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Finishing Wenge

sykesville's picture

Finishing Wenge (post #111891)

I just glued up a 12/4 wenge table top, but don't yet know how I'm going to finish it. It's gorgeous, but I've never worked with wenge, and spent a pretty penny for this lumber, so it's gotta come out good. Is there a 'best' pore filler? Anyone have a good finishing schedule. I'm looking for a 'glass' finish, as it's for my daughter as a sort of library table. thanks.

ring's picture

(post #111891, reply #1 of 28)

In my experience, wenge looks its best with a very matte finish and no pore-filling.  A smooth, sophisticated finish tends to make it look artificial, unnatural.  Just my opinion...

Rich14's picture

(post #111891, reply #2 of 28)

I am not a fan of wenge. I have suffered every kind of injury that nasty stuff can inflict on a worker, other than allergic reaction. I've gotten infected splinters, and even non-infected they HURT!

It is unbelievably heavy, especially when an assistant drops a 6/4, 12" wide 14 ft piece on one's foot!

And I really don't like its color or figure.

All that said, as hard as the stuff is to work, it finishes very easily with almost any method you want to use. As David says, it looks very nice with a close-to-the-wood finish. After sanding the surface to 320 grit, a few applications of any oil-varnish, wiped "dry" after penetrating for a while will look very good.

On the other hand, I have also finished it with filled pores (ebony black pore filler) and a high gloss lacquer for a beautiful, sophisticated look with no problem.


gofigure57's picture

(post #111891, reply #3 of 28)

      I agree with David  from the aesthetic point, as it is a table it will need protection.  I  have used quite a bit of wenge and have had good results with cat/lacquer.  Hopefully  one of the Steves will chime in. 

     Leaving the grain open IMO  looks best.


bigfootnampa's picture

(post #111891, reply #4 of 28)

If I were you I'd certainly listen closely to David's advice.  Not only will the table look better with a less formal finish, it will also retain it's beauty FAR longer.  A "glass" finish is a nightmare to maintain in most homes and I'd not want to visit such a trial on MY daughter. 

Furthermore for a relatively inexperienced finisher achieving such a "glass" finish is pretty far fetched as that type finish is wont to expose the SLIGHTEST errors or imperfections in technique.  The need to ask "how?" is evidence enough, that the answer should be "DON'T"!

sykesville's picture

(post #111891, reply #5 of 28)

OK, I'm getting the drift on the 'glass' finish. At this point I still think I would like to use a grain filler. For the finish, I came across a product by the name of "Tried and True Varnish Oil," which appears to be what I want now. Wonder if it can be applied over a clear grain filler ?

SteveSchoene's picture

(post #111891, reply #6 of 28)

Oh, Dear.  Tried and True Varnish Oil is one of those products that have caused major problems for people, and though it is one of those that a few people swear by, it is also one which probably more people swear at.  It can have drying problems.  It really doesn't offer anything special.  Tried and True tries to scare people about metallic driers, but these are both in small amounts, and once a finish is cured, they are so bound up in the finishing material that isn't significantly bio-available.  You will be much happier with a more typical varnish, either brush on on or thinned for wiping, especially if it must be over a pore filler.  

If you use pore filler, be aware that you may need two coats because of shrinkage into the very large pores of wenge.  Also consider that the times for curing given on the pore filler labels are just suggestions, and that it is prudent to allow considerably more time. 

Be sure before you start that the sanding process has included significant leveling by hand with paper on largish sanding blocks.  This is where preparation can make or break the success of the project.  Look at it critically with raking light from different directions.  With closed eyes, run fingertips very lightly over the surface to feel any small undulations.  Look closely inch by inch for dents or other defects in the wood. 

For the top coats, I would suggest a wiping varnish.  You can apply up to three coats in a day, applying each succeeding coat after the one before has just dried to the touch.  Then after a set of three coats (or whenever the last coat has had overnight to cure) sand using 320 grit paper.  That will quickly reveal whether you have leveled the wood in the preparation stages. How many coats is a judgement call.  It takes about three coats of wiping varnish to be equivalent to one coat of brushed on varnish, so you will likely want at least 6 coats, or two sets of three.  Whether that is enough depends on your tastes and on how much sanding you have needed to level the varnish.  Applying the final coats in a set of three does allow enough cross linking among those coats to avoid witness lines when rubbing out. 

The rubbing out process shouldn't begin until the finish is well cured.  Varnish is just barely hard enough to rub out, and needs to get fully hard.  Several weeks, or a month are good.   

Do a sample of the in-the-wood with unfilled pores as David has suggested.  Don't reject that out of hand before really looking at it in the flesh so to speak.   



