Professionals and Amateurs Together

Raising Grain


Is it a good idea to “raise the grain” with water even if the finish is an oil finish? I’ve observed that some cherry items which initially have a very smooth finish can lose some smoothness and feel “grainy” after a couple seasons of high humidity. Is the humidity slowly raising the grain? – Stuart Blanchard


Joe Barry replies: I’ll sand up to 150 grit then wet the wood.  This not only raises the grain but it brings out all those little dings that work there way into the project during assembly,  it also highlights glue spots. When dry, sand to 180 then wet again and hand sand with 180.  That grittiness after a few seasons is the humidity raising the grain.  It is more apparent with an oil finish than with a topcoat.  The reason is that a top coat lies on the surface and essentially traps those tiny wood fibers in the finish.

An oil finish penetrates the wood and cures in the wood itself. Its also not as moisture resistant as a top coat.  As the oil slowly oxidizes over time it looses its grip on that fuzz and it swells up in high humid.

The same goes for Walnut however walnut is much softer and more open grained than cherry, therefore the fuzz you get after wetting will be much coarser.

Apply the oil with 400 or 600 grit wet/dry sandpaper. The abrasive will cut off the raised feathers of grain and make a slurry that will level and fill the surface of the wood. Subsequent coats can be applied with a Scotchbrite pad and then a rag.

Roy Noyes replies: I have used oil finishes on Butternut, Maple and Walnut for many years with no problems of grain raising using the following procedure:

  • Sand to 150 grit
  • Apply a coat of Watco Oil or Minwax Antique Oil liberally and let stand for 10 to 20 minutes.
  • Reapply the oil to any dry spots, sand with 220 grit wet or dry sandpaper, wipe vigorously with a soft cloth and let stand for at least 24 hours.
  • Reapply the oil and sand with 400 grit wet or dry paper, wipe vigorously with a clean dry cloth and let dry for several days.
  • Apply one or more coats of Butchers bowling alley wax (or any other hard wax).
  • Allow the wax to dry for approximately 30 minutes and then polish with a soft cloth.


  • During the wet sanding process, the fine sanding dust will mix with the oil and form a thick slurry which is wiped into the pores with a soft cloth and thus filling the pores.
  • More than two coats of oil may be applied for more build if desired.
  • Minwax Antique Oil appears to build more of a surface finish and be harder than Watco oil, however both give a long-lasting finish that is easily repaired.

This is the easiest finish to use and my favorite.

Tags: Finishing