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Expert's Corner — preperation

How I Came to Write “Flexner On Finishing”

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Writing about wood finishing is the last thing I ever thought I’d do. In fact, I’ve never particularly liked doing finishing. I’d much rather do woodworking, like most everyone else. Being good at finishing (whether I liked it or not) became important, however, in the late 1970s when I opened my furniture making and restoration shop. I needed to learn how to do it, but I quickly found that the available information was really bad. There were three sources: books at the public library, Fine Woodworking magazine (the only magazine dedicated to woodworking at that time) and instructions from manufacturers...

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TIP: Dry Off NMP Residue

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Paint and varnish removers sold in plastic containers contain the solvent n-methyl pyrrolidone (NMP) as the active ingredient. This solvent is relatively expensive, so manufacturers often mix in other solvents to reduce the cost. But it’s the NMP that does the majority of the work. NMP has less solvent strength than the methylene chloride and the other solvents used in strippers sold in cans. Just the packaging, plastic vs. metal, tells you this. The reason NMP is still effective is that it evaporates extremely slowly, so it can remain wet on the paint or finish for days if necessary. I...

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TIP: Alchohol and Lacquer Thinner for Stripping

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TIP: Alchohol and Lacquer Thinner for Stripping

Alcohol dissolves shellac, and lacquer thinner dissolves lacquer. So you can use these solvents instead of paint-and-varnish remover for stripping. The advantage is that you don’t have to then remove the wax residue or dry off the lingering n-methyl-pyrrolidone solvent. The disadvantage is that it’s more difficult to strip complex three-dimensional surfaces. But alcohol and lacquer thinner are easy to use on flat surfaces such as tabletops. Simply wet some rags or paper towels with the solvent and lay them on the surface. Keep them wet by pouring on more solvent until the finish has liquefied and you can wipe...

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TIP: Freeze Candle Wax Drips to Remove

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The easy way to remove candle wax that has dripped onto a finished surface is to freeze it by holding an ice cube on it for about 10 seconds. Once frozen, the wax is easy to pick off the finish without causing any damage. If a little wax residue remains and you can’t pick it off, dissolve it with mineral spirits (paint thinner) or a clear furniture polish and wipe away the residue with a cloth. Be aware that red candle wax can stain a light finish. There’s no easy way to remove this stain, but it will fade in...

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TIP: Oil and Spontaneous Combustion

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Drying oils, especially linseed oil, are the only finishing materials that spontaneously combust. Solvents don’t spontaneously combust, paint strippers (including paint or finish residue) don’t spontaneously combust, and no type of varnish spontaneously combusts. It’s not totally clear whether 100% tung oil can spontaneously combust, so treat it like it does. As linseed oil dries, it generates heat as a byproduct. If you wad up linseed-oil rags or pile them on top of each other, the heat generated in the middle can’t dissipate. It builds up until it reaches the flash point of the cloth and it bursts into flame....

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