Finishing Cherry Without Blotching

More tips and tricks for even staining with Cherry wood. February 13, 2009

I am building a stationary buffet that will be separating a formal dining room from a hallway. Iím constructing it out of cherry, as the adjoining kitchen cabs are all cherry. Standard base cab height, "L" shaped and approximately 8' long with a 3' "L" at the wall end. It will have a granite top.

I have never finished cherry before, yet through some reading understand that cherry has a tendency to blotch. Two options that I have learned are to use a gel stain, and follow with a oil/varnish. Also I have learned that I will need to spray a toner, followed by spraying a lacquer. My preference would be the gel stain, and oil varnish route, since I am not set up with spray equipment.

The front of the buffet/cab will be all solid stock cherry doors with glass panels, and a solid cherry face frame, and end panels. The interior frame, floor, and buffet backside will be 1/2 " two sided cherry plywood. I plan on doing the shelves in solid stock as well.

Iím looking for recommendations to minimize any splotching in the solid stock, or additional processes that will improve the uniformity of the finished appearance. Also, I have no idea whether the splotchiness problem will occur when finishing the plywood. Is there any different requirements for finishing the plywood? Is the splotching even an issue?

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor B:
I would think that the gel stain and oil finish would promote blotching. If you want a totally even color then you need to seal the wood before staining. Then you can add color.

From contributor T:
Do a search of the finishing forum on finishing cherry and you will be amazed at the wealth of info here on the subject. We followed forum directions a few years back on a similar project using solids and veneers and it came out superb, no blotches, outstanding depth and uniform coloration. The single best thing we learned from that experience is sample, sample, sample, etc. You can never do enough.

From contributor G:
Have you thought about hiring out the finishing to a pro? Cherry is a wood that can look fantastic or like junk depending on the finishing job. I am not doubting your abilities, but wondering how much time it may actually take to dial in the finishing schedule and what the clientís expectations are. Especially if they are asking you to match an existing finish.

Generally speaking if the cabinets are from a box store they more than likely used a toner and a stain to even out the color and if you try to just use a stain you will not get the same look no matter how much time you spend. You can discuss that with the client and make sure they know the options and have them sign off on whatever you do.

As a side note, if you are matching existing cabinets and you can find the manufacturer, we have ordered the stain and toner directly from them in the past to match our work to the existing pieces and that works very well. Consider that option if you can.

From contributor Y:
Itís very easy to finish cherry. You have obviously already heard it can be blotchy but thatís easily resolved. My supplier of ML Campbell finish sent me home with a stain base that was unpigmented. This is equivalent to a clear stain. When you apply it, it serves as a filler in the very porous areas and makes a very even staining. It takes more time and changes the color a little bit (most wouldn't be noticed).

Once you do this, you will never do it any other way. It takes more effort but makes for the right look. Make sure your tones are ok after both applications (if you are matching something) before you proceed over an entire project.

As far as hiring someone else, thatís great if you have enough work to keep you busy without having to do the finish.

I'm sure you'll do fine. You got it right - ask questions first and get the old timers to help you through the learning process. Itís better than asking for advice after something looks awful. Experience is everything.

From contributor G:
Make sure to double check to see if a stain is actually required. If you follow contributor T's advice and check the Knowledge Base, you'll find that cherry darkens naturally. Blotching becomes moot if you aren't staining.

From contributor B:
One thing I didn't see addressed - you mentioned glass panel doors? If you are using five piece doors, with stiles and rails and the glass panel being inserted then remember if you are staining, the interior of the channel the glass goes into will need to be stained also, because it can be seen.

I guess ignorance is bliss on my part - I've been staining one clientís cherry projects for years, and never knew there could be a blotching problem! I started hand wiping a dark red oil based stain, and now I'm using a water-based SprayNoWipe, all to same good even effect.

From contributor J:
Could you share what spray no wipe stain you are using?

From contributor B:
Power Process in MN is where we had gotten our water-based clear finish for a number of years. When our "dark red cherry" customer called for another project to be done, after we had switched from solvent-based to water-based, we sent Power Process a sample of the finished wood and they mixed a SNW water-based stain that matched great. We don't do a lot of staining, but have done some staining, glazing and even solid coverage (one green, one black) with their custom mixed WB items.