Pore-filling Red Oak for an Arts & Crafts Table
When I chose red oak to build this Arts & Crafts library table designed by Eric Keil, I knew that I would need to get creative in finishing the top. Red oak is a porous wood, and I really wanted a smooth top without any little divots that could catch the tip of a pencil as I wrote on it. I scratched my head for a while, deciding how best to fill in those pores, before I finally settling on what should have been an obvious plan: Use pore filler.
I had already planned on using dyes and stains, like in this Nancy Hiller article, to give the wood a traditional Mission look. (Note: Finishing guru Jeff Jewitt has written similar advice in this article.) The basic process comprises two steps: Dye the wood to bring out the figure, and follow it up with a stain to bring out the grain. But in lieu of stain, I ended up using brown pore filler. And since I’d need to sand out the pore-filler pretty heavily – and didn’t want to risk sanding out the color if I dyed the wood first – I applied the pore-filler before the dye.
Using the pore filler (I went with a water-based version) was simple. I just spread it out and scraped off the excess with a plastic card scraper. After letting it dry overnight, I used a random orbit sander to even out the surface, starting with 100-grit paper and working up to 220 grit.
Once it was smooth, I mixed TransTint Mission Brown dye with water and wiped the whole thing down – tabletop, drawers and base. The water had the added bonus of raising the grain, so I went back and sanded everything up to 220. Once that was done, I covered it all with four quick coats of shellac that I rubbed out with steel wool. Then everything got a coat of brown wax.
The finish looks great – the tabletop is super smooth and darkened pores give it a dramatic effect.
Spread out the pore filler evenly, taking care to work it into crevices.
Scrape away excess filler leaving as little as necessary to sand away.
The random orbit sander makes quick work of the dried filler.
The dark brown fills the pores nicely after sanding.
I had to re-fill a few spots after the initial sanding.
Next came a coat TransTint Mission Brown dye diluted with water, which also helped raise the grain.
The finished surface after a few quick coats of shellac.
Pore-filler gave this library table an extra-smooth top.