Bunk Beds: Wood Species and Finishing

nicktAugust 16, 2012

I would like to build some bunk beds for my two boys. My wife wants them finished pretty dark (chocolate brown), and since walnut is expensive and hard to find in 2x and 4x boards, I am going to end up staining/dying the wood.

Since the beds will be stained dark, and will take some punishment from my kids, I am not sure what kind of wood I should use. I want something that I can get really dark and relatively uniform, but will also be hard enough so I don't get a glaring chip/dent/etc. every time the boys bang it with something.

I have done plenty of wood construction, but not much furniture grade finishing. So, I would greatly appreciate some advice on 1) the best species of wood for this application, and 2) finishing techniques to get a nice even dark chocolate color.

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Stain does not make wood grain uniformly even colored. The wood furniture seen in stores with even color is done using more than just stains.

Of the easily obtained woods:

Maple would be the best wood for hardness and ding resistance. But one of the more difficult to stain evenly or dark.

Poplar can be stained very dark and even, but is soft.

Oak or ash are hard, but have such differences in grain, staining to an even color will be almost impossible.

I did not include pine/spruce/fir simply because those are the hardest to stain evenly and the softest.

Your best first step would be to get a piece of all four types and some black wood dye and dark stains and experiment.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2012 at 9:11PM
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I agree with Handymac on his comments.

I would look for a better quality "stain" than just picking up the ubiquitous yellow can of Minwax at the big box store.

Beds, like chairs, can be tough to finish because of all the intersections. A wipe-on varnish would be a good choice. Many coats, but less build on each and less time between coats. After drying overnight, lightly sand to remove blemishes and start the next day's finish regimen.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2012 at 10:36PM
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Thanks for the suggestions. I will plan to do some experimentation before making my decision. From your comments and my own research, it seems like using dyes and toners (as opposed to staining) is the best way to get a dark uniform color. I am not opposed to a finishing process that has several steps if it will produce the desired result. So, are there any "tried and true" products and processes I can research for the dye/toner approach? Thanks again for your help.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2012 at 9:39AM
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Comment on the toners: These usually need to be sprayed to be successful. Light coats as they go from not quite there to looking like paint real quick. Better to do 4-8 coats than one too heavy and going opaque or finish curtains.

As for processes, I'd refer you to Bob Flexner's "Understanding Wood Finishing" (2d edition) and/or Jeff Jewitt's "Complete Illustrated Guide to Wood Finishing."

Jeff sells TransTint and TransFast dyes from his Homestead Finishing company. Available directly from him or from Rockler & Woodcraft. W.D. Lockwood is the old line dye vendor. There are other dye vendors out there, too.

But the real key is to do samples before starting to finish your project. The best surprise is no surprise.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2012 at 7:24PM
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"since walnut is expensive and hard to find in 2x and 4x boards"

hardwoods are not normal;y sodl as 'diension lumber.'

They are sld in random leghts and widths to a grading standard for defects, in a given thickness expressed in quarter inches.

4/4 9one inch ) 5/4 1.25 inch thick), 6/4/8/4/12/4, etc
It is also rough and not surfaces.
A 4/4 board should net out at least 3/4 inches after thickness planing,sometimes 1/16 more.
Most furniture hardwoods are much stonger tan softwood lumber, so you wil not see a lot of 2 inch thick anything except in bed rails and a few other heavy structural elements.
A twin size bed can easily use 6 to 8 inch wide 4/4 lumber for rails.

Go up to queen and you need some additional thickness (5/4 or 6/4 depending on width).

Bed posts can be as small as 2x2 inch net in many hardwoods.

Pigment stains exaggerate wood figure, dye stains tend to make color more uniform.

Toning is using colored top coats to alter the shade of the wood.

A dark dye should be able to get most hardwoods (except maybe maple) pretty dark.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2012 at 2:44PM
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