Flat Black Finish that Shows Grain

Finishers discuss ways to apply a thin, flat, black finish. November 13, 2005

I am wondering how I can replicate this finish shown in the picture below. I want to eliminate the figure of the wood and only emphasize the surface grain. I have made these bookcases for a client that is into the very modern and contemporary. They are made from solid and white oak plywood. I am really not a finisher by trade but a great deal of the painters here in Miami cannot exactly replicate the finish, and I guess it is up to me now. The finish should be somewhat matte. Any help is appreciated.

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Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor L:
I would suggest that you use a grain filler to eliminate the grain holes and then use a random orbit sander to sand the piece down. If you use a widebelt sander it will flatten the grain pattern down. I think you will be stuck with using an oil or latex paint because even a dull lacquer is going to be shinier than what is shown in your picture. Using a random orbit (electric) hand sander will sand the harder and softer portions of the wood differently and let the grain pattern show through.

From contributor M:
I have had great luck with Valspar conversion varnish. Start with the 40% sheen, and if you need it duller they have a matting agent you can add to get less sheen. It’s pretty thick so make sure to test it first.

From contributor W:
To the original questioner: If I read you right, you want the texture of the wood but not the color? If that is right then try a Sherwood black dye stain. We use Sherwin Williams. Then use a little dye in the seal coat (toner). Topcoat with clear; dull rubbed CV would do the trick. Don't use a grain filler if you want the texture. Sherwin Williams will mix the dye stain for you at one of their commercial coatings stores. You will find one in most metro areas. If you bring them a sample and a raw piece of wood they can match just about any color. They cannot make this stain at the local paint store.

From Paul Snyder, forum technical advisor:
It looks like a relatively thin black pigmented finish Dave. I'd start with one coat of a low solids clear vinyl sealer followed by two thin coats of black lacquer (I use pre-catalyzed lacquer). If you use a primer/sealer or pigmented finish with too high a solids content (too thick) the pores of the wood will not be as sharp - they'll be more filled and rounded over. I guess this look is making the rounds. I've had a couple requests for samples in this style and did one pretty large kitchen in off-white.

From contributor R:
That looks like a pigmented black finish to me. We used to do that finish at a large furniture manufacturer I worked for a long time ago. We used SW Black primer/surfacer thinned down at least 50/50, scuffed it well and top-coated with a pre-cat clear lacquer. This was a SW formula designed for this company so I am sure they could set you up with something or you could just figure it out for yourself.

I make my own version these days. I just tint my vinyl sealer with 844 black UTC, spray on a good coat followed by a couple of coats of clear pre-cat and I'm done. I prefer dye stain or chemical stain when I can use it but your picture looks like a painted job to me. There is a lot of that out there.

From contributor W:
If you are going for the black painted look then use the SW black pigmented conversion varnish. It is a lot easier than fooling with thick black lacquer and sealer.

From contributor B:
I built an E-center, bath pullman and bath mirror frame all in a contemporary style (using alder plus maple) for a lady who wanted that same style of finish. I used a black WB dye stain (hit it twice) and finished off with WB poly in a flat sheen. It was very easy, looked great and she loved it.