Cherry wood has a wavy grain that is incredibly beautiful when accentuated by proper staining techniques. However, the undulating grain affects the porosity of the wood. As a result, amateur attempts to stain cherry wood often result in a blotchy, unattractive finished product. Fortunately, the best staining techniques for cherry wood are fairly simple and easy to accomplish.
The best staining and finishing methods for cherry wood involve pre-treatment. Cherry wood requires fine-grit sanding within 24 hours of finishing. Although the additional sanding adds to the finishing time, this step is essential for producing a more uniform finish. Pre-sealing with a washcoat of thinned sealer also helps to prevent uneven staining. Rubbing cherry wood with mineral spirits before finishing identifies variation in porosity that might require pre-sealing.
Ultraviolet Light and Shellac
Cherry wood is pinkish when freshly sanded but darkens over time, producing a rich, reddish natural stain. As a result, many purists prefer to simply seal the wood with shellac and allow it to darken naturally. However, furniture makers often expose pieces made of cherry wood to ultraviolet light by placing them near a window for up to a month before final sanding and sealing to hasten the natural staining process and produce a more attractive finish. After the wood is exposed to UV, craftsmen seal the darkened wood with reddish, garnet shellac.
Oil and Shellac
Cherry wood also darkens when rubbed with natural oils, which soak into the wood and enhance the natural grain. Craftsmen have historically selected tung oil or boiled linseed oil as the best choices for staining cherry wood. Rubbing the wood with mineral spirits beforehand provides a preview of how the oil-finished piece will look; this step should be used to determine if oil staining is appropriate. After the wood is rubbed with a very thin coat of oil and allowed to dry, craftsmen seal the wood with shellac.
Gel or Glazing Stains and Shellac
Commercial wood stains darken cherry wood rapidly, producing a look similar to aged cherry. However, the wood continues to darken over time, and artificially stained wood may become much too dark over time. Therefore, gel stains or glazing stains that are highly pigmented are the best choice for cherry wood. The heavy pigment protects the wood from UV light over time, preventing excessive darkening. After stain is applied to pre-treated wood and allowed to dry, craftsmen seal the wood with shellac containing UV protection.
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