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I have been working on a Hickory cane from my dad that I carved from an ax handle its my 1st attempt. I still have a couple turquoise inlays to finish. I also still need to carve a transition piece of probably cherry or walnut to the elk antler handle I have. I still have to finish sand it since it is still rough but I'm curious what stain works best on Hickory. I want the carved features to stand out but not be so dark that you cannot see them. I was curious about Teak oil or if I should go with traditional stain with a finish. Just looking for suggestions. I am away on business and won't be home for three weeks so I am brainstorming.

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Welcome! Great looking carving. It should be a really nice cane when you're done. My experience is limited with hickory. From what I recall hardware store stains wouldn't hardly penetrate so they gave it almost no color. That might be what you need. The pigment might lodge in the corners a bit and might do a good job of highlighting the carving while leaving the rest of the wood relatively light.

Most hardware store dyes are pigment based. Pigment particles are relatively large so don't penetrate into denser wood very well. They work well on porous woods and will highlight the grain on ring porous woods like oak. Aniline dye particles are smaller and get into even dense woods. The tend to stain much more evenly than pigment based stains.

You might try something like Minwax Antique Oil on it. It's an oil based finish with (I think) a slight brown tint. Something like that might highlight the carving a bit without being overpowering. I'm not sure if just a clear oil will really bring out the details.

I would recommend testing any finish on some scrap from the handle if you have any. Given the amount of work you have in carving it if you don't have any scraps big enough then buy another axe handle that's similar in color and grain and test your finish on it first. Maybe even make a few cuts in the hickory sample to see how the stain behaves.
 

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Good looking work! :thumbsu: :thumbsu: My experience with hickory has been on a cpl walking stick shanks. The attached pic is a hickory shank that had the bark left on and sanded smooth, The finish is Watco Danish Oil Natural.. The Danish Oil darkened the inner bark. Not sure what it will do on the bare wood, as Rodney suggested I would do a test on whatever stain/finish I chose. Danish oil is a one stop finish that penetrates the wood and hardens as well. It comes in 8 different shades. After the Danish oil dries I have used Howard's Feed & Wax on the stick. For a stick that is going to get vigorous use I like the Feed & Wax it contains orange oil & bees wax and can be reapplied as needed.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Good looking work! :thumbsu: :thumbsu: My experience with hickory has been on a cpl walking stick shanks. The attached pic is a hickory shank that had the bark left on and sanded smooth, The finish is Watco Danish Oil Natural.. The Danish Oil darkened the inner bark. Not sure what it will do on the bare wood, as Rodney suggested I would do a test on whatever stain/finish I chose. Danish oil is a one stop finish that penetrates the wood and hardens as well. It comes in 8 different shades. After the Danish oil dries I have used Howard's Feed & Wax on the stick. For a stick that is going to get vigorous use I like the Feed & Wax it contains orange oil & bees wax and can be reapplied as needed.
Thanks guys... I actually have an axe handle that I have not put on my axe head yet. Since it's going to be used I don't really care what it looks like so maybe I will do some quick simple carving on it and try all of your methods to see what works best

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Not a real expert in finishes, but I think if you give the deep details of the carving their final sanding, then apply the finish and quickly wipe off the excess and then sand the high spots to their final grit, the grooves will darken but leave the higher details more visible. You could even use a brush or a furniture touch-up marker to darken the details first.

Very nice work on the carving, whatever you decide to do for a finish.
 

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I've had this same issue with Ash. It seems that the porous growth rings absorb most of the stain; the rest is mostly impervious. There are other ways to color the wood if you are determined. Early gun makers used various harsh chemicals or fumed it with ammonia. Also, steel wool in vinegar will create a solution that will antique the wood. Briefly scorching it with a propane torch is another.
 

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Aniline dye stains will evenly color it if that's what you're after. Most hardware stores don't carry them. A specialty woodworker's store like Rockler might or you can order them online.
 
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