Wood Finishing

How to Stain and Finish Pine

 Staining pine woodworking projects is something almost every woodworker either has done or will do. Pine is such a lovely material to work with, it's easy on the tools, reasonably priced and available almost everywhere. If you have worked with pine you will probably agree one of the challenges of the wood is finishing it, particularly staining it.

One of the problems with Pine is that if often will not take stain evenly. When this happens it looks like the woodworker either made a mistake or didn't know what they were doing, which is not the case. The reason Pine often produces a mottled look when staining is characteristic of the wood it's elf. Here's the problem … often new wood is mixed with old wood when gluing boards together, and even within some boards there can be “figure” which means the grain structure changes direction or density. All of these problems manifest themselves in how the wood absorbs stain – hence mottling very often occurs.

Sadly it doesn't matter how much you sand or with what grits, there is nothing you can do mechanically to overcome this problem. It a factor of the wood, and because Pine is such a light colored wood it shows up more readily. But there is hope and there are solutions.

One of the easiest solutions comes from our friends a MINWAX in the form of their “Pre-Stain” product, which is a wood conditioner. What this product does is condition the wood to take stains more evenly. MINWAX Pre-Stain is available in both water based and oil based products. We found that while the water based product is designed to minimize grain being raised through the use of water, there still is some grain raising which means you will need to lightly sand after the pre-stain has been applied and is dry.

We did find with some woods we worked with that two coats of pre-stain was needed. We also discovered that when we used the pre-stain products, that the depth of stain was noticeably less. That is, the darkness of the stain we were looking for was subdued somewhat, obviously by the pre-stain.

All in all we were happy with the finished results. The project we were working on showed insignificant amounts of stain blotching, that most others would not notice, so if you are working with Pine, try pre-staining to get nice even staining.

Copyright Colin Knecht

Restoring Cedar Chest Aroma

My wife inherited an old cedar chest from her favorite aunt. It is a beautiful piece of furniture that is estimated to be over 60 years old, and all hand crafted. The only problem with the cedar chest is that it no longer has that wonderful aromatic smell. I looked high and low for products that would some how rejuvenate the wood and bring it back to it’ former aroma. I even tried a bit of cedar extra oil on a small part, but not only did it not work, the small amount of good it did only lasted a few days.

I was explaining my problem to a fellow woodworker and our annual summer picnic in the park when one of our “mature” woodworkers overheard our conversation. “Oh, he said, that’s simple, if you want to restore the sharp smell of cedar, just give it a light sanding, a 220 grit should be fine”. And that was all he said on the topic. I thought about what he had told me all the way home after the picnic. I didn’t even wait to unpack the car, I took the old cedar chest into the shop and began gently hand sanding. I was truly amazed at how little work it took to not only nicely re-finish the inside cedar, but restore the smell to what I’m sure must be the original smell of the cedar chest when it was constructed. I really need to thank this gentleman next time I see him for giving me such a simple solution to a baffling question.

 Copyright  Colin Knecht

Wood Preparation is Secret to Finishing Success

 Just bagged a bargain in unfinished furniture? Why not try staining it yourself? Finishing wood is satisfying and simple if you follow some basic guidelines.

"Nothing enhances the natural beauty of solid hardwood more than a good finish, and you don't have to be an expert woodworker to learn the basics," says Susan Regan, executive vice president of the Hardwood Information Center at www.hardwoodinfo.com. "Just remember that the first step is the most crucial. For the best results, take time to sand and prepare the wood very well."

Bruce Johnson, an author and expert on finishing wood, says the same steps can be followed for finishing virtually any interior wood, including doors, cabinets, windows, trim and furniture.

"Doing it yourself is rewarding, and it saves money," he says. With these tips from Johnson, you can make your do-it-yourself project a success............

Preparing The Wood

1. For old wood, start by stripping off the original finish. Buy a good stripper and carefully follow the manufacturer's instructions. Today's strippers do most of the work by loosening and removing the finish for you. Be gentle when you scrape the stripper off because the wood will have been softened temporarily.

2. Old or new, unfinished wood must be sanded. Working with the grain, use 120 grit sandpaper to gently remove scratches, blemishes and dents. Next use 180-grit paper until the surface is fingertip-smooth. For an especially smooth finish on the finest furniture, consider a final sanding with 220-grit paper.

