|We've been talking about finishing
over the last few weeks, in the context of different kinds of stains. This
week, lets look at a potentially frustrating finishing job: end grain.
Anyone who has finished a project only to find the end grain six shades darker
than the face grain will appreciate the problem. I asked the guys at
Woodsmith for some ideas:
End grain naturally looks a little different than face grain. And it also acts
differently, too. The reason is simple. The end of a board is made up of open
pores that work like a bunch of straws. Whatever is put on the face grain of
the board won't be absorbed very quickly. But any liquid (like stain or glue)
applied to the open pores of the end grain will be pulled deeply into the wood.
So end grain creates a real problem when applying stain. The open pores suck up
stain like a kid at a soda fountain. And the deeper the stain gets pulled into
the wood, the darker the color will be at the surface. The result is that the
ends are noticeably darker than the face of the piece.
Getting end grain to match the rest of the project is a matter of stopping the
stain from penetrating the end grain so deeply. There are a couple ways to do
The easiest way to get a consistent color is to use a gel stain. A gel stain is
like any other stain -- it's just a little thicker. And because the gel stain
is thick, it won't penetrate very deeply into the wood. The result is end grain
and face grain with even consistent color.
Note: Not all gel stains are the same thickness. For best results on end grain,
thicker is better.
When working with a traditional liquid stain, you'll usually get a more even
color if you do a little extra sanding on the end grain -- to 600 grit instead
of 220. The reason this works is because you're burnishing the end grain. The
pore openings are polished so they're smaller and don't soak in as much stain.
Just to confuse things a bit, it's important to note that not all "end
grain" appears on the ends of boards. It shows up on the face of boards
too. This is especially true of woods like pine, cherry, and maple that have
wild, wavy grain. When the grain turns up toward the face of a board, you end
up with a small patch of end grain.
When staining, these areas of end grain can end up as dark blotches. But you
can avoid this. One solution we often use is to apply a wood conditioner (or
wash coat) before staining. This is usually just a solvent that evaporates
slowly (although it can also be a thin finish). Because the conditioner is
applied underneath the stain, it limits and evens out the stain's penetration.
You can get wood conditioners where you buy stain.
Go to Tip #35