Turned Work/Hollow Forms
I use three different finishes for my turned work, and those are determined by the function of the piece being made. Pieces that I make are basically used for display or utility, and the finish has to meet the needs of that purpose. As a side note, I do not use coloration (other than ebonizing) on my turned work.
Utility pieces require a durable food-safe finish that can be reapplied easily. I prefer Mike Mahoney’s Walnut oil finish and his oil wax finish. The walnut oil is a natural penetrating oil that soaks into the grain and hardens as it dries (much the same as using mineral oil to seal your natural stone countertops). It does not evaporate like other food safe-finishes (i.e. mineral oil) so it requires less reapplication over time. The oil wax finish is a blend of walnut oil, beeswax, and carnauba wax that will provide additional protection and luster to the piece. This finish combination produces a satin sheen that is desirable for utility items so that the effects of wear and age are diminished.
Display items by their nature usually do not need to be repaired/refinished or food-safe, and tend to have more shine. The finishes that I use for display work are determined by the amount of gloss that I want the piece to have. I produce a super high gloss, a semi-gloss, and a satin sheen on my hollow forms. To produce the super high gloss and the semi-gloss I use multiple coats of lacquer to build up sufficient thickness that the item can be rubbed out to the desired level of gloss and a smooth feel. Lacquer is a clear and durable finish, so it provides good protection and shows the natural contrast of the wood. I use Danish oil on decorative bowls and some hollow forms to produce a satin finish. Danish oil is easy to apply, provides good protection, and does not require as many coats as lacquered hollows. I also use either automotive wax (for my high gloss items) or a paste wax for semi-gloss and satin pieces to provide additional protection.
Unlike turned work, I do use stains for furniture pieces. I will typically use an oil based stain, or analine dye (both water and alcohol soluble dyes) to bring extra color to the piece. Except for custom orders, where the customer has specified the color, I tend to use coloration that is very close to the natural color of the wood. I like to let the natural color and patina develop in a piece of furniture, so I will use coloration to even out tone if there is a lot of natural variation in the wood. For top coats I use Danish Oil, Polyurethane, Lacquer, and Shellac depending on the use of the item. I use Danish oil and Shellac most often, although I will use either Polyurethane or Lacquer if the function of the furniture requires greater protection or moisture resistance. In recent years I have tended not to use polyurethane as much due to its difficulty to repair.