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Thread: Any good introductory books on wood finishing?

  1. #1
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    Any good introductory books on wood finishing?

    I've got a lot of rather stupid questions about my first woodworking projects (What are all these funny pores doing in the wood? How do I make them go away without making them look funny? And can I polish lacquer with a rotary buffer?), and, in the spirit of causing the more skilled members of this forum minimal annoyance, I figure I ought to "RTFM".

    So, can anyone suggest anything along the line of "wood finishing for dummies?"

  2. #2
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    I notice Ned's thread leads to a site that carries Jeff Jewitt's books. They didn't have Peter Gedrys although I enjoy him as well. There are several really good finishers out there but these two could give you a start.
    Last edited by glenn bradley; 12-26-2009 at 11:36 PM.
    Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
    - Arthur C. Clarke

  3. #3
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    Let me start by saying that there are no stupid questions, only stupid answers. Well, there are some stupid questions but yours don't qualify. Sorry.
    Anyway, back to the stupid answers - here is my go at it.
    The funny pores in the wood are the ends of cells that got cut or sliced. They are the tubes that water and nutrients travel through during the tree's life time. You can make them go away by filling them in with a paste wood grain filler. Normally one would stain or dye the paste wood grain filler slightly darker than the bulk of the wood or at least as dark as the darkest part of the wood. This is usually done over the primer/sealer coat.
    Can you polish lacquer with a rotary buffer - yes, but not with a cheap one. You would only do this if you are looking for a mirror or piano finish which is not common. Most finishes are 'good to go' straight from the gun.
    As for being an annoyance, until you are called an annoying little twit, dont worry about it. And even at that, you can always take the attitude FEITCTAJ.
    But... by all means, still RTFM.
    By asking the questions that you did, I can assume you want a professional looking finish. You wont get much info from reading books except a lot of confusion. Read PDS's (Product Data Sheets) or PIS's (Product Information Sheets) from the various products and manufacturers. Most of the finishes you will read in books are products that most manufacturers wont recommend. The easiest place to start reading is Wood Finishers Depot Catalog. All of their products are described in their online catalog www.woodfinishersdepot.com. Then go to Mohawk Finishing Products catalog and do the same. Other catalogs online are ML Campbell and Sherwin Williams except their catalogs are hard to decipher. While you are on their website, jot down their Tech Support e-mail addys and phone numbers. Why Tech Support? Because don't trust the knowledge of a salesman.
    When it is all said and done you will probably end up with a vinyl sealer and pre-cat lacquer finish for 90% of your projects and Conversion Varnish and it's assoc. primer/sealer for your higher quality finishes.
    Usually when it comes to finishing questions on most forums, a war breaks out so this time should be no different.
    I hope this has been some help.

  4. #4
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    Thanks for the help.

    I'm curious as to thoughts on varnish vs. lacquer. From what I understand, varnishes are less brittle than lacquers and include penetrating and hardening agents (like linseed oil), but aren't as good at UV protection. However, I'm a bit confused as to the properties of different varnishes - for example, I thought that conversion varnish required a catalyst to be mixed in before setting, but many "conversion varnishes" don't require these. Further confusing the whole mess are spar and marine varnishes, which vary a great deal in cost, color, finish, and UV protection ability.

    I'm a bit confused as to what you mean by a high quality rotary buffer. I've got a fairly beefy angle grinder I was hoping to use for the task with a standard buffing wheel and some fine polish in much the same way that I polish metals. I'm helping out in a high school jewelry class where they'd like to integrate the use of wood into their curriculum (it's a lot cheaper than most metals!), and if the students could polish the wood much the same way as the polished the metal, it would greatly simplify things.

    EDIT: I'm working with some unusually-colored stripey wood. Any suggestions for making the fillers come out neatly?
    Last edited by Joseph Shaul; 12-27-2009 at 09:04 PM.

  5. #5
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    don't forget shellac joe, there are still some of us primitives that still use it...
    benedictione omnes bene

    www.burroviejowoodworking.com

    check out my etsy store, buroviejowoodworking

  6. #6
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    Generally speaking, lacquer is your best all around furniture finish. It is not easy to separate the individual characteristics of the various finishes. Words like brittle are subjective in that how brittle is brittle? And also overexaggerated claims to certain characteristics give the wrong impression.
    As for UV protection, that is normally not a concern of interior finishes although most finishes have some UV protection in it. If your furniture is in direct sunlight chances are the heat will destroy the finish and the wood both.

    Conversion varnish requires a catalyst to be mixed in before setting, I dont know of any that dont but that dont mean there isnt any. Conversion varnish is superior to lacquer in abrasion resistance and heat resistance. It is slightly more expensive than pre-Cat lacquer and slightly more difficult to apply, but still no biggie.

