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Finishing Nightmares

Charles Neil filling finish finishing shiny the finishing store turpine wax woodfinishing woodworking

Ironically I just finished making a DVD by the same title, but that is not what this is about.

I get a lot of emails from folks who have tried to get a good finish by following poor advice, but usually it is the result of poor products, they just don’t know it.

There is an old cliché, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is” and nowhere does this prove truer than in finishing.

I got an email from a guy who was trying to get a fully filled, high gloss finish on a red oak dining table. Over a period of three months, he has put 62 coats (true story) of boiled linseed oil. Yep, 62 coats and he can’t get it to work and he can press his fingernail into it, his question was, “What am I doing wrong?”

The answer is obvious, poor advice and poor product. Had he done a grain fill and three or four coats of a good water base finish, he would be done and happy, which is exactly what we did after stripping the BLO off.

Another one - I get an email from a guy who tells me he finished a slab table for a client, used wax and turpentine. Proceeded to tell me he used the very best wax, but now the table is too shiny and it smells. I told him I just didn’t consider wax a finish and that it needed to be removed and let’s start over. He proceeded to tell me how he had read to do this in a well-known woodworking magazine and so forth. I politely told him to contact them and see if they could help him out. We wound up stripping the table and sealing it with some shellac due to the turpentine having soaked in so much and the wax. Did a nice water base finish and ended on a happy note.

I could go on and on but the point is made, finishing is tough, no doubt, but using the proper materials and tools is a big key.

I stand in amazement at those who will spend thousands on machines, bits, chisels and $20.00 a bf for high figure wood, work for months making sure everything is correct, then buy a $9.95 spray gun and the cheapest stuff they can find and go at it, and then, wonder what went wrong.

I sound like a broken record on this subject but I see and hear it everyday. The single best advice I can give you is to select a product line of a professional nature and stay with it. Learn the colors, learn to intermix them to create your own custom colors and learn to use the finishes; and if at all possible, get a good spray system and learn to use it. You will be amazed at the difference it makes and just like working wood, it takes time to develop and hone your skills.

The second biggest finishing nightmare is the prep process. Everyone understands moving up through the grits, but it seems in every class I teach, the one common issue is, “I sanded and sanded” still had scratches and glue show up. Yep, it happens.

Years ago, in the auto body world we would prime a vehicle, then using a spray can of adverse color lacquer, we would mist over the primer, then when it was sanded the adverse color would show any underlying scratches or issues. We called it trace coating.

So I adapted the principal to my woodworking.

I will take a water base dye, never use an oil, it doesn’t dry and will gum up your sandpaper. Water is best. I apply a light coat, let it dry and it acts as my trace coat. It will show any glue or defects and being water base it will pre-raise the grain.

Couple of cautions, on open-grain wood, go easy. You don’t want to get dye in the deep grains. So what I often do is wipe it with a semi-wet cloth, just enough to dampen, for the grain raise. Then, with a cloth just damp with the dye, I gently wipe the surface so as not to push it into the deep grain.

Now, I realize many will complain about using expensive dye in this way. So try some food coloring, little green, little red, you’ve got brown. Now food coloring is not a good wood dye but will make for a cheap, quick trace.

Now, if you accidentally get the food coloring in the grain, a quick wipe with some household bleach will kill it. Just be sure to neutralize the bleach with 1 tablespoon full of baking soda to a cup of water. Let it dry, give it a quick sand to remove the raised grain and your good to go.

Common sense says to be careful and not get the dye into areas you can’t access in order to sand, like inside corners and so forth.

Give some trace a try on a scrap and see what you think. It will tell you when your done sanding and show any issues!



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