Save for pieces meant to be left raw, no wood project is complete until a finish has been applied. Whether you’re working on an elegant jewelry box or
an outdoor chair that will be exposed to the elements, it all comes down to the final finish — this could either make your project a masterpiece or ruin many hours of your hard work. Understanding how to finish your pieces the right way is thus crucial in ensuring you always get great results.
But why do wood projects need finishing, one might ask? For starters, wood is a porous material, which means it’s capable of absorbing anything that gets on the surface. Finishing is a good way to seal the wood and keep any oils, chemicals, and dirt from penetrating into the grain. Some coats, on the other hand, are usually applied to make the grain come alive by adding some color.
What Are Your Options
Basically, all wood finishes fall into two distinct types, depending on how they dry and cure. Evaporative finishes (think shellac, lacquer and all water-based finishes) are those that transform into a hard film when the solvents evaporate. Reactive finishes are those whose chemical makeup changes as they cure, and these include catalyzed lacquers, linseed, varnishes and tung oil. Evaporative finishes are less durable compared to their reactive counterparts.
So, how do you choose the right finish for your project? In most cases, it will depend on your level of experience, as well as the environment in which you build your pieces. In particular, the humidity and temperature of your working area will affect your choice, as will the amount of dust in the air as well. Shellac and lacquer would be suitable if you’re working in a cold/humid area, or even one with lots of dust.
As far as the application goes, there are several methods you could use, including:
-Wiping on: This is a simple, quick way to finish a project — all you need is a rag to wipe on the substance.
-Brushing on: This is suitable for stains and paints, but you’ll need to clean the surfaces before brushing the finish on. It’s also crucial that you get a quality brush, as this won’t leave marks in the finish later on.
-Spraying on: Clear coats, paints and stains are all available in spray cans, which means you can lay down a nice finish on your project without committing too much of your effort. That said, spraying isn’t as precise as other methods, which means there’s a high chance that the coats won’t be even after you’re done.
Do It Like a Pro
In most cases, getting good results from your finishing techniques means paying attention to the tricky areas, such as:
-Runs and drips: Applying too much finish on your pieces can cause either of these side effects, both of which ruin the wood’s appearance. You can save yourself lots of frustration by preventing runs and drips from occurring in the first place.
-Overloads: This tends to happen when you take the finish directly from the container, but you can avoid it by pouring it into a glass container before starting. This allows you to drain the rag/brush prior to application. And while you’re at it, try to apply the finish as gently as you can.
-Edges: Whenever you’re applying a finish to any piece, start from the middle and move towards the edge, as this reduces the likelihood of drips occurring.
-Lighting: Most woodworkers don’t pay attention to this, but you’ll be surprised at how big a difference proper lighting can make in the quality of your finish. Applying the coat under bright light creates a glare on the wood’s surface, making it easy to catch any missed areas and spot runs as well.
It also helps to resist the temptation to go back over your work, even when you need to create a perfect piece. Once you’ve applied the finish over the surface, move on. Trying to improve the areas you’ve already worked on will only make it harder to achieve an even coat.
Finishing your woodworking projects doesn’t have to be difficult or complicated. While even the most experienced craftsmen run into difficulties from time to time, there are some ways to make the process less frustrating and more consistent. It’s also worth remembering that wood finishing starts before you pop the lid on your can of stain — using quality materials throughout the project is also crucial in getting stellar results.