First time finishing cherry - advice?

  • Advertise with us

« back to Finishing forum

Forum topic by ADHDan posted 03-20-2014 01:55 PM 2033 views 0 times favorited 13 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View ADHDan's profile


800 posts in 2310 days

03-20-2014 01:55 PM

Topic tags/keywords: question finishing cherry walnut

I’m building a medium-sized entryway bench out of cherry and walnut. The benchtop and apron are cherry, the legs are walnut. Pics:

I’ve never finished cherry before, and I’d like the piece to have a durable, glossy finish. I’m not too worried about scratches because it will be most-used by people sitting on it while taking shoes on and off. I also want to minimize blotching in the cherry, and I want to bring out the best in both species of wood.

My current plan is a couple coats of BLO followed by three coats of high-gloss lacquer. I have a few questions:

(1) Would you recommend a different product or set of products for finishing this cherry/walnut piece?

(2) What should I know about BLO and lacquer (or whatever finish you suggest)? Bearing in mind that so far I’ve not used anything but tung oil finish (not pure tung oil) and oil-base stains and polyurethanes.


-- Dan in Minneapolis, woodworking since 11/11.

13 replies so far

View ADHDan's profile


800 posts in 2310 days

#1 posted 03-20-2014 02:29 PM

The more I think about it, the more concern I have that lacquer may not hold up well if people are putting their feet on the bench while they stand and remove or put on their shoes. Would shellac or an oil or water based poly be better? And if so, do I need to bother with the BLO coats? I appreciate any insight – I really don’t want to screw this up.

Edit: One additional note – I don’t have an HVLP sprayer, so I’d have to brush on the lacquer. Seems like that’s not a good idea.

I guess the bottom line question is: what would you finishing experts recommend for finishing this piece, in view of its intended use?

-- Dan in Minneapolis, woodworking since 11/11.

View Fred Hargis's profile

Fred Hargis

5176 posts in 2694 days

#2 posted 03-20-2014 03:04 PM

In terms of durability, I wouldn’t choose lacquer. Catalyzed lacquer is considerably better, but best left to the pros (IMHO). Shellac isn’t all that much more, in any, durable. Besides, both of them are pretty hard finishes that scratch easily (shellac has the advantage of being very easy to repair). My approach would be a little different than yours, though I really like BLO on cherry (one coat) to bring out the grain and color. I think I would put on one coat of garnet shellac, and then top coat….I would use a non-poly varnish (alkyd resin), or possibly a water borne. The varnish would be Pratt and Lambert 38, or maybe Sherwin Williams Fast Dry Oil Varnish. If I went with a water borne, I think I might go with a General Finishes product, maybe Enduro Var or H-P. BYTW, if you choose to use the BLO one coat is plenty, and if you then top coat that with a water borne wait several days for it to partially cure and not present any adhesion problems. Oil based and shellac can be put on it after a day or two.

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

View endgrainy's profile


251 posts in 2089 days

#3 posted 03-20-2014 03:32 PM

If you want a “durable, glossy finish” I think poly makes the most sense. I have limited experience, but have had success with a coat of dewaxed shellac followed by several coats of an oil/varnish blend (Arm R Seal) on walnut and cherry. I usually wipe on my finishes as I don’t like brushing and don’t have a spray setup.

-- Follow me on Instagram @endgrainy

View ADHDan's profile


800 posts in 2310 days

#4 posted 03-20-2014 04:28 PM

Fantastic, thank you for the advice. I’m now leaning towards one coat of BLO, followed by two or three coats of water-based poly. Or, alternatively, my professional woodworker friend gave this suggestion:

“Start with sanding sealer then go to the gloss. I like Spar since it is made for outdoors and can take abuse. Allow plenty of time between coats, light sand and remove dust between coats and be sure to do a really good job with sanding before finishing.”

I’m a bit of a finishing novice so I don’t want to try anything too complicated – thus the appeal of a simple two-step approach such as BLO followed by poly, or sealer followed by spar.

-- Dan in Minneapolis, woodworking since 11/11.

View ADHDan's profile


800 posts in 2310 days

#5 posted 03-20-2014 04:39 PM

One last question: I’m not so good at seeing plain vs. curly. Do I have plain cherry, curly cherry, or a mixture in this panel? It all came from the same board (I don’t know offhand whether a single board can contain both plain and curly). I just don’t want the finish to look weird if it’s not all plain or all curly.

-- Dan in Minneapolis, woodworking since 11/11.

