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Newsletter #116

When Finishing, We Learn by Our Mistakes

This month we are pleased to welcome a new contributor to our monthly newsletter. Bill Perry of William Perry Studios in Toronto, Canada. Bill Perry designs and builds fine custom furniture and Windsor chairs. When Bill told me he would write about goofs and using our artistic creativity to fix them, it brought back my piano finishing days. I remember goofs that I made, the feeling of panic that I had ruined someone’s piano and the immense feeling of relief that swept over me when I found a solution and it worked.

I mentioned this situation earlier this year, but this is the one that haunts me still and wakes me up at night, even though it worked out in the end. I remember taking on a job to strip and refinish an old mahogany piano. The customer wanted the piano to be a painted black ebony finish. I proceeded down the normal path of spraying on coats of black lacquer, sanding along the way and building up many coats. Once satisfied I rubbed the finish out and there sat a beautiful ebony baby grand piano. Fortunately, there was other work to do on the instrument and the customer was away for another few weeks so the piano sat in the shop. Two weeks later I looked at the piano and now the finish was no longer smooth black ebony. As the finish cured and shrunk it exposed the open mahogany grain. With about a week before it was due for delivery I had to use my ingenuity to bring the surface back to the smooth ebony finish.

I carefully prepared a creamy paste of wood grain filler, tinted it black and carefully worked it over all the areas where the grain was showing. Once it dried I again sprayed a few coats of black lacquer over the surface and rubbed out the pieces. The grain was filled. The goof was remediated and the piano was gorgeous again. Fortunately I had not yet assembled the piano which would have consumed even more time. I learned for the future to either fill the grain before finishing the piano or better yet, don’t try to make an open grain wood into a solid black painted surface.

On another occasion the goof was not in my finishing, but in my failure to know that the spring on an overhead door was loose. The piano, also black ebony, ready for delivery was on its side waiting to be picked up. The piano was sitting close to the overhead door. The next morning I opened the door and the heavy spring came loose falling on the side of the ebony piano making a six inch impression of the door spring on the newly finished surface. I quickly grabbed a black shellac burn-in stick and proceeded to carefully and artistically fill the gouges made by the door spring. A little buffing and rubbing and boom, it was like new again. Again I was lucky.

Enjoy reading Bill Perry’s article and think what situations you have come up with and your own ingenuity in solving the problem.

bill boxer signature

Sr. Vice President and COO
Apollo Sprayers International, Inc.

Products of the Month: Finishing Books and DVDs

As summer comes to an end across the country, it seems like it is time to get back to the workshop, the saw table, and the planer. Why not start a project by thinking about the finish?

The best way is to learn from other people, so we suggest treating yourself to a book about finishing by Bob Flexner, or one of the terrific finishing DVDs produced by Glen Huey or Steve Shanesy.  With their work and ideas for inspiration, you can try out some new techniques, consider a new coating, or work around any mistakes as you go along. A little knowledge is a very good thing!  Happy reading and viewing.

Finishing Feature Article by William Perry: Fixing Flubs with an Artist’s Flair

Finishing is the process of transferring liquid out of its container and onto a project using a brush, rag or spray gun. Sounds simple, but doing so flawlessly can be easier said than done, as many of us discover.

Fortunately, fixing our errors isn’t overly complicated. Moreover, it’s often fun, as you get to stretch your artistic wings with some custom coloring and detailing. But it’s better to avoid problems in the first place – specifically those related to wood preparation – so let’s start there.

Many woodworkers believe that wood from the home center’s rack or fresh from their thickness planer is ready to have a finish applied. Sorry – it’s only ready to be handplaned or sanded. See for yourself: sight down a plank illuminated with a strong backlight. What you’ll see are rows of tiny ridges left by the planer’s blades. READ MORE

Finishing Tip by Bob Flexner: Spray/No-Wipe Staining

spray-no-wipe-on-oakopt.jpgIf you have a spray gun, you can use it to create an entirely different look on the wood than you get wiping or brushing the stain and wiping off the excess. Simply spray the stain and leave it; don’t wipe off the excess.

The key here is whether or not you wipe off the excess, not how you apply the stain. You could also spray the stain and wipe off the excess. But you can’t get an even coloring by wiping or brushing the stain and leaving the excess. You can’t help but leave more coloring in some areas than others. Only by spraying can you get an even coloring everywhere.

The trick is to thin the stain a good deal (say three-to-six parts) with the appropriate thinner and build the color slowly with several coats. You can spray the coats on top of each other while still damp, or you can wait until each coat of stain has dried before spraying the next.

If you try spraying just one coat of full-strength stain (rather than multiple coats of thinned stain), you’ll have great difficulty getting an even coloring. In fact, I feel comfortable saying that unless the object is small and flat, you won’t get an even coloring. You have to thin the stain and apply multiple coats.

spray-no-wipe-on-pineopt.jpgYou can see from the accompanying photographs the difference spraying and leaving makes. I used the same stain on both sides of both panels.

On the oak panel, I wiped off the excess stain on the left side, and I left the thinned, multi-coat sprayed stain unwiped on the right side. Not wiping off the excess stain caused the oak grain to almost disappear.

On the pine panel, I also wiped off the excess stain on the left side, and I left the thinned, multi-coat sprayed stain unwiped on the right side. Spraying and leaving reduces blotching to almost nothing, but it also muddies the contrasting spring- and summer-growth grain.

There is no right or wrong way. It depends on the look you want.

Finishing Terms Defined by Bob Flexner: What is Pickling?

two-types-of-picklingopt.jpgIn wood finishing the term “pickling” is generally used to mean adding a white coloring to the wood. (“Liming” is sometimes used to mean the same thing.)

There are two broad methods of pickling. One is to wipe on and wipe off a white stain. The other involves sealing the wood with a first coat of finish, then wiping on and wiping off a stain. There is a big difference in the appearance you get.

In the sample shown, a white stain was applied directly to the lower half of the panel and wiped off. The same white stain was applied over a sealer coat on the top half of the panel and wiped off. The sealer coat prevented the stain from coloring the wood as thoroughly. The white coloring was left just in the pores when the excess stain was wiped off.