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Finishing #1: The Big Mean World of Finishing

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Blog entry by Scott Parsons posted 02-03-2009 05:59 AM 931 reads 4 times favorited 8 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Finishing series Part 2: Backpeddle and Onward »

I’ve been thinking about what I do for a living and how I came to the level of finishing that I’m at. I’m what I would call a Modernist Finisher. I use whatever I can to make my job more efficient, cheaper and pursue better quality. A lot of people will say that these three things don’t go well with each other and I guess that’s true for some things in life. What else is true in life is balance and with proper balance the finishing process can be all of these things.
I’ve wanted to compile my thoughts on finishing for awhile and this seems a good place to do it.

My experience in finishing leans heavily on the water-borne lacquer medium which is a spray-only product. I use it on everything. Even stained projects.
I can see the eyes rolling already :)

I’ll start with the staining because it’s likely to be more pertinent to this community.
First thing is the product itself. I use oils almost exclusively. A child could use this stuff.
Open the can, stir it, slop it on the project. The thing to remember is that it’s not how the stain goes on it’s how it’s wiped off that shows what level of care is used.
Need a custom colour? Take your sample to a professional tinter and that way you are sure it’s right. This is where the balance comes in. Pay for the right colour and don’t mess around with mixing stains on your own unless you’re good at it.

Oil stain can vary quite a bit from brand to brand and quality is obvious. Depending on the overall look you want will dictate the brand needed after some experience with various companies.

Minwax tends to be watery and can leave a project looking slightly hungry for colour. I like Minwax though for lighter toned projects.

Goudy stains are expensive and heavily pigmented. A little experience helps with conserving the product and also in avoiding a too dark look.

Gel stains are fun to work with but can also be a pain in the neck if you’re dealing with large surface areas. This stuff is difficult to rub off if it’s left to get tacky. Not fun.

Water stains require some patience and the more experience in colour application the better. This stuff penetrates the wood aggressively and can leave a very rich look. The only thing is it has a tendency to discolour over time. Also it is not a very forgiving stain at all. Overlapping can become quite apparent if not done carefully.

The other part of staining is the dyeing of the wood if a particular colour is required. I’m very often required to change the original colour of the wood before staining. I use a NGR (non grain raising). They come in a large variety of colours and are extremely easy to use but require restraint and a little practice.
This stuff is toxic and the viscosity is so thin that even a slight movement can send it splashing around like there’s an earthquake. It can be rubbed on small things but will show overlap on any surface without fail if not sprayed. It dries almost instantaneously so be sure of where it’s going, It’s solvent is lacquer thinner.

After the products to be used have been chosen it’s time to check out the wood.
Has it been sanded before assembly? I hope so if not get to work and be careful of cross grain scratching in the corners.

I’m going to talk a bit about sanding. Different shops have different standards. There’s no reason to scoff at a shop that sands all surfaces with 120 with random orbitals and consider that finished just as much as there is no reason to scoff at the shop that sands to 600 by hand. The law of balance can be brought in to determine the correct amount of sanding to be used. I’m in an environment that requires the project to be sanded to 120 to 220. The mentality behind this is that the client has absolutely no idea that a project has to be sanded at all and could maybe tell if we used a 40grit. But it’s important to sand to clear up defects and prepare for finishing. Not only that but it does look good.
Another shop I worked for required we sanded everything (undersides as well) to 400 to 600. I enjoyed that very much as I enjoy sanding immensely plus I got paid for it. You can guess which shop was the fine furniture and which is the custom cabinetry. Both have their place and require different balance. My side projects for clients get sanded thoroughly and all exposed surfaces are brought down to 600 mainly because I don’t use stains unless specifically requested. I do enough covering of wood’s natural beauty during the day that I like to do the opposite on my own projects.

I think I’ll go on to wood prep another day.
This is a great process for me and I’m sure I’ll gain insight to grow and better myself.



8 comments so far

View dennis mitchell's profile

dennis mitchell

3994 posts in 3034 days


#1 posted 02-03-2009 06:05 AM

Good info…water based lacquer still scares me. That might be my cabinet background.

