Kitchen Island Project #6: Why didn't I pre-finish?

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Blog entry by Jim posted 07-05-2009 06:02 PM 1761 reads 1 time favorited 6 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 5: Doors are installed Part 6 of Kitchen Island Project series Part 7: Kickback up close and personal »

Another LJ asked: Do you have reason for doing the assembly before applying the finish?

Yes, i did give that option some thought and here are my reasons for not finishing prior to assembly.

1. There are no “plans” for this project. I am designing as I go. As a result it’s not possible to pre-cut all my pieces, apply finish and then assemble.

2. Without plans I avoid measuring cuts as much as possible, I use the already assembled parts to transfer my marks for cutting. As an example if I’m going to cut a piece of trim, I don’t pull out a tape and measure the length, transfer the measurement to my piece, then cut. When i do that, often the workshop gremlins change the numbers on my ruler around because even though i measure twice and cut once … the piece still ends up too short. Instead I take the trim to the already assembled part where it will be installed and mark off the cuts. I find that approach is better for me with fewer errors. As a result of this there is no big stack of pieces all neatly cut to size. I cut as i build so to pre-finish means I would have to work with a can of finish by my side the whole time. I would also have to wait for the finish to dry on that part before moving onto the next part. With this project, that means I would be done in spring of 2034!

3. I’ve not had a lot of success with finishing prior to assembly. On projects where I’ve tried this, the finished pieces get coated in dust, get scratched or dinged while being knocked around in the shop. This means they need to have the finish cleaned or repaired after assembly. Dust in the finish has also been a problem for me when pre-finishing. I hate finishing so I don’t want to do it twice!

4. When you prefinish you have to be very careful not to get finish on the joinery surfaces. I tend to forget that part and end up with finish on some joints which means a fix or replacement of the part.

5. In this project we want to showcase the natural beauty of the oak so we won’t be using any stain. The final finish will likely be a natural danish oil which will be easy to apply after assembly.

I understand the advantages of finish before assembly and applaud those who do. However for me, as a general rule I sand to final grit, then assemble with finish applied last. Having said that i should add, with some projects, I will finish certain parts prior to assembly. This is the case when it would be difficult to access the area or awkward apply the finish afterwards, especially if using stain. An example of this is the interior of small boxes or areas with tight corners such as the interior of a bookcase.

I’m sure there are LJ’s who wouldn’t do it this way, but for me, pre-finishing wasn’t an option with this project.

Hope that answers the question.


-- Jim in Langley BC Canada ---

6 comments so far

View a1Jim's profile


117091 posts in 3577 days

#1 posted 07-05-2009 06:12 PM

Hey Jim
I agree with your approach prefinishing makes the whole project go smoother and for a better project.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View Don K.'s profile

Don K.

1075 posts in 3326 days

#2 posted 07-05-2009 06:13 PM

Good answer a Jim, I have and do it both ways…totally depending on the project at hand. Each has its advantages and disadvantages and must be taken into account for each project separately

-- Don S.E. OK

View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8901 posts in 4099 days

#3 posted 07-05-2009 06:15 PM

I often prefinish but do not take it to the final coat. I only apply the finish with the intention of sealing the surface or setting myself up so that I only need to add the final coat after assembly. This pulls it together visually and allows me to make any marks or scratches disappear that occurred during assembly.

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27250 posts in 3821 days

#4 posted 07-05-2009 07:07 PM

Jim, I have to agree with your philosophy. Finish is the last step in my woodworking routine. On rare occasions, such as a raised panel, I will apply some finish as a sealer but, as you said in 2, pre-finishing has invariably led to problems during the assembly process.

-- Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful- Joshua Marine

View woodworm's profile


14468 posts in 3590 days

#5 posted 07-05-2009 08:11 PM

Thanks Jim for answering my question.
I like your reason no #2. Me too have problem with reading the number on the ruler, memorize it and then transfer it onto the workpiece – silly error like 32cm read as 23cm is common. So I used to use story stick, as in your case the assembled part is your story stick.

Actually, I asked you this particular question because I have a 2-door cabinet project on hand which is still unfinished & unassembled. I’ve been thinking which should go first. If I assemble it first, the finishing work of the inside of the cabinet may not be easy and neat. Does the finish of the inside portion of a cabinet need to be very neat anyway? I don’t know, maybe you and other LJs here have the answer.

And again thank you Jim for addressing my question.

-- masrol, kuala lumpur, MY.

View Jim's profile


253 posts in 3644 days

#6 posted 07-05-2009 09:11 PM

You’re welcome Woodworm. You mean I’m not the only one who has workshop gremlins. The story stick or real world measurement also avoids those wonderful measurements like 22 5/32 + a smidge :-)

I’m no expert, there are LJ’s here far more competent with finishing than I am but those are my reasons for this particular project. I usually do pre-finish the parts that make up the inside of a cabinet. If I try to finish after assembly, I typically end up with a congealed blob of finish tucked tightly into the corners. If you try to clean it out you end up messing up the flat surfaces adjacent to the corner. Then you clean up the flat surfaces and end up with goop in the corner again … it’s a viscous circle :-)

-- Jim in Langley BC Canada ---

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