Building a Beautiful Finish
Whenever I give a talk on finishing, I almost always open with: “The last step in your project is often the most important. People tend to judge your work on how it looks and feels therefore the importance of knowing how to properly apply your coating of choice as well as know and understand the coating material that you are using.”
This month our featured writer Scott Burt will be sharing his thoughts with you on how to plan and apply the best possible finish to the project that you have spent so much time building and preparing.
We apply a finish to protect and beautify our work. This can be done manually or by spraying your finish. There are many options available to us for the protective and beautifying finish. We have a choice between solvent or waterbase. Another choice is basic or catalyzed. A catalyzed finish involves an added ingredient to cross link the finish molecules for greater surface durability and strength. The catalyst can be added by the user or sometimes it is built into the product and activates upon application. We can choose between clear or pigmented. We have a choice of sheen from matt to high gloss. We might choose to stain a piece of wood to achieve a desired color or effect. So many choices.
Each coating has its own personality and workability. This is something we learn with time and experience. There are subtle differences between brands which is why I always suggest to experiment with a few different brands of the same type of product to form and opinion as to what you like and do not like.
Another aspect most important is the finishing environment. Although taken for granted, I still remind you that the finishing area needs to be as clean and dust free as possible. Environment is critical. Temperature and humidity are important. We might strive for perfection however this is not always possible and must be taken into account when using various finishes. Applying finishes when it is too hot or too cold will affect how well (or not) a coating flows out, dries, etc.
Last month my topic was “Knowledge Is Power”. The same is true if you are looking to create “the perfect finish.” The more you know, the better the outcome.
There are no shortcuts when it comes to applying your finish. Give it the attention you gave to preparing and building your project and the results will be your reward.
Enjoy Scott Burt’s words of wisdom.
Sr. Vice President
Apollo Sprayers International, Inc.
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Finishing Feature Article by Scott Burt: We Are All Reluctant Finishers
While I am a professional finisher, I am a hobbyist woodworker. That mix makes me a wood snob. I love working with wood in any capacity. Because my head and hands are in finishing all week long, I tend to do as little of it as possible in my personal life, but I still love messing around with wood in most any form.
This passion took root for me in 1995 when I had the good fortune of being in the right place at the right time and meeting what would turn out to be my mentor in the world of wood. I was the only painter on a custom interior project. My mentor, Sandy, was the interior carpenter. At the ripe age of 26, I knew just enough about finishing to be very dangerous. It is a good thing I met Sandy when I did, or my career would have ended up on a different path.
Sandy is one of few people I have met who is a natural born cabinet maker and finisher - READ MORE
Finishing Tip by Bob Flexner: Finishing the Insides of Drawers
There’s no need to finish the insides of drawers, whether the interior or the exterior of each part. Only the outside of the drawer front needs a finish because this is the only surface that is seen and exposed to the elements.
In fact, before the twentieth century, the insides of drawers were rarely if ever finished. Then, as the century progressed, furniture factories increasingly began finishing the insides of drawers. But this was for appearance and to achieve a smooth feel, not to protect the wood.
Though there’s no need to finish the insides, you may still choose to do so for the same reasons factories have begun doing it. If you do, you should use a finish that doesn’t leave a lingering odor. The two best are water-based finish and shellac. With all other finishes, you’ll need to leave the drawers open and well exposed to air for a considerable time to allow all the odor to dissipate.
Finishing Tip by Bob Flexner: The Importance of Thinning
Two of the biggest problems that occur when brushing a finish are brush marks and bubbles. Both can be eliminated by thinning the finish. Thinning allows brush marks more time to level out and air bubbles more time to pop out on their own.
This is such a simple tip, but it is easy to forget.
The one consideration is that each coat of finish will dry thinner on the surface, so you may need to apply an extra coat or two to get the desired total thickness.
Finishing Tip by Bob Flexner: Adding Protection to an Oil Finish
Oil and oil/varnish-blend finishes are not very protective against moisture because they are too thin; they can’t be built thicker because they don’t harden well.
But these finishes are very popular because they are so easy to apply. So they are often used when a thicker film-building finish would be a wiser choice. It is therefore not uncommon for woodworkers to want to add more protection at a later date when they experience how vulnerable these finishes are to water. How do you do this without having to strip and start over?
You can apply any finish over an oil or oil/varnish blend as long as it is thoroughly dry, just as you might paint over one of these finishes. In fact, some woodworkers apply oil under a more protective finish intentionally to take advantage of the added color and depth linseed oil provides, as shown on the left side of the accompanying photo. (Note, however, that the darker coloring doesn’t reach this point until months or years later.)
Thoroughly dry usually means up to a week in a warm shop as long as you wiped off all the excess oil during application. It could mean longer if you didn’t wipe well or if the shop is cold. Here’s what will happen if you apply the finish too soon.
Alkyd and polyurethane varnish will blend with the uncured oil and not dry hard itself. You will be creating an oil/varnish blend with the uncured oil.
Water-based finish won’t bond well. It may even wrinkle.
Neither shellac nor lacquer should cause any problems after several days of drying.
Finishing Tip by Bob Flexner: Testing for Shellac
Almost all furniture and woodwork finished between the 1820s and 1920s was finished with shellac. But if you want to test to be sure, here’s the way to do it.
Put a little denatured alcohol on your finger and dab it onto an inconspicuous area of the finish, as shown in the accompanying picture. If the surface gets sticky or if the finish comes off on your finger, the finish is shellac.
Shellac dissolves in alcohol, so you could use the alcohol to strip the finish if that is your intention, instead of using paint stripper.