Finishing a wooden wallet

I have been making wooden wallets, primarily out of wenge, but am having trouble finding the finish I want. I’m looking for something smooth, natural-looking, and moisture-resistant. Sanding to 400-grit before applying Howard’s Feed-N-Wax gets me pretty much where I want to be on the first two criteria, but it is woefully inadequate on the moisture resistance: one afternoon in a shirt pocket in Tennessee’s early summer is enough to let enough moisture in to lift the grain a little, creating rough patches.

My next thought is to try a solvent-based wax like Bri-Wax, which should—I think—give more protection. I may need to apply that after treating with oil (e.g. mineral oil), but I won’t if it doesn’t seem necessary–I’d rather keep some of the contrast in the brown and black stripe of the wenge, which can be diminished after oiling.

Anyway, before I start working my way through a bunch of products on spec, I thought I’d ask you all if you have any tips. (BTW, I’ve already tried shellac and various polyurethanes products, but those varnishy looks are definitely not what I’m hoping for.) Thanks!


Briwax is amazing but takes a great deal of buffing to get it smooth. If you’ve got a buffing wheel and it’s nice and flat like a wallet, I bet you’ll be fine. The finish is far more refined than feed-n-wax.

You might want to try wipe on polyurethane. I use watco clear satin wipe-on quite a bit, it’s easy to work with but does have some texture to it. Funny enough I’m about to post something that I finished with the poly, I’ll send you the link to it when I’m done so you can get a look at it.


(the link to the project that used polyurethane)

image I saw a tip before (I think from Izzy swan) to dampen the unfinished wood with water to raise the grain, sand it, then apply your finish. The tip was for combatting the issue of the grain raising when a finish is applied but thought it was worth mentioning.

I’ve been using Howard’s cutting board conditioner (mineral oil, beeswax, carnauba wax) on some projects and am satisfied so far with the finish, it’s a nice luster and is not chemically harsh at all.

Both are finished with the conditioner, left is poplar, right is oak


Something I have found is that the very hard woods can be sanded much finer than you would be able to do even with basswood much less pine. I have been using 400 grit for rough sanding stuff completely flat on my power belt sander before going to 600, then 1200 and finally 2000 grit and some cases fine steel wool by hand to get an amazing surface that is outright sensual. Carnauba wax dissolved in a carrier could make it more impervious but would need to be rubbed smooth to get back that surface.


Oh I was reminded of another polyurethane project of mine:

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Thanks for posting! The lighting in those pics makes it easier to judge the finish (as easy as it can be in photos!). I see a little bit of varnishy sheen, but it really does seem pretty natural-looking. I’ve gone ahead and ordered some wipe-on poly–looking forward to seeing it! Thanks for the help. (And beautiful box, by the way!)

@rbtdanforth, I hadn’t really thought about going further than 400–it’s nice and smooth–but I’m curious now to see how nice it could be at 600 or 1200. One of the woods I’ve made this wallet design from is bubinga, which has a lovely reflective figure that could potentially be brought out by finer grain (and probably also by the wipe-on poly).

@jesse_simpson, interesting idea. I think I’ll see how the wipe-on poly goes before taking that extra step.

I originally purchased the smoother grit for sharpening carving tools but I am blown away at the difference even on walnut or maple. Bubinga is much tougher and will take a fair amount of work, but you should be able to distinguish where you removed the scratches and where you have not yet done so one quickly becomes less tolerant of where you can see a difference. Where there is engraving it is impossible to sand everywhere. but on broad flat areas it calls out more than I would like even.


i’ve done some walnut up to 1200 and it’s damn near glassy smooth.


That deck box I linked to is also bubinga, so that was a lucky coincidence.

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Have you tried Tung oil?

Use multiple coats, if necessary. Protects well, I have even used it on wooden kitchen counters. Only have to redo it every three years or so in what can be a very wet environment, especially around the sink.

It leaves a matt finish that enhances the appearance of the wood in a natural way. It can darken a little over years and years. I usually dilute it with a solvent so it applies easier. This can either be “good or bad” depending on your application.


