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Tips and Techniques for Fantastic Oak Finishes Wayzata MN

Making samples gives you the opportunity to tweak a recipe until you get the look you want. Be sure to make the samples out of scrap from the project you’re finishing to get the most accurate preview of how the finish will look. Sand and finish the samples to the same level as your project and apply a topcoat.

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Tips and Techniques for Fantastic Oak Finishes

Tips and Techniques for Fantastic Oak Finishes

by Dave Munkittrick

 Like a movie star, oak possesses natural good looks. Oak’s distinctive grain pattern (see photo below) is what people are responding to when they say, “I love the look of oak.” Unlike a movie star, however, oak is easy to work with—even during finishing. The best finishes for oak celebrate its grain. In this aricle, I’ll highlight some key finishing tips and techniques used to create the multilayered finishes that bring out the best in oak. Check out the recipes that make use of these techniques in “4 Proven Oak Finishes” .

Earlywood and Latewood Stain Differently

Finishing oak is like finishing two different woods at once.  The large, visible pores in the earlywood soak up stain much more aggressively than the relatively smooth latewood does. 


Avoid Disasters; Make Samples First

Always, always, always make samples before you begin to apply finish. Most finishing disasters can be avoided with this basic step. Making samples gives you the opportunity to tweak a recipe until you get the look you want. Be sure to make the samples out of scrap from the project you’re finishing to get the most accurate preview of how the finish will look. Sand and finish the samples to the same level as your project and apply a topcoat.

Finally, accurately measure and record every step, including dye concentrations, mixture ratios, when to scuff-sand, number of topcoats, etc. There’s nothing worse than hitting on the perfect look only to realize you don’t know how you got there.

Key to a Good Finish: Proper Sanding

I sand oak to 220 grit. Although lots of people stop at 180 grit, I find going one more step really polishes the dense latewood and enhances its contrast with the coarse earlywood. 

Scuff-Sand Carefully

Scuff-sand with 280- or 320-grit paper between coats of shellac and varnish. A light touch is all that’s needed. Care must be taken not to sand through one layer of finish into the next. 

I typically scuff-sand after each coat of shellac. The sanding removes dust nibs and leaves a scratch pattern for the next coat to grip.

Tip: Scuff-sand the dye coat on quartersawn oak to make the ray fleck really pop. Because the rays are so dense, the dye tends to sit on the surface where a light sanding can easily remove it. This makes the rays lighter than the surrounding wood. 

Create a Ground Color with Dye

Many great oak finishes begin with a “ground color” dye, typically a yellow or reddish brown. The ground color establishes the finish’s predominate undertone. Apply the dye liberally to bare wood with a brush or spray bottle. Blot up any excess with a clean rag. Even when thinned to manufacturers’ recommendations, dyes produce very strong colors.

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