Varnishing a burled redwood coffee table?
September 3, 2008 11:28 AM   Subscribe

I'm at the point where I'm about to apply varnish to a burled redwood table top. What's best to bring out the details of the burl?

Something of a followup to a question I posted last year and also related to a question posted by Felix.

I started with a somewhat damaged / wavy piece of burled redwood (image here) that I got on the cheap from a flea market. Rather than attempt to fix the warping, I'm calling it "character" and am focusing on finishing the top of the piece. I used a gel stripper to remove varnish on the top of item then sanded both sides up to 150grit.

The bark was too difficult to remove the varnish effectively so I basically used (at the recommendation of the hardware store clerk, who said using only stain wouldn't "stick" over the old varnish) a dark stain with some polyurethane in it to re-cover the bark and thus stain/varnish the entire edge with a dark shade that covers up any of the damaged areas where bits of bark were chipped off. The edge is somewhat glossy, but otherwise looks alright. My hope is that the end-state of the table will make the gloss bark stand out less.

My question is: what kind of varnish or stain procedure should I use to a) bring out any of the burl in the wood, b) seal the entire piece and c) even out the glossiness of the edge.

My thought was to re-sand the top and bottom to clean up the stain-job I did on the bark then go over both sides (do I need to do both sides?) and the bark with clear polyurethane coats. Will that be enough or should I use a varnish with some color in it to bring out the wood? I'd like to do it this weekend -- is the Minwax I find at Home Depot good enough for the job? And do I need to go over the bark again since I already stain/varnished it?
posted by sub-culture to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (5 answers total)
Tung Oil would be a nice natural finish on this, or a poly oil mix like these followed by some good paste wax. The oil will make it darker and bring out the burl.
posted by zeoslap at 11:59 AM on September 3, 2008

Watco would do the trick too
posted by zeoslap at 12:00 PM on September 3, 2008

You do need to do both sides to equalize moisture absorption so that it doesn't warp/crack
posted by zeoslap at 12:01 PM on September 3, 2008

With regards to oil, does that mean I need to apply something like Tung oil first then varnish it? Are there oils that contain varnish?
posted by sub-culture at 12:52 PM on September 3, 2008

You may find this information useful:

It explains what David Marks, who makes furniture and often uses burly wood, uses. It's a commercially availble product that is a mixture of oil and varnish:

"I have tried various methods of mixing linseed oil and tung oil in the past, but since the mid 80’s I’ve been using a product called Seal-A-Cell and Arm-R-Seal made by the General Finishes Company and available through mail order as well as from Woodcraft.

Since doing the first six seasons of Woodworks, this finish has been improved and no longer has the make-up stated in the show. I use two products starting with a sealer and finishing with a top coat. Company representatives state the sealer (which is clear but also available in different colored stains) is a blend of modified linseed oil, oil modified urethane, and alkyd resin, and dryers. The topcoat I use is called Arm-R-Seal and is now an oil modified urethane with dryers. The Arm-R-Seal is available in gloss, semi gloss, and satin."
posted by roofone at 1:16 PM on September 3, 2008

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