Here is one of my favorite finishes for any wood that is ring-porous or diffuse-porous. I call it “dirty mahogany” or “creepy janitor.”
First a warning: I think this finish looks like crap on woods that have a closed pore structure, such as maple or cherry, and on softwoods. It looks great on anything with open pores: Mahogany, oak, walnut, ash, etc.
Step 1: Apply a film finish. This can be anything that seals the wood. Varnish. Shellac. Lacquer. Polyurethane. I usually use garnet shellac because it dries fast, isn’t as poisonous as other finishes and gives wood a nice color. My second choice: Any kind of varnish.
Apply a couple coats and let it dry.
Step 2: Fetch the creepy janitor. Years ago David Thiel introduced me to “black bison wax” by Liberon. He had a can of the “tudor oak” stuff that we would use on Arts & Crafts pieces. It does a beautiful job of filling the pores with black wax and toning the overall piece.
But the smell. Sweet Mary and Joseph. We had this really odd janitor at Southside High School. It smells like that dude.
You wipe it on with an abrasive pad. Let it flash (it takes about 5 minutes or so). Then buff with a rough cloth – I use the cheap terry cloth towels from the hardware store.
The smell lingers for about a week. And then you are left with a nice pore-filled finish that looks like your piece has some age on it – without looking like you dragged your project through the mud.
Oh, and why Liberon? I don’t know. There are other makers of black wax, and I’m sure it works just as well. But one jar of Liberon has lasted me a decade. So I haven’t had much of a chance to compare.
Perhaps the competing wax smells like that odd lunch lady at Chaffin Junior High.
— Christopher Schwarz
Learn finishing. Most woodworkers are mouth-breathers when it comes to finishing. I was, too, until I met up with Bob Flexner. He has three great books on finishing, but my personal favorite is “Finishing 101.” It helps you take the important first steps to becoming a good finisher. Highly recommended. And not too expensive (less than $13). Check it out at ShopWoodworking.com.