Bell-bottoms, wide ties and leisure suits have something in common with walnut. No, I don’t suspect you have walnut stashed in the far reaches of your closet next to the leisure suits. The commonality is that each item was in vogue at one time, then fell out of fashion. And while I’m not so sure leisure suits are going to make a comeback, I know walnut is once again gaining in popularity with woodworkers. So now might just be the time to stock the shelves in your shop.
If we’re picking up the pace of creating projects with this favorite American hardwood (the choice lumber for furniture built in the William & Mary period (1690-1730) prior to increased importation of mahogany), we need to find a finish that is more than simply adding a coat or two of linseed or tung oil.
Same Old, Same Old
A few samples using dye under shellac were tried. (Orange dyes were suggested by a number of woodworkers.) That was close to the color we were searching for, but the finish muddied the wood. We wanted the walnut grain to stand out, not be masked.
Next we turned to shellac. You may wonder how to get a reddish cast with shellac. While there are a few shellacs that are red in color (available as shellac flakes that are dissolved in alcohol before use), most over-the-counter shellac provides an orange or amber tint at most. The amber color undoubtedly warms the grayish brown hardwood. And to gain that slight reddish look found on antique furniture, we focused on aniline dye added directly into the shellac.
I’ve mixed dyes with my topcoat before and found TransTint liquid dyes (available at any woodworking store) work best. It’s easy because the dye is a concentrated liquid. For our new finish, add a few drops of Reddish Brown (#6003) into shellac, mix and the finish is ready.