Test your finish on scrap, FIRST, or risk having to scrap your finish.

sykesville's picture

(post #111891, reply #7 of 28)

Thanks, Steve. Now I'm reconsidering the grain filler... I'll study your advice, but at the moment the wife needs the computer.

Scott_y's picture

(post #111891, reply #8 of 28)

If this is to be a library table, I think you would expect some writing to be done on the table. In that case, you have few options other than using a grain filler. You will want a completely flat, smooth surface.

You can also get a writing pad from Levinger, but there is no assurance that the pad will stay with the table. Maybe Wenge isn't the best wood for a desk top. Could you use something else for the top and save the Wenge for another project (like maybe some nice desk top accessories?

sykesville's picture

(post #111891, reply #9 of 28)

Well, good point on maybe not the right wood for a writing table, but I'm pretty far along at this point. Already spent the $ on the two 89in long, 15in wide 12/4 slabs specifically for the table (but cut them down to 4.5 ft in length - I get the remaining slabs). So far I've glued it and sanded down to 220 grit and it's very smooth. Will still go to 320 grit before finishing. It looks fantastic and I'm loving the look being as thick as it is. It's quite a chore though moving it around the shop. I'm thinking about ordering plexiglass to set on top of it for her daily use and keep it in heirloom condition.

Scott_y's picture

(post #111891, reply #10 of 28)

Sounds like a plan. I'd go with the transparent writing pad from Levinger though. I've had one for over 15 years and it still works as well as the day I got it. Plexiglas will look cheap up against such a fine piece of wood.

sykesville's picture

(post #111891, reply #11 of 28)

Scott, I'm not finding a good website for any Levinger products. Would you happen to know who (office supply chain?) carries what you're talking about? Thanks. And great idea. Last thing I want to do is cheapen the look.

Nevermind. One more search and I found the site - Levenger. Thanks again

Edited 7/27/2008 4:20 pm ET by sykesville

Scott_y's picture

(post #111891, reply #12 of 28)

Sorry, I spell about as well as I can run a marathon.

WillGeorge's picture

(post #111891, reply #15 of 28)

transparent writing pad ??

Why not a Leather writing surface. I have nothing against cows!

I purchased ALOT of Panga Panga this year which is sort of a Wenge. With a card scraper, the finish is like glass! Hardly any open grain? Some has it, but the contrast is nice. I used the open grain in the horizontal 'sticks'. I saw no reason to fill the open grain. However, to each their own!

I used tongue oil (real) or so it said on the can/bottle.. I am leaving it that way for awhile and maybe (Yes... a satin Poly.. I do not have the equipment or space to use a Cat. Lacquer) later.. I'll see...

Dirty.. nasty.. wood but very beautiful 'in the end'


Edit: I forgot to mention my project is a mix of the Panga Panga and Jatoba.. I think they work well together.

Edited 7/28/2008 4:45 am by WillGeorge

Have a great day.. Life is wonderful even if you are having a bad day!

Scott_y's picture

(post #111891, reply #17 of 28)

Leather would work just fine, but you couldn't see the wood through it.

Not sure I agree about no filler on a writing surface. Any little deviation will grab a pen tip. Very frustrating.

What species produces Tongue oil? :-)

WillGeorge's picture

(post #111891, reply #19 of 28)

Leather would work just fine, but you couldn't see the wood through it.


Would the writer care about that?

Have a great day.. Life is wonderful even if you are having a bad day!

Scott_y's picture

(post #111891, reply #23 of 28)

The woodworker obviously does. The whole crux of his post was about preserving the the beauty of the wood he is using. One would presume that he would also want the users to then be able to see the wood. Perhaps you think differently, or are bothered in some other way.

sykesville's picture

(post #111891, reply #24 of 28)

Yeah, while I have nothing against cow skin, the idea is to see the beautiful (expensive, yikes!), expertly finished (help!), wenge. Thanks, Scott_y. I'd tell her to put the leather over an oak desk top, but not this.

I'm now watching the shellac-oil posts. I've always only finished with tung and danish oil (not on the same piece), and on some nice cherry, one light coat of paste wax over the danish oil. I've only ever worked with oak, cherry, and black walnut. ( and several species of cabinet grade plywood and poplar that were to be painted). I like the two-coat oil finish, but never tried shellac (seems intimidating, I guess; also, I've never wanted a glossy finish which I always figured it would produce). I'd hate to waste a "scrap" (don't have any yet) to see what this wood would look like with it, and so all the great advice you guys are coming in with is appreciated. Expert finishing is a whole new science to me. I'll have to take some classes someday.


