Finishing High-Quality Ebony Veneer Panels

Pros give suggestions for finishing expensive Ebony veneer for cabinetry a high-end custom home. July 3, 2008

Before I head over to my Sherwin Williams dealer to talk with our rep, thought I would submit a question on this forum. We have two large projects, one of which one is Italian qtr ebony macassar 10mil paper backed veneer over MDF, all vacuum pressed with Unibond 800, and the other project is figured Mozambique veneer. What oil based finish should we use for these exotic veneers, and what steps would you recommend for sealer coats? We have a large quantity of cabinets that need to dry between coats very quickly. We have an industrial spray booth equipped with Kremlin spray rigs. Our drying area is rather small and not always dust-free, hence the quick dry time between coats. The ebony veneer has natural cracks (not sure how to really describe it) that need to be filled with a sealer. Our cabinetry is generally sprayed with a vinyl sealer followed by coats of a pre-catalyzed oil base lacquer from our local Sherwin Williams dealer. Due to time constraints, we'll need to stick with SW products. Any suggestions on which SW materials to apply and finish schedules? Should we apply vinyl sealer until level and then topcoat with a CV in lieu of pre-cat lac?

(Finishing Forum)
From contributor C:
By "Italian" macasser ebony, do you mean the manmade synthetic veneer? And is this true of the other also? As to oil-based finish, did you mean solvent-based finish? It's nice of you to give the paper thickness. Can you give veneer thickness?

From the original questioner:
The real wood veneer is in fact a real wood veneer that costs about 480.00 per sheet of 4x11. Not cheap by any means, but then again it's going into a 25 million dollar summer home for a client of ours. The veneer was purchased in sequence from the same log from Oakwood Veneer Co and as far as thickness, the order form states that it is 10mil thick and I'm guessing the veneer itself is 1/40th, but that's just a guess. When a scrap piece is sprayed with an oil (solvent) lacquer, it looks absolutely beautiful, but wanted to check on what people would recommend in regard to sealers, fillers, topcoats, etc.

From contributor C:
Okay, we know macassar ebony does not come from Italy, thus my question. I see no mention of stain or dye, so I presume it's going natural. With that thin of veneer, I would suggest a vinyl sealer on both followed by either a cab acrylic or WW conversion coating, depending on the build you want (cab will give you a more open grain affect). My second choice would be a 2k urethane barrier with 2k topcoat. I personally like to see a somewhat open grain on the wood so it does not look fake. You don't state how bad the cracking is on the ebony, so fillers will differ. Depending on how many there were, I would have several different ways of approaching this issue.

PS: SW also has a product called Homoclad sealer that has excellent water resistance. It is alkyd base and slow dry - 4 hours - but an excellent sealer. Ask your rep about it for first coat on ebony, etc.

From contributor J:
I've worked a lot with ebony veneer as this is one of the standard woods that we offer. I don't want to get into suggesting a clear coat system, as it will differ depending on what it's being used for - trim work, furniture, cabinets, etc. Keep in mind that if you have a picky customer, ebony is very susceptible to cracking and checking and is a very open pore wood. So if you need a full filled finish, you had better break out the elbow grease.

From the original questioner:
The veneer has tons of vertical open grained lines that I also agree look more natural when not completely filled and/or leveled. All the ebony veneer is for a large kitchen and adjoining living room area and the Mozambique is for the bathrooms and a bedroom built-in.

Contributor J, how would you define an elbow grease type of finish? How do you guys finish out your ebony?

Contributor C, I'll print your response out and go over your suggestions with my SW rep and in the meantime wait to see what contributor J would recommend.

From contributor R:
Is it possible that a 25 million dollar summer home just might deserve a tougher finish than a Sherwin Williams pre-cat? Kind of like tossing a $25.00 saddle on a purebred stallion. You might want to rethink this one. Sherwin Williams makes some good products that might be better suited. See if you can talk to one of the chemists at a mixing plant... They know loads more than the counter guy does.

From contributor J:
How to fill the grain is the million dollar question. You can fill it with clear, but with pre-cat you'll definitely exceed the max dry film build. If you go that route, I would recommend a 2-part polyurethane. It's not as easy to work with and it's more expensive, although the overall quality is better. Your average residential customer would never know the difference, though, except for maybe in the kitchen. I would not recommend pre-cat in a kitchen.

Sherwin Williams also makes a filler that can be added to their wiping stains; part number D70 T1, if memory serves me right. Make all sorts of test panels if you decide to use this, as there is a technique to applying the filler wipe so that it hangs in the grain. This would probably allow you to use pre-cat and fill the grain without worry about finish failure. They would have to formulate a neutral color to closely match ebony.

I currently use a waterbased roll-on filler for large flatwork such as conference tables. It's normally a beige color that works well with maple, but I tint it with water pigment to match the ebony. With this method, you roll it on with a paint roller and sand it off with an orbital sander, or for large pieces, a wide belt stroke sander with 150/180 grit.

With ebony, even though it sounds great to want to just do a natural finish, the veneer color can vary wildly between one section and the next. Some sections can have wide light stripes or wide dark stripes. That's why I feel it's always a good idea to add some color to ebony, be it a wipe stain or a pigmented toner, to wash out the color a bit to give the natural ebony a more uniform color appearance.

I just did my first conference table last week with "recon ebony." I was very impressed with it. It had all the characteristics of ebony, however the stripes were much more uniform and consistent. But it sounds like it's too late to change. It may be worth checking out if you're doing veneer work.

By elbow grease, I mean no matter how you look at it, it's going to be extra work working with this wood! But, if done right, the results can be beautiful.