"Pop" for a Walnut Kitchen Counter Finish

Advice on getting interesting grain effects in dark, relatively uniform Walnut. July 16, 2012

I will be starting a countertop that will be from black walnut. This counter will have an undermount sink installed in it as well. How will I make the walnut pop? Other projects that I've seen from walnut seem to be just okay, but some are spectacular. The grain in the wood the customer has chosen is pretty dark and quite even in tone. They also requested that the counter be sealed with Waterlox. Is this the best choice? The finish they have in mind is not our strong suit and we want to do it right the first time.

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor J:
Waterlox is fine. The customer is right – the grain should pop with Waterlox.

From the original questioner:
Will the Waterlox alone will give me a beautiful effect?

From contributor J:
Most of us have chunks of walnut around. I know you can pick up Waterlox at a decent hardware store. Try it out - get a signed approval and you’re on your way. It does have a nice glow as it warms the wood in color.

From contributor Z:
I just finished a kitchen job using ipe instead of black walnut. We were able to get consistent dark brown ipe (not always possible to do) and the top looks just like walnut, but is hard as a rock. Even though ipe is almost waterproof, we coated the underside of the wood with West System Epoxy for 6" surrounding the sink to bulletproof it. It only took an extra hour, but made me sleep easier.

From the original questioner:
Ipe - wow. I built an outdoor bench for a couple years ago from ipe. It’s hard as a rock and they ended up using it for a piece of furniture inside their home. I'll stick with the black walnut for this one.

From contributor J:
You'll get your pop through the finish and the wood combined, sounds like you have no control over the wood. So all you have is the finish. The Waterlox is the best product out there as you can keep adding on to it over the years with minimal surface prep. You’re looking for that iridescence you get with some woods, and it usually happens in the irregularity’s in the wood and your client has specified very uniform lumber. The oil in Waterlox will get as much visual punch out of that wood as anything on the market.

Never apply an epoxy surface in a kitchen - save that for the corner bar. How would you fix that? Granite gets scratched and chipped and it’s hard. Epoxy will not stand the test of time.

From the original questioner:
From what I've read the Waterlox is what I'll use. You nailed with your description as to what I want to achieve with the grain Iridescence – that’s the word.