We actually expected to have these shelves hung and posted about today, but we really wanted to make sure we were 100% happy with our stain and we just weren’t on our initial test piece. So we have tried and tried and tried again until we found a method that worked and we were happy with. We decided on thick douglas fir shelves for the reading room. We custom ordered them from our local lumber yard at 2.5″ thick and just shy of 11″ wide and 12 feet long at $33 a pop. It’s solid and straight and the grain is gorgeous but there’s one downside, douglas fir needs a little coaxing to accept stain.
We did quite a bit of research and testing before diving in and learned a few things along the way, too. If you plan on staining fir, like we did, you can’t keep sanding and sanding all the way up to a, say 300 grit, sandpaper until you have a nice smooth surface. In fact, we were warned not to go past 120 grit because it would close up the pores and stain couldn’t penetrate at all. After a few tests, we liked the outcome with 100 grit sandpaper and stuck with that without over-sanding.
You might notice little notches in the boards in the photo above. Chris routed those out and that’s where the brackets will go once we’re ready to hang them, but we’ll cover that later this week. Onto the stain test kitchen!
We used a scrap piece of wood to test our stain. And then kept going out in the garage to get another and another and to the store to get different types of stain until we were happy. Here’s how the above tests break down:
1. Initially, we were so embarrassingly confident that light sanding + wood conditioner + our favorite walnut stain would do the trick. That’s what a lot of forums were saying anyway. Ha! It resulted in a barely darkened chunk of wood.
2. Since fir is kind of known for being blotchy, we thought we definitely needed wood conditioner, but after our first test, we decided to just try it without the conditioner–even though it kind of went against what conditioner is supposed to do (help absorb stain). Turns out, without the conditioner, our walnut stain did get a tad darker but we still weren’t thrilled.
3. We ran out to the store and got some satin Minwax Polyshade in Royal Walnut since it claims to provide a more solid color stain different than the transparent stain we had been using. In this test we applied it on top of conditioner. Wah, wahhhhh.
4. And in this test we applied it to raw, sanded wood. This was the first time we felt hopeful! Some real deep color! However, we still weren’t completely satisfied. The sheen, although labeled as satin, was pretty glossy and a lot of the character of the wood kind of disappeared.
5. Our last attempt was with Minwax gel stain in walnut. This was our first time using a gel stain. You put it on thick, wait 3 minutes (we waited about 5) and wipe it off (much like regular stain). We were very happy with these results! It looks a little more salvaged and old and full of character and on the darker side, which we wanted in the moody reading room.
We are applying 2 coats of the gel stain (waiting 8 hours in between) and a clear protective top coat. The plan is to hang the shelves tomorrow night and hopefully have photos on Friday for you! Anyone else work with Fir lately or an equally as educating wood?
Feel free to substitute “educating” with “frustrating.” ;)
Catch up on all of the reading room posts here.