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Dining table finishing

Postby gregsm1th » Tue Sep 11, 2007 5:52 pm

Hi all
I bought an unfinished solid oak table recently with a view to colouring it and finishing it myself so that I could match existing dining room furniture (which is generally walnut).
I've looked at a variety of posts and projects on here but don't seem to be able to find the answers I'm looking for! It looks like oiling is my best bet for finish and protection but I have 2 questions really:
1. Colouring
I presume I should stain/dye the wood first to achieve a colour similar to walnut and then apply a finish to protect the wood and colour? A few of the projects mention that you shouldn't dye any surface used in the prep of food, but I guess a table is safe. Will dyes (solvent or water-based) cause any problems when it comes to oiling?
2. Finish
Danish oil looks like a favourite for finishing (which also darkens the colour somewhat) so I was thinking of this option, however I have also seen Hard Wax Oil advertised in various places. Anyone have any views on the difference between the two (and whether either is better/worse for this use). Hard wax oil seems to come coloured too, which might remove the need for pre-staining/dying?
Finally, should the rules about continually applying oil for the first weeks of the wood's life apply to tables as well as kitchen work surfaces?
Thanks in advance...
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Postby Oddbod » Sat Sep 15, 2007 9:39 am


The first thing to say is that oak is oak and walnut is walnut, the grain structure is quite different. The best you are going to end up with is something that looks like mid-brown oak rather than pukka walnut. You need to be aware that the woods will always look different, and that difference will only increase as they age. For that reason I'd suggest going with an appropriate shade of oak colour rather than a matching shade of walnut which is always going to look a bit odd. In other words let the oak look like what it is - it'll thank you in long run!

The basic rule of finishing is to use a dye and a finish with different solvents, so a water based dye with a spirit based finish, or vice versa. That way the finish does not re-dissolve the dye and smear it all over the place. So if you are going to oil, go for a water based dye.

(The trick up the sleeve is a shellac finish, which goes with anything - it's what we use when we don't know what was put on before.)

There is a skill level step between using dye and a finish and just using a coloured finish. The former gives better results, but you do need to practice first - several times - until you are confident. You can't just slap it on!

I'm personally not sure I'd go for danish oil on a table - although you could do if you want a low sheen finish that is easy to keep maintained. Traditionally oak is wax finished (over a coat of shellac unless you want to spend the rest of you days re-waxing it). If it is to be used hard then a varnish or two part catalytic finish (rustins) is a better bet for the top.

So after all that, what would I do....

I'd use a water based oak dye to get the wood to tone with the existing furniture, de-nib (lightly sand) it, a coat of shellac sanding sealer (it's a finish in it's own right, it's not just for sealing prior to sanding) followed by a couple of coats of wax.
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