View FellingStudio's profile


93 posts in 1884 days

#6 posted 03-20-2014 05:01 PM

Personally, I would go with just shellac on the piece because it is easy to apply, and it is easy to repair, and you don’t really have much of a chance of getting an alcohol spill on the bench.

If you must use a different product as the top coat, skip the BLO and use a shellac spit coat followed by one or two coats of a lacquer or varnish.

-- Jesse Felling -

View Clint Searl's profile

Clint Searl

1533 posts in 2562 days

#7 posted 03-20-2014 08:14 PM

Waterborne poly floor finish is all you need. If it’s tough enough to walk on, it’s tough enough for your bench. Can the BLO and shellac.

-- 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 EPJartisan's profile


1122 posts in 3326 days

#8 posted 03-20-2014 08:56 PM

you have a lot of straight grained cherry… the long board in the middle of the last picture has some curly grain, but not sure how much. curly is when the grain changes directions and the end of the cells are open to the surface.

i dont usually do a high gloss on cherry, cant help ya there, but seriously if you want the best out of black cherry the easiest way to get a nice cream color where blotching becomes almost beautiful is to use a scraper card and sand to 600 grit min. blotches are larger areas of exposed cells, just like curly figure… only kinds dull and unsightly. t is all about surface quality for me. there is a thin line of light cream color at the edge of latewood rings and i sand until i can see the lines clearly. it’s how i judge when i am ready for a finish. Never used BLO, but shellac makes cherry look plastic and unnatural to me. repairability to me on cherry is mute after a few years.. it ages, darkens, and spot fixing brings out the light cherry color again.

-- " '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 coachmancuso's profile


259 posts in 2132 days

#9 posted 03-20-2014 10:21 PM

I had made a coffee table out of cherry. I finished it using 1 coat of BLO followed by 4 coats of poly. It looks like glass. No issues after a year of use

-- Coach Mancuso

View ADHDan's profile


800 posts in 2310 days

#10 posted 03-21-2014 03:48 PM

Thanks everyone for the tips. The breadth of opinions on this topic certainly isn’t surprising – ask five woodworkers for the best way to finish a piece, and you’ll likely end up with eight different responses :-).

I’m going to try the BLO and water-based poly approach on some scrap – if for no other reason than that I’ve never used either of those finishes before and I’m curious to see what they are like, generally. I’m slowly upping my finishing repository, and in my mind that’s half the fun anyway.

-- Dan in Minneapolis, woodworking since 11/11.

View bonesbr549's profile


1576 posts in 3268 days

#11 posted 03-21-2014 05:52 PM

Well, you will get lots of advice, so I’ll throw mine in. I work pretty much exclusively with cherry by choice and love it. In the past for that deep look, I used Waterlox Satin, they have different levels of gloss. I spray it it’s really hard and is just fantastically durable and makes cherry pop(it’s used to treat hardwood floors). It is oil/varnish so it will smell and I usually let it go 24hrs between coats. I use two coats of their sealer wiped on followed by 2-3 coats sprayed. I’ll include some links to what it would look like. Recently though I’ve switched to General Finishes water base. I can shoot a new coat every 2-3 hrs and it’s a rock hard finish. Armor Seal and I really like the High performance. Now for me I like the character of blushing (I don’t call it blotching). However if you want to minimize that and want uniform color, then either use a dye for control or Charles Neil’s Blotch control works well. However, with all water base, you will not get that dark amber that oil base provides. However I do feel in the coming years Oil base will be done away with due to VOC’s and the EPA. Sad really. Anyway there are a couple options.

Here are some pic’s with Waterlox satin, and The 8 sided pencil post bed was done with General Finishes High performance.

Cherry Hutch Waterlox

Wine Cabinet Waterlox

Pie Safe Waterlox

8 sided pencil post bed with General Finishes High performance

-- Sooner or later Liberals run out of other people's money.

View Gerry's profile


264 posts in 3442 days

#12 posted 03-21-2014 06:14 PM

I would agree with bones. One suggestion: if you want the character and grain of the cherry to show through, I’ve had great success with 2coats of Arm R Seal, followed by High Performance water based finish. My 2 cents…

-- -Gerry, Hereford, AZ ” A really good woodworker knows how the hide his / her mistakes.”

View ADHDan's profile


800 posts in 2310 days

#13 posted 03-21-2014 07:42 PM

I don’t have access to a sprayer, so I’m looking at brush- or wipe-on options. I may try Arm R Seal on some test pieces too. Thanks.

-- Dan in Minneapolis, woodworking since 11/11.

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