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Finishing Tips and Techniques

finishing woodFor new woodworkers, and even some of the more seasoned ones, finishing their woodworking project can be agony. It certainly was for me for many, many years. It seemed no matter what can of varnish I purchased, the projects that I worked so hard to make them as perfect as I could, ended up looking like crap after the finishing was done. I always read the directions but never really had much success, in fact sometimes woodworking got very discouraging when I seemed to be able to predict that the end project would look like.

Then I met someone who began to give me some finishing tips and techniques. I started to realize that my impatience with the finishing step was part of my problem. I could make a furniture piece in a few days, then it would take a few more days just for the finishing. Waiting for anything to dry ... for me ... is pure agony, but as I started to see some real changes in my finished, I began to have much more patience.

He taught me a number of steps that I still use today, steps that help me not only in the build, but also in finishing. Here are the steps that I learned

#1 - Think about what you want your project to look like when it is done and what will it be used for. Knowing what I want my project to look like was a big step for me. Often I would pick a species of wood at random and build something with it, then think about what I was going finish it with.

Now, I think about what the finished piece will look like even before I start cutting any wood. I need to know what it's going to be used for, is a jewelry box that will be used seldom or is it a sitting bench that will be well used? How do I want it to look, natural wood or stained or dyed a different color? Do I want it to be glossy, satin or matte? Will you pre-finish the pieces or finish them after assembly? This alone was my biggest advancement.

#2 - You can never hope to get a good finish if you don't prepare the wood properly. This means sanding the wood carefully to a predetermined level, not over-sanding, and not making the wood so smooth it won't take a finish properly. It also means making sure there are no glue marks that will show through, if they do, it means re-sanding any section where they do.

#3 - Take your time to apply the coatings, and make sure that you prepare between coats.

Step #3 can also be brokend down into simple to follow steps. When I finish, these are the steps I follow with almost every product I finish with.

1 - Sand the raw wood down to about a 180 grit sand paper.

 1a - If I use a water-bourne dye, after it is dry I will either use a sharp furniture scraper or a 320 grit sandpaper to lightly re-sand the surface

2 - Use a tack cloth dampened with rubbing alchoho to remove any wood remnants and dust

3 - Apply the 1st layer of a clear top coat

4 - Very lightly wet-sand the dried 1st layer with 320 grit sand paper

5 - Use tack cloth again

6 - Apply 2nd layer of  clear top coat finish

7 - Very lightly re-wet-sand

8 - Use tack cloth again

9 - Apply 3rd, and possibly final top coat clear finish

10 - When dry, gently wet-sand with 800 grit wet/dry paper

11 - Apply to past wax top coat

12 - Enjoy

If you follow the same steps I use, you will have a very good chance of advancing your finishing skills, and heightening the pleasure you get with your woodworking

Copyright - Colin Knecht
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