FREE – Fundamentals of Fearless Finishing: Part II


Part I of this series, in which Chuck talks about wood selection, is included in 360 Woodworking Issue #1. The third and final installment, which is all about topcoats, is found in Issue#3


From the time a tree is felled, light and air start changing the color of wood – some lighten while others darken. Regardless of what we do, over time (and given just the right amount of light and air), the color mellows to those earthy, woody tones we all love. If it eventually becomes pleasing to the eye, why would we ever think about coloring wood?

There are several reasons you might consider coloring the wood in your projects. Most of us aren’t patient enough to wait for our furniture to look good. Surprisingly, we want our work to be visually pleasing from the outset. Additionally, most of us want the various parts of our projects to blend in color from one to another. And, as woodworkers, we want to use a less expensive species, yet make it look like something more exotic. To achieve all of this, colorants become a necessity.

For many woodworkers coloring their project is the scariest part of the process. After all, if you blow it on this step, it’s often difficult or impossible to recover, right?

The best finishers understand wood and use a small group of skills to overcome the trouble spots. Learning how wood reacts to different colorants gives you an advantage when it comes to finishing and helps to overcome your fears.

All About The Wood

End grain absorbs dyes and stains differently than side grain: It even reacts to some chemicals differently. And let’s not even talk about the difference in reflectivity. Throughout history cabinetmakers have tried to hide end grain as much as possible. Why? Because, for the most part, it’s nothing but trouble when it comes to blending it with the rest of a piece. End grain nearly always comes across as dark and porous.

Often, no matter how hard we try to prevent it, end grain turns out dark. Compare the color of the end of the top (at the right side of the photo) to the front edge of the top – the end is just a dark brown mess.

This might all sound like a major problem, but knowing that it generally tends to go dark is something we can use to our advantage when it comes to figured woods (but I’ll dive into that later). For now, I just want you to understand that end grain looks different than side grain when colored.

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