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Expert's Corner — shellac

Primers and Sealers

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I’ve said this many times, but it deserves repeating because so much confusion still exists. Primers and sealers perform entirely different functions. Primers are necessary for paint because paint won’t bond well to rough, porous wood. Paint contains a high percentage of pigment (in order to hide well) and only enough binder (the same as finish) to glue the pigment particles to each other and to an underlying smooth surface. Because even well sanded wood is still porous, and thus not smooth, more binder is required to achieve a good bond. Paint primer contains a higher binder-to-pigment ratio than does...

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TIP: Shellac and Fish Eye

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TIP: Shellac and Fish Eye

Fish eye is cratering or ridging in the finish right after application (brush or spray). It is caused by silicone in the wood. The silicone is an oil that is commonly included in furniture polishes, hand creams and other household products. The oil is very slick and prevents the finish from leveling out. All finishes are susceptible to fish eye if the silicone contamination is great enough. But for most situations shellac isn’t affected by the silicone. A coat of shellac will block the silicone so another finish can be applied on top without a problem. On this sample, I...

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TIP: Strip Don't Sand

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If you want to remove an old finish in order to put on a new one, it’s almost always better to strip the finish than to sand it off. First, except in cases where the old finish is flaking off, it’s a lot more work to sand than to strip using a paint-and-varnish remover. But more importantly, sanding cuts through stain and “patina” (the color changes in wood caused by light and oxidation), and it does so unevenly. Once you start cutting through this coloring, you have to sand through it everywhere to get an even coloring for refinishing. Stripping...

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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: 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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