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Forum topic by KarenNJ posted 04-09-2014 05:01 AM 1878 views 0 times favorited 21 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View KarenNJ's profile


3 posts in 1706 days

04-09-2014 05:01 AM

I bought a black walnut live slab to make a writing desk from the lumbershack guys on ebay (love them by the way) –

I plan to hand sand the wood but am unsure what type of finish to use on it. I want the grain to pop as much as possible and I want the natural colors to come out without any sort of stain. The thing is I don’t want the finish to be super shiny. Any suggestions on how to go about finishing it? Any products you can recommend? I am in northern NJ so I have access to all the big box stores plus numerous mom and pop hardware stores. I am a super newbie to this and have no clue what I am doing!

21 replies so far

View Ted's profile


2873 posts in 2408 days

#1 posted 04-09-2014 05:44 AM

Hi Karen, welcome to LumberJocks.

That’s a nice slap, will make a beautiful desk top. There are a number of ways you can achieve the finish you want and you’ll get plenty of suggestions. As a newbie you’ll want the simplest method possible. One way is to wipe it down with straight Murpheys oil soap. Just spread it on thick, straight out of the bottle and let it soak in, wipe off the excess with a dry towel.

Be sure to finish both sides and all the edges, or you might have cupping or warping issues.

Like I said, you’ll get plenty of suggestions. Mine is just one of many and may or may not be your best options. I’m also curious what the others will say.

-- You can collect dust or you can make dust. I choose to make it.

View Monte Pittman's profile

Monte Pittman

30047 posts in 2535 days

#2 posted 04-09-2014 05:59 AM

I like using danish oil and then Polyurethane. As Ted said, be sure to finish all sides.

Welcome to Lumberjocks

-- Nature created it, I just assemble it.

View knotscott's profile


8144 posts in 3572 days

#3 posted 04-09-2014 09:07 AM

For something like that I prefer an oil…...tung oil, Danish oil, boiled linseed oil, etc. You can also create a wiping oil using 1/3 oil, 1/3 poly, 1/3 mineral spirits. Build it up with several applications. Oils take a while to dry between coats, but tend to look more natural that some of the other finishes.

-- Happiness is like wetting your pants...everyone can see it, but only you can feel the warmth....

View Gary's profile


9386 posts in 3630 days

#4 posted 04-09-2014 09:18 AM

Welcome to the site, Karen.
Like those above, I use oil My choice is usually Pure Tung. Not the stuff in the big box stores. You’d have to order it.
Knotscott’s method is a good one. Fairly easy too. Just remember, oil takes a while to dry.

-- Gary, DeKalb Texas only 4 miles from the mill

View coachmancuso's profile


259 posts in 2128 days

#5 posted 04-09-2014 10:36 AM

Welcome Karen , I would go with Boiled linseed oil then poly Good luck

-- Coach Mancuso

View camps764's profile


867 posts in 2557 days

#6 posted 04-09-2014 11:42 AM

I’ll second what Knotscott said. Make a wiping oil using 1/3 Boiled Linseed oil (BLO), 1/3 Satin Polyurethane (I like Minwax), 1/3 mineral spirits (store brand). The linseed oil will help the grain pop. And the wipe on/wipe off is pretty forgiving with minimal runs or streaks. The downside is that it takes quite a few coats to build up an adequate finish.

For reference you can see my Stickley Nightstand The second picture of the top is a good representation of the sheen you’ll get. The rest look shinier than they are due to the flash. The last picture shows the grain/figure popped from the finish.

My process:
I sand through 220 grit sand paper before application. E.G. 120, wipe off dust, 180, wipe of dust, 220, wipe off dust. I would recommend getting a random orbit sander to do the job. Sand through all of your grits with the sander, then get a sanding block and sand with the grain a second time with 220 to remove any swirls.

The application is SUPER easy. Wipe the stuff on the surface, let it soak in for a few minutes, then wipe it off. Give it 24 hours, repeat. I like to repeat this process 4-8 times, depending on the finish I want to build. You can rub the top down between coats with some #0000 Steel Wool.

Look up Canadian WoodWorks on this site. He has a video where he finishes a table using this method. He’ll talks through what he does.

Like others have said, finish both sides of the top. In my opinion, the bottom doesn’t need as many coats as the top. Some have a different perspective on that part, so take my advice with a grain of salt.

Once you’ve built up the desired finish you can give it a coat of paste waste and buff it out with steel wool.

Just as an FYI, this finish isn’t as water resistant as straight up Polyurethane. Water rings can be a problem. Make yourself a set of coasters with the offcuts and you’ll be golden :)

Post lots of pictures, ask lots of questions, and don’t be afraid to make mistakes…you can always sand it back and start over. Good luck!

