using a spray to get that look

Ill buy a few other products and test them on a sample like you suggested. I am still probably 2 weeks away from putting on a finish so I have lots of time to try a few if there are any other suggestions.

View Monte Pittman's profile

Monte Pittman

21574 posts in 1760 days

#5 posted 02-23-2014 07:13 PM

I would use light coats of spray on lacquer. You don’t want it to puddle.


-- Mother Nature created it, I just assemble it.

View Fred Hargis's profile

Fred Hargis

3848 posts in 1916 days

#6 posted 02-23-2014 08:48 PM

Given the amount of work you have into that, I would suggest you take some scrap cherry (from the same wood source if possible, and carve a few scales (or other details) into it. Not a lot, just enough to test a few finishes. You do not want to test on your project. For my flatwork cherry projects, I like just a coat of garnet shellac….if it’s a high wear item (table tops) I will top coat that with a good varnish. I also like danish oil (boiled linseed oil/mineral spirits/varnish mixed in equal amounts), but danish oil and similar finishes have to be wiped on/wiped off, something that would be pretty hard to do on that piece. Shellac can be sprayed, but you may not like the look. I wouldn’t worry about blotching on that piece, but some testing can show you if it’s an issue. I would be remiss if I didn’t say I admire you’re craftmanship…nicely done!

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

View mikeob77's profile


6 posts in 976 days

#7 posted 02-23-2014 08:54 PM

thanks for all the advice Fred, Ill get some shellac too. I wanted the Varnish finish so this piece would last longer. The guy at Lee Valley suggested I try using tru oil, has anyone used this to know if it would be an easier application?

View Fred Hargis's profile

Fred Hargis

3848 posts in 1916 days

#8 posted 02-23-2014 09:49 PM

Tru Oil is a form of danish oil, if you look at the MSDS, it roughlty 56% MS, 11% linseed oil, and 33% “modified oil” which I’m told is MSDS speak for varnish. It’s used a lot on gun stocks and the general application is still a wipe on/wipe off kind of thing. If this sounds like I’m poo-pooing it, I’m not. I really think it looks nice on cherry…but I also think the application on something with all those nooks and crannies will be tough. BTW, one thing you can do to see what it will look like finishes would be to put some mineral spirits in a spray bottle and spray the piece. It will give a finished look but yet not contaminant the wood in any way (the MS will just evaporate); I do this a lot to see glue spots and other imperfections on flat work.

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

View DaleM's profile


952 posts in 2806 days

#9 posted 02-24-2014 12:32 AM

I’ve never tried Tried and True Varnish, but from what I’ve read, I can’t see any way to recommend it. Fine woodworking placed it last among all wipe-on finishes they tested and it took a month or more to dry, so I wouldn’t even consider using it.

For something with all that texture, I wouldn’t use a wiping varnish anyway, since you won’t be able to wipe it off evenly. I would spray on a solvent based polyurethane, or a lacquer. I would use steel wool or even a scrub pad to smooth between coats, since sanding that textured surface wouldn’t be practical.

-- Dale Manning, Carthage, NY

View Mark Kornell's profile

Mark Kornell

1057 posts in 1953 days

#10 posted 02-24-2014 01:03 AM

Mike, very nice carving. Doesn’t look even close to a first project. Are you planning to paint or otherwise colorize the eyes?

In general, sanding to 80 grit is insufficient – sanding to 180 or 220 would generally be considered good practise. However, I can see where you might want a rough texture on this piece.

Unless you’re planning on using some kind of stain, you don’t need to worry about blotching. I’d apply 3 or 4 coats of tung oil – the Lee Valley polymerized tung or the Circa 1850 brands work well. 1 to 2 days drying between coats, depending on drying conditions. After the last coat, let dry until it doesn’t smell. Then apply your top coat to get a glossy finish. That could be a sprayed lacquer or shellac. I would not use a polyurethane on such a textured surface as there is a huge risk of getting drips/sags/runs due to the longer cure time vs. lacquer or shellac.

How much wear do you expect this piece to get? Finish durability is probably not a large concern.

-- Mark Kornell, Kornell Wood Design

View mikeob77's profile


6 posts in 976 days

#11 posted 02-24-2014 01:06 AM

I have just been sanding to 80 grit as I go so I know how much of the scales Ill be losing when I sand. I will be taking it to at least 220 grit.
I won’t be coloring or painting any of it, I want as much grain to jump out as possible because there were a lot of knots and curls in the wood

View mahdee's profile


3465 posts in 1190 days

#12 posted 02-24-2014 01:07 AM

I would suggest either what Monte recommends or use wipe on poly; one application at time until you are satisfied with the outcome. Beautiful work by the way.


View mikeob77's profile


6 posts in 976 days

#13 posted 02-24-2014 01:10 AM

thank you, Ill post the final product whenever its all dried up and photo worthy

View EPJartisan's profile


1116 posts in 2548 days

#14 posted 02-26-2014 06:14 AM

Hi… I am a big fan of both small detail carving and black cherry wood. Shame you did not post earlier before you did all those scales. I would have recommended pre-finishing he cherry and then carving the details. That said…

If you want the BEST grain out of cherry… You really can not stay below 400 grit…. The smoother you get the wood the better the grain POPS. I take all my cherry projects down to 600 grit min.. I love the silky cream color the wood turns… There are more thanjust dark figures in there… There could be fire grain where the wood suddenly decided to change directions and will reflect light like a gem can… There are always thin lines of pale cream along the latewood rings that without care will just disappear. Every scratch you leave will distract from the grain. I am a sculptor, so I go crazy for perfection of my surfaces,

Shellac makes cherry look like plastic… I hate it. Splotches come from when end grain is exposed to the surface.. They can be minimized with a loyal sanding… But I say celebrate the wood.. Plan for the splotches to be prt of the piece. The Danish oil / naphtha / UV varnish mixture is durable…Danish oil / mineral spirits / beeswax is my favorite for non handled surfaces. So, I suggest, do not worry about sanding anything but the top surfaces and given your detail do not use steel wool… Or you will loose your clean edges.. And any soft grain will tear a little and show as small splotches… Let the scales and carved details darken and the tops will pop even more. I’d give it a good three soaks with a Danish mixture wipe well… Let set 1 hour ( the wood will exude the excess oil… Do not let this cure!!!).. Wipe again and now let cure 24 hours… Sand lightly with a firm pad only the top surface with 400 and then wipe/set/wipe/cure/sand 2 more times. You will be utterly amazed.. Don’t miss this opportunity. That is a great carving… Take your time.. Test it out before you jump on it and please post when done.

-- " 'Truth' is like a beautiful flower, unique to each plant and to the season it blossoms ... 'Fact' is the root and leaf, allowing the plant grow and bloom again."

View mikeob77's profile


6 posts in 976 days

#15 posted 02-26-2014 01:41 PM

Thanks for all the advice EPJartisan, these two are the only pictures I have of it sanded without scales. I centred the face and rattle on the only visible curls. This was only 200grit do I will take your advice and take my sanding to 600 for the best possible grain. I’ve spent so much time on this that I’m not about to rush it, I’ll spend the extra month on it if I have to. Time is not a factor on this. I have a test piece I am carving scales on to be able to test the Danish oil vs. tried and true varnish, and tung oil. There is no easy method for this so I’m just looking for results.

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