The wood species for my projects are selected for contrasting designs and their durability. All of them are hardwoods, some domestic, others exotic types.
Hard Maple is the workhorse for all of my designs. It has a very fine grain, machines easily and achieves a smooth surface with little sanding. Maple has usually a toned-down grain pattern with occasional darker streaks. It is exclusively harvested in North America, often right here in Pennsylvania.
Cherry is another domestic hardwood from Pennsylvania. It has a more pronounced grain picture with colors ranging from pink to light purple. It also finishes to a smooth surface with ease. It may have embedded flaws that only show up when it is cut. Therefore one has to make a considerable allowance for scrap.
The third domestic hardwood, Walnut, makes for striking counterpoints when mated with Maple and/or Cherry. Walnut has courser grain and requires extra finishing coats to match the surface of the finely grained Maple and Cherry.
Padauk (also spelled Padouk) is an African hardwood with an intense red to dark red color. It is a photosensitive wood, meaning it will turn darker with age. When Padauk is sawed, routed or sanded, its creates extremely fine sawdust. That saw dust is red, I mean very red and it stays airborne for a long time. According to my wife, it turns the entire house red and, she claims, and everything else in the same Zip code. So it comes to surprise that powdered Padauk has been used in Africa as a fabric dye for centuries.
Padauk also poses some challenges when finishes are applied. It releases oils that inhibit the curing of certain finishes. Thankfully, good old Shellac comes to the rescue and forms a barrier between the raw wood and the later top coats.
Wenge is an African hardwood with a very course texture and color ranging from dark red to almost black. When a penetrating finish is applied, the color turns darker yet. Wenge if sometimes mistaken for Ebony. It takes many top coats for a smooth finish. However, after a lot of work is presents a stark accent when joined with lighter woods.
When I visit my favorite lumber yard, Hearne Hardwoods in Oxford, PA and ask for Wenge, the guys in the yard show great respect for my purchase. First, it is very expensive and, second, the guys call it the world champion for giving you splinters.
I am a firm believer to leave the color of the selected woods alone without applying any stains. I have made exceptions in the past when reproducing antique tall clocks to match the appearance of the period.
Oil-based Polyurethane from Minwax has been and is my top coat of choice. It can be thinned to use a seal coat. I usually apply several coats by brush while lightly sanding the previous coats. I cannot provide a totally dust free environment and the surface will show some small bumps due to dust. This is no problem since the coat can be finely sanded after each 24-hour curing cycle.
The last of up to six coats is then hand-rubbed with very fine steel wool. There are occasions when I apply another very thin coat using rub-on Polyurethane which is the just buffed with cotton.
The result is a very durable finish with a satin sheen that resist water, alcohol and most other chemicals. Polyurethane is non toxic when cured and contains no lead.