-- Steve

View KarenNJ's profile


3 posts in 1706 days

#7 posted 04-09-2014 12:14 PM

Thank you so much!!!! My father uses the 1/3 oil mix for wood projects he does but I was not sure if that would be the best option for this. I will take a look at the video as I need a little hand holding here since this is my first time doing anything like this. Thanks for all the information everyone!

View TheWoodenOyster's profile


1317 posts in 2132 days

#8 posted 04-09-2014 10:33 PM

I’m in the oil camp if this is your first go round. All the guys above have suggested good options. I would suggest straight oil (boiled linseed, tung, danish, etc.) thinned down with mineral spirits or a 1/3 mix as discussed above. As long as it is a wipe-on, wipe off application, you should be alright as those are easier to apply and less error prone.

Two words of caution:

1. Hand sanding that slab is going to take a while and be pretty physically taxing. Hang in there, but expect a lot of work. It is always worth it in the end, though.

2. A lot of oil blends have spontaneous combustion properties. In short, rags soaked with the finish will spontaneously combust as they dry out. THIS WARNING IS NOT A JOKE. THOSE RAGS WILL BURN YOUR HOUSE DOWN if you don’t dispose of them properly. After you are done with them spread them out flat in your driveway or your shop floor if it is concrete. The biggest problem is when they are bundled up together. I speak from experience, so please be cautious with any oil soaked rags.

-- The Wood Is Your Oyster

View dhazelton's profile


2790 posts in 2493 days

#9 posted 04-09-2014 10:55 PM

I like shellac for most things I finish. It’s a natural product, easy to brush on and always easy to touch up. And if it doesn’t look smooth when done you can rub it down with 0000 steel wool and apply wax and buff. It’s beautiful.

View woodchuckerNJ's profile


1302 posts in 1831 days

#10 posted 04-09-2014 11:09 PM

Shellac, and for Walnut, a blonde shellac.. The blonde will pop the grain, seal the wood (where oil won’t). And the blonde will not add color. If you want more color you have the choice of orange shellac, buttonlac or others. But stick with the blonde… de-waxed. Or simply zinsser seal coat.

Once it is cured and hardened, you can sand, or steel wool it down, and get either a satin finish, or buff it back up to a polished finish. It is the most easily repaired finish, it’s easy to work.

You won’t be disappointed.

-- Jeff NJ

View Pie's profile


187 posts in 3602 days

#11 posted 04-09-2014 11:31 PM

I use Shellac for most of my projects. For small stuff I use a spray on shellac.

-- Pie

View AandCstyle's profile


3177 posts in 2454 days

#12 posted 04-09-2014 11:40 PM

Karen, I have a couple additional thoughts for you to consider: You may want to fill the checks and knots to prevent them from growing and to give a smoother writing surface. If you do, I suggest using epoxy that can be tinted black.

If you decide to buy a random orbit sander (highly recommended), you should also get a shop vac/dust collector to attach to it. Then consider hearing protection as well. At the very least, wear a dust mask while sanding.

Others have suggested an oil based finish and they can be beautiful, but they take a long time to dry and there is a noticeable odor for days after they are dry to the touch. Also, oils will darken and impart a slight yellow color to the wood. I use Target Coatings products and get great results. This project is an example and the finishing schedule is outlined in my write up. The WR40xx (clear) and EM6000 can be applied with a rag or brush.

Finally, you should be aware that walnut will lighten in color somewhat over time with exposure to light. It is a beautiful slab, so take your time with it and you will have an heirloom. HTH

-- Art

View gfadvm's profile


14940 posts in 2887 days

#13 posted 04-10-2014 01:08 AM

Karen, I make a wipe on using Spar urethane which has “long oils” already in it which really shows off the figure and grain. My mix is 2-3 parts Spar to 1 part mineral spirits. If it is too shiney, you can knock the shine back with gray Scotch Brite pads and paste wax. Leaves a beautiful and very “touchable” finish.

I looked at the link but don’t see any sizes posted for those slabs???

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

View waho6o9's profile


8516 posts in 2774 days

#14 posted 04-10-2014 01:33 AM

Welcome to LumberJocks Karen!

Great advice above and I would add to practice on scraps first, with

the recipe written on the back if you try several of the finishing techniques.


View woodchuckerNJ's profile


1302 posts in 1831 days

#15 posted 04-10-2014 01:33 AM

I do not recomend spar finish for an indoor finish. Spar is too soft, and is meant for outdoors. The softness allows it to expand and contract more without cracking due to extreme environmental changes (temp, humidity). Indoors, it is better to use indoor finishes.

The filling of the knots is a good idea (Art’s).

I don’t know how experienced you are with a hand plane. When you have a slab like you have , most people tend to think sanding. But the most beauty can be had by hand planing it. The chatoyance is remarkable when hand planed, but is less when sanded. But sanding certainly is the easier option.

-- Jeff NJ

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