View Scott Parsons's profile

Scott Parsons

38 posts in 2121 days


#2 posted 02-03-2009 06:16 AM

What stunning work you’ve done Dennis. I absolutely am drawn to the organic quality.
Don’t be scared of the water base….embrace it!! :) It’s amazing stuff but will leave projects looking
somewhat artificial but that’s not unlike old-school lacquer.

View mmh's profile

mmh

3463 posts in 2442 days


#3 posted 02-03-2009 08:59 AM

Interesting info. I’m still learning to use different finishes on my canes. My first experience was using Minwax tung oil that has some poly in it. I managed to get a thick, glassy coat that was quite beautiful. Little did I know that the product was really quite thick from age, but it worked. Problem is that it can wear down with use, but I like the deeper penetration it seems to give to show off the wood grain than the higher poly formulas like Waterlox. I’m still quite green in this area, so comments are welcome.

Hey, how about some project photos????

-- "They who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night." ~ Edgar Allan Poe

View Moron's profile

Moron

4704 posts in 2613 days


#4 posted 02-03-2009 04:11 PM

I tried the post cat water based lacquer from the italian mfg “Ilva”...............and was very impressed albeit I really doubt that the word “water” makes it any less toxic in its atomized state, the nitrocellulose lacquer. The stuff stunk really bad. That and whatever you catalize is “toast” if you dont use it up. Its upside is the waste hardens and you can dump it into a landfiill, none of the endless govt paperwork for getting rid of toxic waste. It was also really easy to do touch up, burn an area that needs more lacquer with out having to do the whole piece again. it also never cracks along a joint line,ie., panel to frame when using solid colours. water proof, stain proof…..................but too much waste for a small potatoe like me and somewhat time consuming when mixing it and cleaning up.

Its just my opinion but there is as much to learn about finishing as there is to learn about joinery or for that matter quantum physics and as much can go wrong as go right.

Good Old CC40 is on the menu today

-- "Good artists borrow, great artists steal”…..Picasso

View Scott Parsons's profile

Scott Parsons

38 posts in 2121 days


#5 posted 02-03-2009 05:55 PM

CC40 is the most common colour here too…good old Cloud White! :)

The water borne Lacquer I use is from M.L.Campbell and is pre-catalyzed, doesn’t harden when being stored and has no odour. This stuff is magic, I can get as many coats on a project in a day as I want, usually three or four but sometimes six. I also use a primer specific for this product but is good for pretty much anything. I think the lacquer is called Polystar. They also provide a clear coat as well. These products seriously reduce shop time without a noticeable change in quality.

By the way Roman, your work looks great and the Kitchen project from hell sounds just awful!

View dennis mitchell's profile

dennis mitchell

3994 posts in 3034 days


#6 posted 02-03-2009 07:20 PM

I guess my real concern is durability in a kitchen. Being burned twice by paint salesmen (precats) I tend to stick with the conversion varnish. I know it will stand up.

View Moron's profile

Moron

4704 posts in 2613 days


#7 posted 02-03-2009 09:21 PM

I’ve been quite happy with the Becker Acroma lacquers and also their stains and in particular, their “Stain/Glaze” stains. Keeping the primary colours and a few like raw sienna, burnt umber, white, black, in Universal fine grind tints….....................I mix my own stains.

The Faccett Lacquer is almost water proof, the only thing that can stain it is mustard, acid resistant, alcohol resitant and is stackable after 2 hours, ready to scuff after 15 minutes. Comes from flat 5 degree right up to high gloss….....................I couldnt be happier with the product.

-- "Good artists borrow, great artists steal”…..Picasso

View Scott Parsons's profile

Scott Parsons

38 posts in 2121 days


#8 posted 02-03-2009 11:56 PM

Becker is a fantastic company but I guess my employer found it easier to get hold of the Campbell product. Pretty much the same product. I had a chance to work with a rep from both companies to learn about their products. Tons of fun. I’ll have to get the name of a new product out that’s supposed to be totally “green”.
What I’m really curious about is mixing your own stains. Is it cheaper than off the shelf stains and can a colour be recreated consistently for different clients?

Dennis, for the most part kitchens that we do usually get granite counters or laminates. The rest of the cabinetry is sprayed with the lacquer I mentioned and so far we’ve received no complaints over the last 5 years since we’ve switched.

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