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Expert's Corner — finish

The (Almost) Perfect Finish

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Water-based finishes have improved quite a bit over the past few years – to the point where they make an excellent finish for just about every woodworker. In particular, they offer a lot of advantages for DIYers and hobbyist woodworkers, especially those working in small shops. You can use a water-borne finish in place of just about any other film finish (varnish, polyurethane, lacquer) on just about any wood surface (furniture, cabinetry, trim work, and flooring). While it can be sprayed on, it's likely that most DIYers and hobbyists will brush it on, which is what I do. What is...

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TIP: Pour Over to a Separate Container

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TIP: Pour Over to a Separate Container

Unless you plan on using all the finish in the original container, you should pour the amount you expect to use into a separate container – for example, a clean jar or coffee can. It’s good to do this so you don’t introduce dust or other contaminants into the finish that you will use at some later date. Especially with water-based finish, but a good idea with all finishes, you should strain the finish as you pour it. Convenient “paint” strainers like the one shown in the accompanying picture, are widely available from stores or online. The reason straining is...

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Remove Watermarks With Steel Wool

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Watermarks can happen in all finishes after they have aged and become somewhat porous. The marks appear light gray to white and are almost always very superficial – that is, right at the surface of the finish. So one way to remove them that almost always works well is to abrade off the very top surface of the finish with fine steel wool or abrasive pad. Usually, the discoloration will be removed with very little effort, as shown in the two accompanying pictures. The downside of removing watermarks in this manner is that you may change the sheen of the...

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Finishes Differ in the Color They Impart

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Finishes Differ in the Color They Impart

You might choose a finish for its durability, drying speed, ease of use or cost, but you might also choose for the color it imparts to the wood. The accompanying picture shows unfinished oak at the top left, then seven common finishes and their color. If you haven’t done this comparison side by side, you may be surprised at the amount of difference. On top row from the left: unfinished, clear paste wax, water-based finish and nitrocellulose lacquer. On bottom row from the left: clear/blonde shellac, amber/orange shellac, polyurethane varnish and boiled linseed oil. In practice, wax would be an...

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Applying Finish With or Across the Grain

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It’s common to be instructed to apply a finish in the direction of the grain, called “with the grain.” Doing this is usually best when brushing a finish, but it’s rarely necessary when wiping or spraying a finish. Brushing with the grain is best because the grain will help disguise the brush marks, the ridges and troughs caused by the movement of the bristles along or across the surface. If you brush across the grain, the brush marks will stand out in contrast to the grain of the wood. There are exceptions, however. These include solid or veneer with their...

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