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Thread: How to finish a red oak table top

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Aug 2007
    boise, id

    How to finish a red oak table top

    Hi there all I am redoing the world's ugliest table for one of my sisters. She asked me to cut down the legs and make a new top for it out of some red oak she had. The table is going to be used as a coffee table and I am wondering what would be a good finish for the top?

    Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

  2. #2
    Have a look at Behlen's Rock Hard Table finish. I'd seal the pores first; I had a hard time getting red oak glassy without it.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jul 2003
    Charleston, SC, USA.
    I don't have any pictures, nor can I find the article since I'm restricted from searches where I am now. Anyway, I recently tried sealing pores with pumice and boiled linseed oil over red oak and was amazed at the ease and the results. This was based on an article by Jeff Jewitt and it was either on the Homestead Finishing website or more likely on the Fine Woodworking site. I'll look again when I get home and see if I can round it up.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Aug 2007
    boise, id
    Thanks Shawn and Michael.

    I found the article on pumice and boiled linseed oil on FWW that looks like and interesting way to go for filling the grain, I think I might give it a try.

    Now I am just stuck on how to get some color into the wood. The wood is really white and I would like it to have a little more color, more towards a tan.

    Should I do a pore seal, then shellac and then a gel stain and varnish on top? or do you think I could try a stain after I pore seal and before I shellac?

    Oh so many questions.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Nov 2007
    Manassas, Virginia

    Try some kind of danish oil on scrap red oak

    I have built lot of stuff from Red Oak - not too much lately since I prefer QSWO and cherry now, but I know I will use it again. Regardless - -

    Tan is tough, but maybe you can use a maple stain or wiping stain. You will have to experiment. You may also be able to use an analine dye - like Woodworker's Supply sells on line. They sell many colors. Personally, I never get tired of using medium walnut Watco after or before filling up the pores like the others have suggested and then just putting many coats of poly or tung oil on it. One trick I learned is to use gloss for toughness and then use a satin poly for the final if I do not want a gloss finish.

    You can always finish the bottom for an experiment and then flip it over to the top and finish it the way that works best.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Nov 2004
    Thomasville, Georgia

    I've done a few projects with red oak, primarily to blend with other pieces like kitchen cabinets. Because the grain on those projects was fairly typical of the usual contrast with red oak, I always experimented with a variety of stains to match existing pieces.

    One of my current projects is a countertop for a kitchen island. All of the cabinets are red oak with a finish schedule that tones down the contrast of the grain somewhat. In the process of determining an appropriate finish schedule, I have spent some time at Target Coatings chatting with Jeff and a couple of others. They, along with some additional research got me headed in the right direction.

    After gluing up my assembly, I sanded the red oak to 150 grit. Then, I began building color using Transtint dyes in denatured alcohol. I've used a fairly weak solution so I could control the amount of color and sprayed light coats. Now that I'm at the point I want for color, I'll seal with shellac and lightly sand the nibs off. Using Target's filler and sealer, I'll get a flatter surface, then topcoat with EM8000cv conversion varnish for water and chemical protection.
    Bill Arnold
    NRA Life Member
    Member of Mensa
    Live every day like it's your last, but don't forget to stop and smell the roses.

  7. #7
    To get a smooth finish you do not need to use filler. This is not to say that filler is not a good option just that it is not required to get a smooth finish. What ever you decide to use for protection can be built up and sanded to create the smooth surface.

    I just finished a 5x4 conference table and I used Wipe-On Poly. It took about 10 coats before the finished was smooth. I wanted to make sure they could write on paper laid on the surface without having the woodgrain show though the paper and affect the writing.

    With Wipe-On Poly you sand between coats which gives you the smoothness. Also with Wipe-On Poly you can build up the coats quickly, I only had to wait 2 hrs between coats so I was able to do 10 coats in one weekend just stopping out to the shop when the timer when off. :-).

    Using filler is an option and I do not want you to deter from using it if that is want you want. I myself like to experiment and play with new techniques. It can be used to create some great effects like tinting the filler. Also filler has it's own set of rules so be aware of the effects.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Aug 2007
    boise, id
    Thank you for all the hints and suggestions guys. I did not have time to work on the table this weekend due to some family coming into town. Hopefully I will ahve time to do some sanding on it this week and start finishing it.

    Thanks again I will post picture when I am done.

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