    I never did concern myself with spar varnish so I cant help you there, but I can tell you that marine varnishes are about the only clear finish that will hold up for a year or so in direct sunlight. Even amongst the marine varnishes there is a great difference in quality between them. The best way to judge is that if it cost less than $25/qt it probably isnt any good and if it cost between $35 to $45 / qt it is probably very good stuff. Good chemicals cost and no one company has the 'secret formula'. Actually almost all finishing products come under the same theory. Within a given price range, similar products from different companies usually perform similarly.

    When I refer to a high quality rotary buffer, I am referring to one of about 6 or 7", variable speed, and some kind of speed regulation so that when putting uneven pressure on something the speed remains constant. Probably in the vacinity of 10 amp range. The speed should be at least 2000 to 3000 RPM.
    Any automotive paint store will carry a 3 step system which is similar to the 3 step system sold by woodfinishersdepot.com. The first 2 bottled stuff should be applied about 2000 with a wool bonnet and the third stage about 3000 RPM with a 3M blue foam pad. The buffing procedure is pretty much the same
    as buffing a car to a glass finish. Porter Cable has a nice buffer for about $150and Makita has one for about $250. I dont know much about polishing metals so I cant compare but I will assume the procedures are all about the same.Overall, what I am trying to say is that a cheap $40 buffer just wont work.

    I hope that helped.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Joseph Shaul View Post
    .....EDIT: I'm working with some unusually-colored stripey wood. Any suggestions for making the fillers come out neatly?
    I am not sure of what you mean by 'neatly'. Please explain and I will see if I can help.

  8. #8
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    Since the surface area of the wood in question is very small - think belt buckles, not boats - I was hoping to use a bench polisher like this one:


    While not quite as powerful as the polishers you described, the surface area affected is very small - only a few square inches. As such, there's not much slowdown under normal use. Speed can be regulated by swapping larger and smaller buffing wheels. (If this sounds a bit crude - well, it is. But it works fairly well for polishing jewelry, and I'm hoping I can get at least a half-decent finish on lacquer the same way.)

    It sounds to me like boat varnish, while expensive, is probably the best way to protect things that will see a lot of wear - especially if made of woods like paudak that are prone to rapid fading. Epifanes sells for a whopping $24 per pint (well, 500ml) at the local store, and I'm hoping to find something a bit cheaper, though. (Perhaps West Marine has an educational discount?)

    Quote Originally Posted by Tony Bilello View Post
    I am not sure of what you mean by 'neatly'. Please explain and I will see if I can help.
    I'm worried that if I use a light-colored filler, the dark sections will come out funny, and vice versa.
    Last edited by Joseph Shaul; 12-28-2009 at 06:19 AM.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Joseph Shaul View Post
    Since the surface area of the wood in question is very small - think belt buckles, not boats - I was hoping to use a bench polisher like this one:
    .............

    I'm worried that if I use a light-colored filler, the dark sections will come out funny, and vice versa.
    Now that I know what you are doing, I would think the buffer set-up you have should work just fine. My question would be is .....is buffing even necessary? On small objects like belt buckles I would think that you should be able to get a high gloss finish to lay flat enough. Try it and see how it somes out. Also, have you checked other wooden belt buckle makers and see what they are using? I usually go with what the 'industry' is using.
    As for the filler, typically the filler is darker than the rest of the wood. Our eye-brain connection is used to seeing pits, holes, caves, ets as being dark spots and looks unusual if not darker. That is not to say it wont look good the other way around. Since these objects are small, you will not have to spend much time nor money experimenting to see what you like best.
    Your statement about padouk fading might not be exactly right. I think most peoples experiences including my own lead to the conclusion that padouk gets darker with time. Padouk usually goes from a bright red to a more subdued red with some 'browning' which to me gives it a warmer look.
    My advise would be to make several pieces using different methods and see which you like better. I am not sure but I think drums and quitars usually have lacquer on them and they take a good amount of abuse. Maybe go to a crafts fair and see what finish other buckle makers are using.

  10. #10
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    [QUOTE=Tony Bilello;196354 On small objects like belt buckles I would think that you should be able to get a high gloss finish to lay flat enough. Try it and see how it somes out. [/QUOTE]

    While doing a bit of research, I found that some folks are using Krylon's "Valspar" clear varnish to great effect on homemade arcade game cabinets. I found a really nice tutorial on getting a great finish with these paints using sandpaper and automotive products - it looks like a very nice option.

    http://forums.shoryuken.com/showthread.php?t=191692

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