By Sal Marino
Cherry has been one of the most popular furniture
woods for the past two hundred years. It is one of the easiest hardwoods
to work with either hand, machine or power tools and has a nice smell
when cut. Another reason for its popularity is that it darkens and
develops a beautiful deep red patina over time. When cherry is freshly
cut, milled into boards and dried, it has a very light pinkish color.
The color also varies, sometimes even within the same board. It is only
after a number of years that it starts to develop its deep red color.
Years ago, furniture makers sometimes tried to stain cherry to achieve
the aged color immediately, but the majority was left unstained to
darken naturally. Then, about 50 years ago, cherry furniture became very
popular and manufactures were building a great deal of it. One of the
first problems the manufactures discovered was that when they tried to
stain the cherry, it did not take stain very evenly. Instead of
staining, they applied a toned finish. They found out that adding color
to the lacquer or varnish instead of directly staining the cherry would
somewhat eliminate the problem of an uneven color. Regardless of the
materials or technique used, staining cherry is still difficult. The
highly figured swirl grain often seen in cherry is what makes it
difficult to accept stain evenly. The grain density in this swirl figure
varies from soft to hard, therefore the soft areas will soak up a stain
while the hard areas will not make the stain penetrate well. The end
result is a blotchy, uneven color. Even if you are successful in
achieving a uniform deep red color, it will not last. As the cherry
naturally ages, it will become darker and eventually, the color may be
too dark due to the stain you applied and the natural darkening. This
will happen more quickly especially if you use dye satins. The safest
way to achieve a deep red natural cherry color without any chance of
blotching or the wood becoming too dark is to let mother nature do her
work. However, like many of us today, often I do not want to, or cannot
wait for this to happen. Therefore, I have a couple of suggestions and
finishing techniques you can try out.
naturally with age.
Exposure to sunlight
darken the patina as
the years go by.
Pigmented Stain With Polyurethane Finish.
When staining a wood like cherry that does not take stain evenly, itís
best to use a stain that is heavy in pigment. Pigmented stains are more
resistant to ultra violet light than dyes are and it is UV light from
the sun that causes the cherry to darken with age. Therefore, the chance
of the wood becoming too dark over time (due to the stain and the
natural darkening process) is reduced. Also, if you use a pigmented
stain, you will not have to worry about the hard and soft areas of the
cherry accepting stain evenly, because a pigmented stain sits on the
surface as opposed to penetrating like a dye, therefore it will give you
more of a uniform color. The best type of pigmented stain for woods that
donít take stain evenly is a gel stain. There are several good gel
stains on the market, check your local supplier.
1. Sand wood with
(coarse), 150 (medium) and 220 (fine) sandpaper.
2.Apply gel stain by
wiping it onto surface. Remove excess before stain starts to set up and
become too hard to wipe down. Then, leave at least 12 hours to dry.
3.Sealer Coat. Take some polyurethane and thin it down 50 percent with
paint thinner or gum turpentine. This is a 1 to 1 ratio. Use this as a
sealer and apply two coats letting each coat dry 6 to 8 hours between
4. Sand the sealer coats. After the second coat of sealer has
dried thoroughly at least 12 hours, sand it very lightly using 320 grit
sandpaper. Make sure you remove all the dust after you sand.
5. Apply 2 to 3 coats of full
strength polyurethane making
sure to let each coat dry
overnight and sand lightly with 320 grit paper between coats.
If after applying 3 coats, the sheen does not look even, apply
Satin Toned Lacquer Finish For Cherry Wood.
Applying a tinted topcoat or toned lacquer
- Adding color to the topcoat
finish you are going to apply is another way to decrease the amount of sploching in cherry. I addition to adding color, you can also use a
satin topcoat and rub it out after the last coat has cured. This will
produce a finish that is not only more uniform in color but also in
sheen. Use this method only if you do not wish to have a gloss finish.
There are a number of topcoats you can use. If you want to use oil based
varnish or polyurethane, you can tint any oil based finish with Japan
Colors. Japan Colors can be purchased at any local art supply store or
through mail order woodworking companies. If you prefer spraying
finishes, you can use nitrocellulose spraying lacquer and also tint with
Japan Colors. When finishing small projects like boxes, clocks or
musical instruments, you can purchase nitrocellulose spraying lacquer
already tinted in aerosol cans. These are called toners and are
available in many colors. You can purchase toners through woodfinishing
supply companies on the internet or from home centers.
1. Sand wood with 100 (coarse), 150 (medium) and 220 (fine) sandpaper.
2. Apply Sealer. If you are going to use an oil based varnish or
polyurethane tinted with Japan Colors, take some of the un-tinted finish
and reduce it 50 percent with mineral spirits. Use
this as a sealer and apply one coat. Let dry overnight. If you are going
to use spraying lacquers, (either toner in aerosol cans or tinted
lacquer), apply one coat of lacquer sanding sealer. Let dry two hours.
Sanding sealer is also available from woodworking supply companies.
3. Sand Sealer. After the sealer has dried, sand lightly with 320 grit
paper and wipe off dust.
4. Apply several coats of tinted finish - one or two coats of tinted
finish or toner should be enough to give you the color you need. Sand
lightly between coats with 320 paper.
5. Apply Satin Topcoats. Apply two to three coats of clear satin finish.
If you are using varnish or polyurethane, make sure it is a good quality
satin finish and that you stir the finish before applying. Spraying
lacquers are also available in clear satin even the aerosol type. Make
sure you sand lightly with 320 grit paper in between coats.
6. Rub Out Finish. After applying the last coat of clear satin, let the
finish cure completely. This may take up to
a few weeks, but usually 3 days to one week is good. Itís always good to
wait as long as you can before rubbing out the finish. Rubbing out the
finish removes any little dust nibs trapped in the finish and also gives
you a super smooth and fine surface. Use 600 grit silicon carbide wet or
dry sandpaper (this is the black colored paper used for auto body
repair) with rubbing oil or mineral oil as a lubricant. Apply some
oil to the surface and sand with the grain. Periodically wipe off the
surface to inspect the sheen. Low areas appear as shiny spots. Apply
more oil and continue to sand until you achieve a uniform sheen. When
you are done, clean the surface with a cloth LIGHTLY DAMPENED with some
mineral spirits. For more info on rubbing, refer to my article "Rubbing
Out A Finish".
7. Apply a coat of high quality paste wax and buff it out after it has
hazed over. I use Briwax. It is available in clear, light brown, dark
brown, antique mahogany and
other colors. If you are
satisfied with the color after
you are done, use the clear, if
you wish to make the color a
little darker, use one of the