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Thread: Varnish on curly maple?

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Sep 2007
    Upstate NY

    Varnish on curly maple?

    I just made a little eyeglass caddy out of blistered maple. I figure that is pretty much the same as curly maple.
    Everyone recommends oil under shellac. I have the oil on it and it looks good, but is there anything important about shellac?
    I have varnish, but not shellac; and would rather not buy any just for this.

    Does it really matter?

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Feb 2003
    Shoreline, CT
    Varnish will work fine. In fact an oil based varnish could have been used without the oil. The look would be almost the same. No harm done with the oil first. It should have several days to cure

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Mar 2003
    SE PA - Central Bucks County
    Wade, many of us use the de-waxed shellac as a barrier coat between oil and say, a water borne finish to insure proper adhesion. If you use an oil based varnish, there's no need for the shellac in most cases. The "oil" in the first coat of the varnish will "do the deed" in the same way that BLO or another drying oil might be employed for folks like me that don't use oil based finishes for the most part.

    The most expensive tool is the one you buy "cheaply" and often...

  4. #4
    "Everyone recommends oil under shellac"

    Always beware of absolute statements

    I believe this advice is over-given. That regimen is typically followed to achieve grain pop from oil, and then protection from shellac.

    In my experience, they both pop the grain about the same.

    So if you are doing shellac (for protection - or oil based varnish for that matter), there's little reason to use oil first. There are those who swear it makes a difference. I cannot tell the difference.

    I think the overlooked part of finishing is surface preparation. Conventional wisdom says sanding about 220 grit is mostly a waste. I, however, sand all of my projects up to at least 400 - and if it's curly maple - even higher (600-1000). This burnishes the surface. I have never experienced the negative effects of top coat adhesion that this is reported to induce. I have only experienced the benefits: this allows the first couple coats to go on very smoothly and uniformly. The result is that you can get a thin, even coat that still allows you to feel the wood and pops the grain superbly.

    How I'd do it:
    Sand to 600g (or 800/1000 if you have it). Skip the oil. Skip the shellac. Thin your varnish to wiping consistency, and apply only a few coats.


  5. #5
    Join Date
    Sep 2006
    Deep South
    Finishing is not my best subject but my experience has been exactly the same as what Jim and Prashun are saying.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Apr 2017
    This is a small piece that may not need much protection. It may be done with just the oil if you think it looks good.

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