Dovetail Box #19: Is This a Finishing Problem?

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Blog entry by Eric posted 06-21-2008 06:09 AM 1348 reads 0 times favorited 8 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 18: Finishing the Box Part 19 of Dovetail Box series Part 20: Finishing Fun »

So I’m working on finishing my wife’s Mothers Day box. I went with Marc’s varnish/oil/mineral spirits blend (1 part each), but as I was applying the first coat I saw that there was something all solidified in my mixture, and it wouldn’t blend with the rest. I went ahead and finished the coat and emailed Marc for his take. He thought that maybe the varnish had already cured, so I went and bought some new varnish. No problems on this batch.

So after applying a second coat, I really like the rich color that the wood is taking on. However, there are some spots on the surface that appear dull. I’m not sure what’s causing it. And I don’t know if I can fix it on the next coat or if I have to sand it down a little more to go back a coat or two and start over. Here’s a pic of the top. I think you can see what I’m talking about, near the bottom left of the center panel (click to zoom):

Two Coats - dull spots

Is this something that will fix itself as the finish cures? It was sitting for about 16-20 hours after the second coat before I took this picture.

-- Eric at

8 comments so far

View EduWood's profile


57 posts in 3656 days

#1 posted 06-21-2008 06:54 AM

It’s hard to know for sure, but are you sanding between coats? I would suggest a light sanding or steel wool then assessing. I like the look ….. good luck.

-- David, O.C., California

View Dorje's profile


1763 posts in 4025 days

#2 posted 06-21-2008 08:24 AM

Hard to tell – but just looks like a spot that will absorb more finish than the rest. May have more to do with the wood than the finish…

-- Dorje (pronounced "door-jay"), Seattle, WA

View matter's profile


210 posts in 3798 days

#3 posted 06-21-2008 12:21 PM

When I’m building finish, I always wool between coats with #0000.

This is especially true with rubbed finishes because as is stated above, some spots absorb more than others, the wool helps prevent too much finish from building in the less porous/more dense areas and making it look “plastic-ey”

-- The only easy wood project is a fire

View tenontim's profile


2131 posts in 3773 days

#4 posted 06-21-2008 02:16 PM

Also remember that you’re not leaving much on the piece. Put on a coat and wipe it off. Your rag should slide over the surface without catching or dragging. It usually takes about 3 -4 coats before you even start to get much of a gloss on the surface. You are using gloss finish varnish, right? If not, you will have the flatteners int the varnish to contend with.

View teenagewoodworker's profile


2727 posts in 3797 days

#5 posted 06-21-2008 02:48 PM

it might have dried. I’ve had some Arm-r-Seal sitting around for like 6 months now and its starting to dry in the can. It might have dried if it wasn’t sealed enough. i had that problem once with some varnish.

View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8901 posts in 4128 days

#6 posted 06-21-2008 04:46 PM

I used some old finish once and I had a similar problem in my early days of experimenting with finishes. I don’t know if it is exactly the same problem and I can’t remember the exact finish either, but the issue was that it did not dry completely.

In general, all finishes seem to have their own specific problems if you use them after storing too long.

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8901 posts in 4128 days

#7 posted 06-21-2008 04:49 PM

I forgot to tell you, I made my recovery by flooding the surface with lacquer thinner. This effectively stripped the thin finish and I started over.

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

View thewoodwhisperer's profile


604 posts in 4212 days

#8 posted 06-23-2008 06:48 PM

Hey Eric. You know, I typed up a big long response to this the other day while I was eating lunch in a local cafe, and for some reason my reply isn’t showing up! Damn you Paradise Cafe and your Roasted Tomato Soup!!!!

Anyway, here’s the short version. Tenontim is right on. What you are seeing is the fact that the wood is still absorbing much of your finish. This usually happens with the first two coats and by the third, you really start building a film. Now if a film is your goal, I might make a couple suggestions. First, change the formula to straight wiping varnish. At this point, the oil isn’t going to offer you very much. The wiping varnish on the other hand, will give you complete control over the look, feel, and amount of protection, one light coat at a time. A second suggestion would be to avoid gloss on that piece. Maybe its just me, but high gloss on woods with wide open pores can look….......funny. Its hard to explain. I guess its because with gloss, the eye expects to see a smooth uninterrupted surface. And with all those grain and pore pockets, the flow is distrupted. So I would highly recommend rubbing the finish back to a satin or at least semi-gloss (if that’s the path you are headed on). You could also just switch to a satin formula for your final coat or two.

Well good luck my friend. Let’s hope this reply shows up!


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