I am building several heavily figured maple tables. What would you recommend for the surface finish to highlight the figuring and not significantly change the color? Also what type of fill (epoxy or other) would you recommend for the knot holes and other features? – Anon

Harvey Best replies: I would recommend a light sanding with 180 sandpaper as a preparation for a wash coat of shellac. The shellac I prefer is a one pound cut using super blond flakes dissolved in alcohol; a fresh mix no more than 48 hours old. Using a good China bristle brush I spread the shellac as quickly as possible in the direction of the grain without over-brushing. The blond shellac will highlight the grain without adding significant color.

For filling knots and voids in the surface I try using shellac sticks to blend and fill with a color to match the grain. Follow up with sanding up to 220 grit and top coat with lacquer or polyurethane.

Marty Milkovits replies: Several coats of oil, each given sufficient time to dry and rubbed back will give a depth that cannot be achieved with any top coat. 

To enhance the figure, use a light coat of dye and rub back, followed by a top coat. For ease of application, durability and repairability, lacquer is hard to beat.  Conversion varnish is extremely durable but is not very forgiving for repairs or touch-ups.

Finishing