3. An orbital sander will speed the work on large areas. Avoid belt sanders. Sanding blocks can be a big help. Buying three blocks, one for each type of sandpaper you use, can save time.

4. Use a tack rag to remove dust.

Choosing The Finish

1. Finishes come in a wide variety of natural wood tones and colors. Choose the tone you like to tie in with any color scheme.

2. You can buy water-based or oil-based stains . Water-based stains emit fewer fumes and typically dry in two to four hours. It's best to let oil-based stains dry overnight.

3. For best results, use products from the same company for a single project. Mixing brands could cause problems if the ingredients are incompatible.

4. Always test your stain on an inconspicuous spot on the piece you are finishing or on an extra piece of exactly the same wood. Make sure you sand this test area in the same way you will sand the final project. Allow the stain to remain on the sample for one to five minutes, depending on the look you want.

Applying The Finish

1. Some close-grained hardwoods -- like cherry, maple and birch – may develop blotches in the finish. This can be prevented by applying a coat of wood conditioner to help seal the largest pores in the wood and to ensure the stain will be absorbed evenly. (Use an oil-based conditioner if you will be applying an oil-based stain. Choose a water-based conditioner for water-based stains.)

2. Apply the stain by spraying, brushing or wiping on with a rag. Allow the stain to soak into the wood for the amount of time determined by your test. Wiping with the grain, remove any excess stain with a clean rag or towel.

3. When the stain is dry, brush on a clear top coat to provide protection. This coat should be water-based if the stain is water-based and oil-based if the stain is oil-based. Mix the can of top coat by moving a stirring stick in a figure-eight pattern. Do not shake the can because that will cause bubbles to form in the finish. Use a brush with synthetic bristles for water-based top coats. A natural bristle brush works best with oil-based finishes. Let this coating dry overnight.

4. Sand the first top coat very lightly with 220-grit sandpaper. Wipe off the dust with a tack cloth. Apply a second top coat. In most cases, two top coats is enough. Apply a third top coat for table tops or other surfaces subject to heavy wear.

Johnson, the author of "The Weekend Refinisher" and "The Wood Finisher," is a consultant to Minwax Co., the maker of wood finishing and maintenance products.

For more free information about installing and caring for hardwood products at home, contact the Hardwood Information Center, at www.hardwoodinfo.com, a service of the Hardwood Manufacturers Association, an industry trade group.

Linda Jovanovich

Finishing Q&A by Nordy Rockler

 Nordy Rockler founded Rockler Woodworking and Hardware in 1954. Over the last half century, Nordy has spent thousands of hours in the workshop, building projects and perfecting his finishing techniques. He's regarded as a finishing expert, and has developed a number of Rockler exclusive finishes. We recently met with Nordy to discuss the art of finishing and some of his favorite products.

Woodworkers often say that finishing is the part of the process they struggle with most. Do you share that struggle, and why do you think that is?
Nordy: Years ago it was more of a struggle because there wasn't a variety of good products available. In the earliest times a person would just use an oil pigment, wipe on stain, maybe a coat of shellac as a sealer, and then a varnish, which maybe took 24 hours or more to dry. Because it was so slow to dry you'd get a lot of dust particles settling in it. Today we have such a multitude of products available it is much simpler, especially once you get familiar with the products and use the ones you like. Finishing is the culmination of doing a project. You can put a lot of time and money into the material, and you can botch the whole thing with a bad finishing job. Finishing is a critical part of the whole project.

When did you develop such a strong interest in finishing?
Nordy: Well, when we started the business. Finishes are a crucial part of doing woodworking, so it was just sort of a natural process that I became interested in it. Through looking at various lines and talking to different salespeople, I learned a lot about finishing. I tested a lot of products, and I still am today. To keep on top of it, you really have to keep on trying them and testing them.

What is the main key in getting a great finish on a woodworking project?
Nordy: Two things. First of all, you have to be very patient; don't rush it. And the crucial thing is to test it on some scrap wood and make sure you get the desired effect you really want. Another reason for testing is you have a schedule of finishing materials; test them all the way through the whole process, from beginning to end, and you will get a really good feel for what the end result will be.

