Canadian Woodworking

Simple Cherry Finish

Author: Marty Schlosser
Photos: Brian Hargreaves
Published: October November 2009

Don’t fret over this crucial last phase of the build. This simple cherry finish will make your hard work shine through.


You’re hesitant. You have invested a number of hours in designing and crafting that one-of-a-kind piece of furniture in cherry and there it sits in your workshop, awaiting the finish. You know how important it is to get this final step just right, but so far your finishes have kept your pieces from being every­thing they deserve to be. Runs, lacking in depth, too glossy, brush marks, fumes permeating the shop; all those and more will be a thing of the past when you use my simple cherry finish.

Flood the surface
Don’t be shy with the oil and make sure the surface stays saturated for at least 15 minutes. 

Wipe it down
After the surface has been flooded, wipe off the excess oil.

Last step
 Apply a light coat of wax with some 0000 steel wool after the oil has dried and buff to complete the finish.


A terrific finish starts with care­ful preparation. In fact, it even starts earlier than that, as careful attention dur­ing assembly will save you a lot of time in terms of having to scrape off glue squeeze-outs. That same focus and atten­tion to detail needs to be invested while scraping or sanding all surfaces. Scrape or sand with the grain all the way down in stages to 300 grit, stopping only after every surface is level, smooth and free of any machining or tool marks.

Dying for Effect

If you wish to impart a different colour or tone to the piece, or darken any sapwood sections, rather than use oil-based stains, my easy cherry finish calls for aniline dyes. These water-solu­ble dyes are available in a host of colours and are really easy to prepare, apply and quick to dry. For best results, using a misting bottle filled with water, lightly pre-wet the surface to be dyed and then allow it to dry thoroughly. Sand the surface, with the grain, lightly with 300-grit sandpaper. This gets rid of any ‘whiskers’ that would otherwise rise when the water-soluble dye is applied. Now go ahead and apply your dye. If a second coat is required to darken the piece, ensure the first coat is thoroughly dry first. There is no need to sand between these coats.


The first of the two secret ingredients in my simple cherry finish is oil. My favourite is hempseed oil, but if you are hav­ing difficulty finding a local supplier, you can substitute tung oil. I get hempseed oil from Homestead House Paint Company ( These 100% natural products are easy to apply and clean up just as easily. Simply flood the area with a liberal coat and allow it to soak for 15–30 minutes before removing any excess with a lint-free cloth. Wait another five minutes then rub down the surface, going with the grain, using a second cloth. The colour imparted by either of these oils is dramatic. Allow this first coat to dry overnight and then repeat the procedure three more times, applying less oil every time. By then the surface will be developing a patina that has to be seen to be appreciated. Ensure that when you are finished with the oil-soaked rags you hang them to dry and dispose of them when they are completely dry.


Although some finishers stop once the last of the oil has been applied, I have found that something else was needed to provide maximum protection and a nicer sheen. The last of the two secret ingredients in my simple cherry finish is beeswax. Apply the wax sparingly and allow it to dry thoroughly (about 90 minutes) before buffing the finish to a lovely sheen. Go ahead and apply a few more light coats and you’re done.

This environmentally safe finish can be renewed very eas­ily. First apply more oil, this time using 0000 steel wool in lieu of the cloth, rubbing with the grain. Steel wool helps bond the new coats to the old, but is only required for applying the first coat. Once applied, dried and then buffed, go ahead and apply a second coat. Let the wood tell you by its appearance if additional coats are needed. Once the oil has been allowed to dry overnight, go ahead and apply bees­wax as before.

And there you have it: my simple cherry finish. Isn’t it nice to use 100% environ­mentally safe products in lieu of oil-based products for a change?


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  2. Hi. Can I put a polyurethane finish over tung oil? I need to protect for occasional use outside. Thanks

    1. Yes you can Bill – but make sure the tung oil is fully dry. Pure tung oil takes weeks to dry, polymerized tung oil in a couple of days.

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