Thanks for the tip! I assume you’re talking about a varnish/tung oil mix rather than pure tung oil. Do you have a particular brand that you like–my research suggests that there is a lot of variability.

(For now, I’ve got a can of Watco wipe-on poly and am just looking forward to finding some time to test it out–may be more than a week, unfortunately.)

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Pics or it didn’t happen. :wink:

Seriously though, I would love to see what a wooden wallet looks like.

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I would use 100% Tung oil. I think I used Hope’s, it is all gone from the last job. I thinned it with a mineral spirits replacement called Klean-Strip Green. It is a milky white liquid that does not have the odor of mineral spirits.

I thinned it because I had three kitchen counter tops to cover and it spreads much easier when thinned a little bit. With a small size object, you may want to use it un-diluted.

I have also used Tung Oil Finish by Min Wax. I suspect there is very little Tung Oil in it. Essentially it has been thinned so it spreads easier then the carrier evaporates and dries the Tung Oil much more quickly.

By using 100% Tung oil, you control the consistency and drying time. Also, you control the carrier liquid if you decide to dilute it so you can reduce your exposure to some pretty nasty chemicals that may be added by manufacturers.

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Often overlooked is the importance of cure time. With Howards, for example, you probably need a good 3 weeks before the finish will achieve its maximum water repellence. Really most finishes need a good 3 weeks…

You might look into Odie’s Oil. If it’s applied properly and sparingly, it can be incredibly moisture resistant. And it’s 100% natural. Pure Tung Oil is good too, BUT you need to thin it 50/50 with a solvent (especially with a hard, dense wood like Wenge) and apply multiple coats over days to get the best results. Odie’s was actually developed for use on exotic hardwood flooring, so it’s a natural match with Wenge.


Thought you might want to see a photo of wood finished with Tung Oil.

This is a Black walnut slab in our kitchen that we installed to replace our upper cabinets. I finished it with 100% Tung oil, no thinning. I think this was Hope’s brand.

I just poured about a half ounce of water on it to show you how water beads up. I put two coats on the slab 5 years ago, so you can see that Tung Oil has a fairly long shelf life to resist water.

As you can see Tung oil enriches the color and grain . I have the book matched slap in the garage and it is unfinished. I will try and upload a photo later today or tomorrow to show you the unfinished walnut appearance.

I will send you a another photo of the same drop of water in five years, to see if it is still beaded up. :slight_smile: :slight_smile: :slight_smile:


Do you live in a humid climate?

When I use Tung oil, it dries over night, at least to my satisfaction. I apply it, let it sit until it stops soaking into the wood, maybe a half-hour to hour, then wipe it off, really wipe it off, as in a light buffing, until it looks dry.

Next day, I do a decent hand buffing / polishing then I put another coat on and use the same buffing procedures.

As you can see from the photo I attached to my response to @aohnstad, the finish is still very protective to moisture, plus looks good after five years of use.

I have heard of Odies, but never tried it. I will give it a try soon!!! I have some shelves made of a very hard tropical hardwood that need a finish! Thanks!!!


Here is the photo @aohnstad of the unfinished book matched slab so you can compare it to the Tung oil finished slab. The lighting was different, the earlier photo was taken under 4000 degree Kelvin light so there is a slight shift to the yellow, and this one is day light, 6000 Kelvin coming thru a skylight.


I love how water beads on a good finish!

It’s not especially humid where I live. I use pure tung oil from the Real Milk Paint Company. They specifically recommend thinning 50/50 with their citrus solvent, especially with hardwoods. So that’s all I know!

I have no problem applying one coat per day. But for the big walnut dining table I finished, it kept soaking up the oil for 6 coats! That table is 3 years old and the finish is going strong.

I actually don’t use it very much any more because Odie’s Oil is a 1-2 coat application and easier/less time consuming. If you use Odies, make sure to apply it sparingly and keep buffing it out even when you think you’re done. Otherwise it will turn a bit cloudy (which can also be fixed by simply applying another coat)!


Thanks, @timtsuga and @riverbank, for the tips and the photos. I will definitely be experimenting with tung oil and/or Odie’s!

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