My friend Jesse Weegens, a master woodworker that owns American Estates, recently passed along a tip for finishing walnut in a unique way. He uses coconut oil (yes the same kind you can get at any hipster grocery store) to bring out the beautiful grain character of walnut. Recently, while working on our new all-wood business card holders, I thought I'd give it a try.
Recently I watched a great video demonstrating how to do an oil sand finish. Based on Jesse's coconut oil recommendation, I figured why not attempt to use coconut oil as both a finishing oil and as a lubricant for wet sanding. The results were amazing!
First things first, a coconut oil finish is pretty unique. Boiled linseed oil (which I use all the time) tends to have a bit more of a sheen to it, so if you want something that looks as rich as BLO, but not quite as shiny, I suggest trying coconut oil.
Start out by sanding your walnut using increasing grit. I sand using 120, 220, and 320 using my orbital sander. Then, I pick up the 320 again and sand by hand. I've found you can get the wood in better shape by using a little elbow grease at 320. Then, I sand by hand at 400 grit. At this point I'll then wipe off all the saw dust using a tack rag, and then clean the surface using a bit of denatured alcohol and a cotton rag. This gets the wood really clean, so you can see what areas need more sanding. If there are any problem areas, touch them up with the 320 and 400 grit.
I then move up to 600 grit wet/dry sandpaper. I take a little cup (about a spoonful) of coconut oil, and rub it on the wood with my finger (I wear gloves to keep things clean). You can rub it on solid, as it will melt pretty quickly. As soon as it melts, start hand sanding the oil into the finish with a small square of 600 grit in a circular pattern. Get nice and even coverage. Don't worry about pressing too hard. Let the sandpaper do the work for me.
Keep going until it starts to get really smooth and the oil dries a bit (creating a bit of a slurry). Then, sand with the grain for about 20 seconds, and move onto another face of your wood (if necessary). When I'm done with all 4 sides, I get a clean cotton rag and wipe off all the excess oil.
Then, I set it aside for about 5-10 minutes to let the oil soak in a bit and get the grain up a bit.
Then move onto 800 grit using the same process. Repeat the same technique all the way up to 2000 grit, and by the time you are done, you should have a glass smooth finish with a deep warm tone. As I mentioned before, it won't have as much luster as boiled linseed oil, but that was the effect I was going for. I wanted something really matte. Set the wood aside for about 30 minutes, then come back and wipe it down one last time.
After the oiling process is complete, I use a wax finish since I wanted a satin/matte finish (you can use shellac or whatever you'd like). I put on 4 coats of finishing wax buffing aggressively in between. You should have a beautiful, deeply colored, satin, an a silky smooth piece of walnut.
Most people that want our business card holders, like to add their logo or a design for personalization. So when my buddy Colin Tierny, an amazingly talented designer from Maryland, asked to have his hand-lettered logo laser engraved on the box he ordered, we were stoked.
Since walnut is already a pretty dark wood, we laser engraved it at 1200 dpi, to ensure it was razor sharp and extra dark for proper contrast.
It might seem like overkill to go through this methodical process for sanding. But what's the point of doing something if you don't do it to the best of your ability?