Canadian Woodworking

Top 10 Small Shop Finishing Tips

With the right approach, applying a gorgeous finish isn’t that hard. These 10 finishing tips will get you started in the right direction.

1. Do some research

Whether it’s reading books and magazines or talking with experienced finishers, learn the science behind wood finishing. Learning the basics of why and how you finish wood is an important first step.

2. Learn proper sanding technique

No finish will be beautiful if the wood isn’t sanded properly. It’s more than just starting with a coarse grit and moving to a finer grit. Realizing that machine and hand sanding work hand in hand, as well as how to deal with end grain, different wood species and many other finer points of sanding will pay off down the road.

3. Make sample boards

This is where you can see how a specific finish will look on a specific species of wood, before ruining a project. Different finishes create different looks depending on the wood they’re on, how figured the wood is and many other factors. Just because a finish looks good on one species doesn’t mean it will look good on another.

4. Experiment

Like science, great things happen when you least expect them. Layering different colours, applying different top-coats over those colours, using different application approaches and using different faux finishing techniques can provide you with a great-looking project.

5. Keep the dust down

Not many small shops have dedicated finishing rooms, so clean up as best as you can before applying a finish. Dust can quickly ruin an otherwise beautiful finish.

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6. Cover your machines if spraying

Overspray gets airborne if it’s not properly dealt with, and will come to rest on horizontal machinery surfaces, where it will cure. Cutting thin sheet stock to fit nicely on machine surfaces or covering the entire machine with a sheet are two ways to quickly protect your machinery.

7. Finish before assembly sometimes

Applying a finish to inside surfaces and corners can be difficult, and it often leaves you with a less-than-satisfactory look and feel. Though it takes a bit of planning and some patience to hold off on assembling your project, it may pay off in the long run. Smaller, flat pieces are much easier to finish.

8. Don’t rush it

Finishes need time to dry, and working against these timelines creates a finish with poor adhesion; it leaves you with a poorer surface. Once dry, a topcoat can be easily sanded smooth with fine sandpaper. Also, don’t rub out the final coat of finish with extra fine abrasives until it has had adequate time to fully cure.

9. ‘Finish’ the finish

When used properly, steel wool, wet-dry sandpaper and other very fine abrasives allow you to create an incredibly smooth, almost glass-like, surface on a project. This approach should be practiced with some sample boards. Be especially careful around edges and corners, as this is where you can abrade through a finish easily.

10. Perfect three finishes

There are many options when it comes to choosing a finish, but don’t get frustrated because you don’t know them all. Start by getting comfortable with applying three different types of finishes first. This way you can likely apply one of them to most of your finished projects.
If a situation arises where you have to adjust your approach, do some research, create a sample panel, then enjoy the new look you have in your finishing arsenal.

Rob Brown - [email protected]

Rob is a studio furniture maker and the editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement. Instagram at @RobBrownTeaches

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