Edited 7/28/2008 7:11 pm ET by sykesville

Edited 7/29/2008 6:11 pm ET by sykesville

Scott_y's picture

(post #111891, reply #25 of 28)

Short of taking a class, the book, "Foolproof Wood Finishing for Those who Love to Build and Hate to Finish" by Teri Masaschi improved my finishing ability immensely.

sykesville's picture

(post #111891, reply #26 of 28)

the title says it all! thanks

WillGeorge's picture

(post #111891, reply #27 of 28)

or are bothered in some other way.  ??    

NEVER!!  I just ask questions for new ideas.. Firm believer in 'To Each Their Own'

Their project NOT mine!


Have a great day.. Life is wonderful even if you are having a bad day!

philip's picture

(post #111891, reply #13 of 28)

I wouldn't dream of filling Wenge. I have seen a few pieces that have been filled , sprayed and polished up like glass- in my view the process robbed the wood of almost all its character.
I agree with Ring. A subtle matt finish is best. If you have some pieces which are a lighter shade then they can be easily be stained dark with a solvent penetrating stain (not an oil stain). When freshly cut it can be a lighter shade but it soon oxidises dark- but you can still find the stuff that is lighter-and Wenge (or Panga Panga) always looks best when very dark.
To finish it then I would advise staining if needed, then spraying a couple of coats of Zinsser BullsEye dewaxed shellac sealer, lightly rubbed down then spraying a matt or suede catalysed furniture lacquer .
12/4?? I hope it was properly dry and acclimatised.....

Philip Marcou

Philip Marcou
sykesville's picture

(post #111891, reply #14 of 28)

I hope it was dry enough, too, and properly done. On the color, it's nice and dark and the two slabs match perfectly (though not book matched) and you can't even see a glue line or know it's not one piece when looking at the top. It's just two slabs, finished width is 28.5 inches wide. I was pleasantly surprised how nicely the sides jointed perfectly straight with no tearout to speak of and making for a perfectly glue-up. I've been convinced by the replies not to fill it and I'm glad I asked first. Thanks.
I like your idea about spraying, but don't have a sprayer :(  and doubt I would try to learn on this piece if I ran out and got one now. I owe a picture. Appreciate the responses.

philip's picture

(post #111891, reply #16 of 28)

A picture would be good.
If you are unable to spray then an alternative may be to just apply that Zinsser shellac sealer, then apply a Danish type oil. I used that on this handle, admittedly it is a small surface so you might prefer to experiment on a board first. I used steel wool to burnish the Zinsser and rub in the oil- there was no problem with steel strands staying in the wood....
You can see that is the lighter type I mentioned-it does not get darker on its own.

Philip Marcou

Philip Marcou
PICT1244.JPG28.23 KB
WillGeorge's picture

(post #111891, reply #18 of 28)

Philip.. Dang!

an alternative may be to just apply that Zinsser shellac sealer, then apply a Danish type oil.

I AM NOT saying you are wrong..

I do the oil first. Then the shellac. What am I doing wrong? Serious question...and why do you use the shella and THEN the oil?

Have a great day.. Life is wonderful even if you are having a bad day!

SteveSchoene's picture

(post #111891, reply #20 of 28)

It's a bad idea to apply oil/varnish mix (Danish oil) after wood has been sealed with shellac.  The whole idea of the oil/varnish is to penetrate, have excess wiped off, and essentially create an in-the-wood finish.  Oil/varnish mix left on the surface will be very soft, almost gummy.  But the shellac prevents penetration.   

Test your finish on scrap, FIRST, or risk having to scrap your finish.

WillGeorge's picture

(post #111891, reply #21 of 28)

What I thought.. But I had to ask!

Have a great day.. Life is wonderful even if you are having a bad day!

philip's picture

(post #111891, reply #22 of 28)

Will and Steve,
I know that is not the normal thing to do but I found that it produced a nice finish on Wenge. I had tried just shellac with a burnishing by steel wool and it looked as though it "needed" something else.

Philip Marcou

Philip Marcou
Al from Unionville's picture

(post #111891, reply #28 of 28)

I recently had a client that wanted a smooth finish on the top of a wenge veneered display table for her living room. I prefer water borne products so that I can spray the top coat in my basement shop.
In this instance I used the clear filler from Target.
The client wanted a semi-gloss finish rather than high gloss so I used the Target wb gloss lacquer, and buffed it up to 2000 grit plus polishing compound to get the gloss that was requested. Since the polishing compound becomes white if left in the pores, it is necessary to use several coats of filler until there are no pores to catch the polish.
A picture of the result is attached (drawers are Australian lace wood)

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