How do you decide which finish to put on a particular piece?
Nordy: The type of project really dictates what type of finish you put on it. If you're building cabinets or a bookcase, an oil-type finish is very simple and pleasing, and very easy to repair. I woudn't recommend an oil finish for a dining room table, because you need more protection. You need something harder, more durable, and waterproof. It all depends on what you're building. It also has to do with personal preference. Do you want a gloss, a semi-gloss, a flat finish? Does the piece need a lot of protection? Does the piece need to match another piece in the room? There's a lot of considerations.

 What are the benefits of shellac and Rockler's shellac kits?
Nordy: Shellac is a different type of material, and not necessarily used as a top coat. It's a multi-purpose product. It was very popular in the 1700s, and a lot of the antiques were finished with it because that was the only finish available at the time. It has its advantages. It dries very fast and gives you a nice appearance. But it does have its drawbacks. It is not completely water resistant, and it can be brittle. Sometimes it's the finish you have to use, especially for the furniture restoration people who want to get a piece as close to the original as possible. The pre-mixed stuff you buy off the shelf in a hardware store has a limited shelf life. It's usually only good for six months after you open it up. If you buy shellac in flake form you can mix it yourself very easily just by mixing with denatured alcohol in different proportions. If you want to use it for a sealer, or wash coat, you use a thin solution, what they call a two-pound cut shellac. If you're using it as a top coat or finish you want it a little thicker, you want a four-pound cut. We came up with our new shellac kit because we had previously been selling it by the pound, which is a lot of shellac flake for the average consumer. So we packaged it into a smaller 2 oz. size, and they can make a two-, three- or four-pound cut, whichever they want, and it has a graduated scale on the container showing what proportions of denatured alcohol to shellac to use. It simplified the use of it. We're also going to be offering it in a half-pound container.

On what projects does a woodworker want to use a polyurethane gel?
Nordy: You can use it anywhere you want a very nice urethane finish. Urethanes give you a hard, durable, tough and, in most cases, waterproof finish. A lot of people prefer the gel type for application as opposed to the liquid type you have to brush on. It's just a question of personal taste.

 When did you develop a relationship with Sam Maloof, who is regarded as one of this country's greatest woodworking craftsmen?
Nordy: I met Sam about 20 years ago at the Southern California Woodworkers Association. They had a big event. That was the first time I met him, and I visited his home, which is really like a museum. He's a great collector himself. He collects Navajo rugs, and he collects pottery. He used to trade some of his stuff for Navajo rugs and pottery. We have a nice relationship. Rockler packages Sam's poly/oil finish. The mere fact Sam Maloof still uses it gives credence to the product.

Another highly-regarded finishing expert is Michael Dresdner. How did you meet him?
Nordy: I knew him because of his work. He's a very popular writer and has written a couple of books. I met him a few years ago at a trade show. We sell his books and he writes articles for Woodworker's Journal. He's a contributing editor to our finishing department.

 WunderCote, a water-based, wipe-on polyurethane finish, is one of Rockler's newest products. What are the benefits of WunderCote?
Nordy: It's so easy to use. It's in a flip-top bottle, and you just pour it out and use a foam rubber brush over the surface. It dries in about 20 or 30 minutes, although our label says one or two hours. It doesn't require much sanding (with 220 grit paper) between coats, then you can re-coat it. I've done that in half an hour after I applied. it. What's nice about a water-based polyurethane is it doesn't smell, it's not carcinogenic to the user and harmful to the environment. It drys faster, is very easy to apply, and easy to clean up. What's different about our finish is others tend to have a plastic look to them when they're finished. Ours has a slightly amber cast to it so it looks more like a varnish finish.

Is there anything else you'd like to add about the finishing process?
Nordy: Like any skill or acquired labor, the worst part is fear of doing it. Half the battle is just trying it. There's such an abundance of products out there that there's something for everybody. There's just no end to products. There should be something anybody can apply for a very professional-looking finish.

We're constantly on the lookout for new products that we're testing. We try to have a real wide selection on the internet and in our stores. Usually in each store there's someone that specializes in finishing, and then we have classes at our stores. Mostly it's getting up the nerve to try it and getting used to the products you're using. In a lot of cases it's fun, especially when you have a beautiful project and you want to put the finishing touch on it that enhances the whole project.