Revealing The Raw: Keeping Wood Authentic With Transparent Finishes

Revealing The Raw: Keeping Wood Authentic With Transparent Finishes

The Pursuit of Raw Perfection

I have to admit, I’m a bit of a polyurethane fanatic. There’s just something about the way it transforms a piece of wood, bringing out the rich depth and color that’s impossible to achieve with raw lumber. I mean, just look at this mahogany console table I made from a beaten-up old dining table – the satin polyurethane finish is simply stunning.

But not everyone shares my love for the polished look. My partner Handan, for example, is firmly in the “raw wood” camp. She can’t get enough of that lighter, flatter aesthetic, especially if the wood has a beautiful, distressed look to it.

The problem, of course, is that raw wood is vulnerable to the elements – spills, grime, and good old Mother Nature can wreak havoc on an unprotected surface. So how do you keep that authentic, just-planed look while also ensuring your precious project doesn’t end up looking like it’s been through a war zone?

The Eureka Moment

Well, my friends, I’m about to let you in on a little secret that’s going to change the game for all you raw wood enthusiasts out there. It’s a technique that allows you to achieve the holy grail of wood finishing – the ability to apply a clear, protective coat without altering the color or sheen of the raw material.

It all started a few years back when Handan picked up an old wooden file box during one of our tag sale adventures. She wanted the existing stain and finish stripped off, leaving the wood in its natural state. This was the perfect project for our son, The Boy, to start playing with power tools.

As The Boy sanded away, I made the rookie mistake of not properly protecting myself. I supervised and took photos, but I didn’t bother with a mask. Big mistake. Within an hour, the fine dust had me reeling, with the tip of my nose completely numb for almost a week. Lesson learned – always wear a mask when sanding, no matter what!

Anyway, once the box was down to the raw wood, Handan was thrilled with the look. But we still needed to protect it from the inevitable wear and tear of everyday use. That’s when I discovered the game-changing product that would become our secret weapon: Modern Masters Exterior Dead Flat Varnish.

The Magic of Modern Masters

This water-based sealant applies like a dream, leaving no streaks or sheen. And the best part? It doesn’t alter the color or appearance of the raw wood at all. I re-attached the hardware to the file box, and you can barely tell the difference between the sealed and unsealed areas.

Now, I know what you’re thinking – “But wait, isn’t a dead flat varnish supposed to be used on, well, finished wood?” Well, that’s what I thought too. But Handan and I have been using this stuff for years, and it works like a charm on raw wood.

To demonstrate just how magical this product is, I decided to put it to the test on a piece of mahogany. I divided the board into quarters and applied one, two, and three coats of the dead flat varnish to different sections. Then I topped it all off with a coat of satin polyurethane.

The results were nothing short of astounding. The difference between the raw wood and the varnished sections was virtually indistinguishable, save for the slight sheen on the poly-coated areas. It was like magic – we had found the holy grail of wood finishing.

Handan’s Crusade for Raw Perfection

Handan has been on a mission ever since, scouring the basement for anything and everything that can be stripped down to its beautiful, bare bones. “Do this one, my babes!” she’ll say, pointing to a painted chest or a veneer-covered nightstand. But alas, most of those items are made from less-than-stellar materials, and the results just wouldn’t be up to her standards.

Still, the search continues, and I have a feeling that when she finally finds the perfect piece, you’ll be the first to see it here at Timber Building. In the meantime, I’m just happy to be able to provide her with a solution that keeps the raw wood look she loves, while also protecting it from the ravages of everyday life.

Pushing the Boundaries of Transparency

But let’s not stop there. What if you want to keep that raw wood look, but you also want a little bit of sheen? Well, my friends, I’ve got another trick up my sleeve.

Remember that mahogany board I mentioned earlier? After applying the dead flat varnish, I followed it up with a coat of satin polyurethane. The result? A surface that’s ever-so-slightly glossy, without losing any of the wood’s natural color or grain. It’s like the best of both worlds – the authentic, raw look combined with a touch of protection and shine.

“Game changer,” one commenter raved. “I love poly and I love raw wood too if it is nice wood. I have a thing for fine woods in furniture. I wonder how this would look on raw oak. Would it keep the orange tone from appearing?”

Indeed, the possibilities are endless. Whether you’re working with the rich, warm tones of mahogany or the subtler shades of oak, this technique allows you to preserve the natural beauty of the wood while also safeguarding it from the rigors of everyday use.

Unlocking the Secrets of Transparent Finishing

Of course, as with any finishing technique, there are a few things to keep in mind. Some experts have cautioned against using the dead flat varnish on raw wood, citing potential discoloration issues. But Handan and I have had nothing but success with it, and we’ve used it on a wide variety of wood types over the years.

And while the dead flat varnish is a great starting point, you may want to consider adding a layer of polyurethane for extra protection, especially on high-traffic surfaces like tabletops or countertops. Just remember, the poly won’t change the color of the wood as long as you’ve applied the dead flat varnish first.

Embracing the Beauty of Imperfection

As I mentioned earlier, I’m a bit of a polyurethane devotee, but I can certainly appreciate the allure of raw, unfinished wood. There’s something wonderfully authentic and imperfect about it – the slight variations in tone, the subtle undulations of the grain, the tiny flaws that remind you of the wood’s natural origins.

And let’s not forget the sheer versatility of raw wood. Whether you’re working with the warm, rustic tones of reclaimed lumber or the pale, contemporary vibe of whitewashed pine, the possibilities are endless. With the right finishing technique, you can preserve that natural beauty while also ensuring your project stands the test of time.

So if you’re like Handan, and you can’t get enough of that raw, unfinished look, fear not. With the help of Modern Masters Exterior Dead Flat Varnish and a little bit of satin polyurethane, you can keep your wood authentic and protected, all while reveling in the imperfect beauty that makes each piece truly one-of-a-kind.


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