Finishes for Birdseye Maple Veneer

Ideas for enhancing the grain figure of birdseye Maple. February 21, 2011

I'm building/finishing a long awaited built-in couch and cabinet piece. I've spent a lot of money for some over the top birdseye veneers that I've had laid up. I'll be finishing with General Finishes pre-cat urethane. I've got GF's full line of dyes on hand as well as most Transtints and as well access/on hand to some Mohawk pent-dyes. I'm open to shellac as well. I have some ideas but if anyone would like to throw a recipe my way - something you've used with great results I'd be all ears. I have a tough customer on this one.

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor A:
Make ten samples and then show the customer the first one again.

From contributor O:
What color are you looking for? I really like the Hessa stain from Becker Acroma. It's a water base spray stain that is hard to botch. The other that works great on maple is Amazing stain.

From contributor F:
I would be looking for some depth and really trying to get that birdseye to pop.
Start with an NGR stain, then washcoat, wiping stain, seal, tone, and topcoat. You need to give a color you are looking for to get anything more accurate than that. I would stay away from the spray-only stains as mentioned above. They tend to hide the grain and look a bit like a melamine print in my opinion. You want depth to your finish, and that is achieved by layering.

From contributor R:
Something else to consider would be to leave it natural. There is a lot of beauty in birdseye maple all by itself. If you have some time on your hands, try a natural Watco oil, let it dry up for a few days, and proceed with your finish schedule, either a post-pre-2K-CV, etc. Sounds like a fun project.

From the original questioner:
It’s definitely on the light side. Ambers, yellowy, with some darker/brown highlights of the birdseye’s. I just don't want to drift into the brown side. One thought was to put on light brown dye, sand that back and then go with a light amber-ish dye.

Contributor R - I've thought of natural but the birdseyes’ are just beautiful. I'd really like to pop them. I do have plenty of time though right now.

From contributor R:
Have you tried searching through the Knowledge Base? It might give you some ideas on popping the eyes. Have you made any samples yet?

From the original questioner:
I have checked the KB there was some insight there. I have a decent library of finishing books and lots of practical experience. I'll be cutting into the maple soon and should be ready to start finishing a couple of days after. I won't have much extra material to play around with.

From contributor R:
If I was to do any color work, I would try and color the wood itself and not add a color on top of a coating - just my opinion though. It sounds as if you have been around a few corners when it comes to finishing so don’t let me talk you into, or out of things. I really like how the oil can pop the eyes and if I was to add color, I might be tempted to add some powdered dyes to a clear Watco. Water borne dye stains can also do wonders to a beautiful wood like birdseye or burls and since the birdseye is mostly a dense wood, you’re less likely to have any grain raising. I haven’t messed around much with chemicals to color wood but I’m sure they have their place.

When discussing colors, we all have in our own mind’s eye what a brown or a yellow looks like but in actuality, we might be miles apart in our opinions. I know exactly what you mean about having a smidgen of wood left for sampling, been there myself. Since you have a few days to ponder, I’d be interested in reading what some of our other fellow finishers might suggest.

From contributor S:
If you really want the birdseye’s to pop you might want to get into the chemical affects and colors. A weak solution of ferrous sulfate applied to your raw veneer will make the eyes almost three dimensional. It's extremely cool. A solution of potassium dichromate will provide a nice yellow on maple. Water dyes work nicely too and let you layer color slowly if you want and avoid any tendency to blotch. Remember that if you apply a washcoat first as in your above schedule you will block most affects from popping your eyes or coloring deep down. Sounds like a fun project.

From the original questioner:
My thoughts about a washcoat first then sand was to prevent the brown dye really penetrating the flat grain while still able to penetrate the end grains of the birdseye. Since I've been a woodworker/finisher dye has always been my first choice. I'm interested about the chemicals, where do you get them? What's the learning curve? As noted above I have some time.

From contributor S:
Are you looking to color the eyes brown? Not much learning curve just abide by the MSDS safety precautions and experiment on your own. I always purchased mine from Sigma but I think you can find small amounts better suited to you elsewhere. Try Woodfinishingenterprises, Artchemicals, and Earthguild. Do a little Googling and you should be able to find plenty of lengthy discourse on the joys of wood effects with chemistry. If you enjoy learning new stuff you won't be disappointed with learning this.

From contributor J:
I just did some samples about a month ago on birdseye maple and to be honest I did not care for the look of general finishes topcoats on it. Of all of them the EnduroVar over Zinsser seal coat looked the best. The best sample was gloss automotive urethane.