Greene & Greene Magazine Rack - my "own" design #8: Doing the finish on the case and shelves, case assembly

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Blog entry by Mike_D_S posted 06-22-2016 03:22 AM 1261 reads 1 time favorited 8 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 7: Making the Blacker style leg indents and fitting the center panel dividers. Part 8 of Greene & Greene Magazine Rack - my "own" design series Part 9: Double disasters.... and recovery ending with assembled case »

So I got busy, but have been doing some work in bits and pieces. The first thing was normally I assemble and then stain, but with all the small ledges and the inset panels on the side, I decided to do some of the finish work first and then assemble. I stained all the pieces and put on two coats of wipe on poly on the inset panels. This way, if the panels shift a little at some point, there won’t be any unstained wood peaking out.

I also did a dry fit prior to putting on the dye stain and found my first real issue. Due to stock widths, the inset panels are actually 3/8” narrower than planned. Originally, the plans called for a 1/2 dado in the sides to hold the panels and provide plenty of glue area for the tenons for the top and bottom rails on the side. But because I’m a genius and forgot the inset panels were about 3/8” narrower, instead of cutting the dados in two passes, one 3/8” deep and then deepening the top and bottoms to the full 1/2” for the tenons, the inset panels can actually slide over enough to allow a small gap on one side. So I ripped some small strips and glued them into the dados with a few pin nails to hold them. Nobody will every know but me (and all of you I guess) but the fit is now perfect and the panels have just a tiny bit of wiggle room for expansion.

So here is a couple of shots of the parts with the dye stain on them. Sorry for the dark shot, but it was late.

Once the initial poly coats on the inset panels dried, I went ahead and did the glue ups on the case sides.

They are starting to look nice. You can’t really tell from the pics, but the small round over on the edges really makes a nice look. After letting the glue dry on the sides, I then went ahead and glued up the front and rear rails, being careful to keep the case straight and as square as I could get it.

Once I set that aside I started on the shelves. I had previously glued the shelves up, so I cut the to final length and width, then I notched the corners to sit in the case. I don’t have a pic, but previously I had drilled a few shelf pin holes in the leg interior for shelf supports.

Following the basic shelf sizing, I then was ready to do the waterfall on the shelf sides for the top two shelves. One of the things some of the bigger Greene and Greene bookcases have is a shelf where the front edge is thinned by cutting a waterfall detail on the bottom of the shelf front. This allows the use of a thick shelf for structural support, but provides a lighter more delicate look from the front of a thinner shelf. I rigged up my router table (see my other blog for my DIY table saw router extension which i recently finished) with a 1/4 round nose bit and cut two slots, one 1/8” deep about 2 1/2” back from the front and then a second 1/4” deep about 1 1/4” from the front. Then I installed a 1/2” spiral upcut bit and took out the wood to level out each part of the waterfall detail to the deepest part of the slots I made. This left a nice rounded detail at the transition and I broke the sharp edge with a sanding block by hand.

It’s not my best work, but it does have the desired effect of making the shelf look thinner and more delicate from the front. It’s kind of had to see in the front edge shot, but you can sort of tell the difference between the front of the shelf and the back of the shelf off to the side.

So after getting all this done, I started applying coats of poly. I’m planning on 4 coats of wipe on for the case and shelves, then I’ll give them a couple coats of lacquer to finish up. The two upper shelfs are supported by shelf pins and the lower shelf will sit on some ply runners for support. I’ll also install a couple of small rails for the top attachment using Z clips.

The next task is to finish up the top. I have the top glued up, but haven’t done the final sizing and fitting of the breadboard ends. Then I have to install the ebony details on the top and do the final finish. I’m hoping to be done this weekend.

Thanks for looking and the nice comments.

-- No honey, that's not new, I've had that forever......

8 comments so far

View abie's profile


812 posts in 3190 days

#1 posted 06-22-2016 02:57 PM

I Especially like the photo details to show us how its done..

I’ve done G&G before but alway appreciate new details

This is why I view LJ’s work almost daily
many thanks.

-- Bruce. a mind is like a book it is only useful when open.

View GR8HUNTER's profile


979 posts in 132 days

#2 posted 06-22-2016 03:09 PM

very smart staining panels first I have already seen stained panels shrink and no stain there GREAT JOB looks very nice


View Mean_Dean's profile


4932 posts in 2567 days

#3 posted 06-23-2016 12:23 AM

Looks like she’s coming along very nicely! You’re really doing some fine work on this project, and I’m looking forward to seeing the finished magazine rack!

By the way, I’m curious why the lacquer over the wiping varnish? I’ve always thought that a nice semi-gloss varnish looks great, so I’m curious if you just like the look of lacquer better.

-- Dean

View Mike_D_S's profile


172 posts in 1634 days

#4 posted 06-23-2016 01:29 AM


Well a few reasons. First, I find it difficult to get a nice smooth finish with the wiping varnish, so I always have to do some final light smoothing of the wipe on poly. Then when I top coat with spray lacquer, I find it easier to get a really nice final coat with the spray lacquer.

