> I've recently gotten some maple (called hard maple here in Arkansas-
> harder than red maple but not as hard as the sugar maple you get in
> New England) that has some really great striping and crotch feather
> figure. What's the best finish to use to make the figure "pop" out
> without radically changing the light color of the wood?
> All suggestions and comments will be greatly appreciated!
Two methods of wood finishing, scatter and shine. Shine is best for figure,
because the light either returns directly to your eye through the finish or
glares back from its surface(incidence=reflection).
Lots of folks talk about oil "popping" the figure, but it's usually an
illusion caused by the initial presence of a continuous film which fades as
the oil soaks in. Unless you've burnished the wood, or will, don't expect
much from oil alone. Go for something which will form that continuous smooth
surface for you and keep it there. As already mentioned, oils have a bit of
color of their own, which you may use to enhance that plain vanilla color
and warm it up a bit, or try to stay as true to what you have as you can. I
like resin in my oil, because it gives me the continuous smooth film that
allows the best of the wood differences to show. Urethane, alkyd, phenolic
are all out there, urethane probably the most color neutral. Keep it thin!
If it's for show only, tough to beat shellac, which is pretty much all resin
once the *** is gone. Hard, takes a good gloss from the rag or buff,
and very transparent. Oil-based finishes may build as fast or faster, but
they're thick, because of the cured oil and the mechanical bond between
coats, and that can give you some scatter within the finish. NEVER use
satin varnishes which have built-in scatter if you want the wood to flash,
and never wet sand slurry into the grain for the same reason. The particles
in the varnish, or the irregularly shaped dust you stuff into pores which
would diffract and give contrast will scatter and obscure.
Lacquer is a skill I've never pursued, but a guy with a sprayer can make a
nice neutral finish which is all solids like shellac.