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.