Secondly, I find it easier to build the finish on these really open pore woods with the wipe-on poly. I’ve recently stopped doing grain raising and going straight to the water base dye stain then two coats of poly before I do my first real smoothing. With the penetration of the dye and two coats of poly, I can moderately aggressively sand back the poly to get a nice smooth finish without any worry about getting down into the wood. I can build a decent finish with the spray lacquer, but I’m still working on my spray technique, so if I make any mistakes, it’s more of a disaster with the heavier coats. If go poly first and then top coat with the lacquer I can go lighter with the lacquer and my final look is much more consistent. I also like that the lacquer dries fast, so my final coats are less likely to pick up dust, etc.

I also think the lacquer is a little more water resistant and in Houston condensation on glasses can create a fairly decent puddle. While this piece is not intended to be an end table, it will be close to the couch, so I’m assuming someone will put a glass on it sooner or later.

On the gloss, I also like semi-gloss. I usually use a satin wipe on and then top coat with semi-gloss or gloss to bring the shine up. In this case, I had a can of Arm-R-Seal in semi-gloss, so I’m using that. At the end I may actually tone it down a bit depending on how it looks at the end.

But, with all that being said, finishing is by far my worst skill. I’m just smart enough to get a decent color if staining and open a can and wipe on a finish, but not much more. Moving to HVLP lacquer spraying was a big change for me and I’m still getting used to it. When I find something that works I tend to stick to it slavishly.


-- No honey, that's not new, I've had that forever......

View rhybeka's profile


2606 posts in 2541 days

#5 posted 06-23-2016 01:54 AM

Neat looking rack, Mike! it’s coming along nicely! I’m with you on the finishing – it’s one of my most in need of improvement skills!

-- Beka/Becky - aspiring jill of all trades, still learning to not read the directions.

View Mean_Dean's profile


4932 posts in 2567 days

#6 posted 06-23-2016 04:19 AM

Mike, thanks again for a very informative reply!

So, continuing on:

Interesting that you gave up pre-raising the grain before applying the dye. I learned to raise the grain, knock it back, raise it again, knock it back again—then apply the dye. And it’s true that doing this will prevent quite a bit of grain raising by the dye (but not all.) Then I read an article by Bob Flexner in one of the magazines, (a true guru of finishing, by the way!), and he wrote that he no longer bothers with raising the grain. He just finish sands, applies the dye, and then applies a couple of coats of wiping varnish, then sands smooth, before topcoating—almost exactly what you’re doing. Did you read his article and got the idea?

To me, this sounds like a hell of a lot less work! So between him and you, I’ll going to try this on my next project. It’ll be with shellac rather than wiping varnish, but the principle should still apply.

By the way, if you are getting dust nibs with wiping varnish (and by wiping varnish, I mean full-strength oil-based poly, thinned 50% with mineral spirits) try applying the varnish, let it sit for 2-3 minutes, then wipe off the excess. It’s a slower build, but it just about eliminates the dust nibs. I still sand slightly between coats, and then after the final coat, polish it with a brown paper bag (Flexner again), to get a silky-smooth finish.

-- Dean

View Mike_D_S's profile


172 posts in 1634 days

#7 posted 06-23-2016 12:14 PM


The no grain raise strategy is not my own invention, I definitely read it somewhere and it could very possibly have been in Flexner’s book, which I do have.

I don’t get too many dust nibs (though the occasional mosquito is still a joy), but my poly surface is not glass smooth either. The wipe on levels out pretty well, so I shouldn’t make it seem like it’s terrible, but I tend to have high expectations of myself. So anything less than glass smooth gets a low rating. I try to keep things moderately level and lightly sand between coats if I get a ridge or serious imperfection. But after the last coat of poly I focus on getting it nice and smooth then going over the top with the lacquer produces a nice level finish usually.

The reality is I’ll spend 50% of my finishing time getting the shelves, case and any other pieces to a level of pretty good and then spend the last 50% getting the top to a really nice finish. I follow the lazy man’s logic that it’s likely no one will ever examine the shelves all that closely and they won’t get raking light, so I don’t obsess too much. But the top however will be seen from many angles, have all kinds of light directions and be touched by many fingertips. So if I can get an A+ finish on the top, then the rest of the piece just has to be B+.

I find I always have to fight the “it could be better” impulse. Early on I scrapped a few pieces and had to do some major refinishing on a couple due to trying to get to the “perfect” color or finish level. So I would sand back a little too aggressively or make some other mistake and end up way worse off than if I had just accepted the minor imperfection. As I do more and more pieces and even when I’ve asked for direct critiques, I’ve come to the realization that the things that can drive me insane about a piece are just not going to matter to 99% of people.


-- No honey, that's not new, I've had that forever......

View finns's profile


99 posts in 2536 days

#8 posted 06-24-2016 12:16 AM

Looks great. I like the design… a nice balance with G&G. Looking forward to completion.

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