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Understanding Wood Finishing by Bob Flexner (1994 edition)

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Review by Purrmaster posted 498 days ago 2051 views 2 times favorited 11 comments Add to Favorites Watch
Understanding Wood Finishing by Bob Flexner (1994 edition) No-picture-s No-picture-s Click the pictures to enlarge them

Please note: This is for the 1994 edition of the book.

I recently got this book and have now read it cover to cover. This is a fantastic book. I learned more from this book than everything else I’ve read on finishing.

The book covers pretty much all of the finishes you’d be putting on wood. Varnish, shellac, lacquer, oil, etc. The book isn’t so much a how to manual about how to apply the finishes (though there is enough of that). It’s more of a primer on the finishes and how they work. For example, water isn’t actually the solvent in water borne finishes. Glycol ether is. Water is the thinner.

He also has a chapter on pore filling as well as rubbing out finishes. There is also a short section on how to finish different common woods that often present a problem.

One thing I liked about this book is that Flexner takes a scientific, fact based approach to finishing. He debunks many common finishing myths, which is very helpful. For instance: Wax doesn’t protect wood against water and stains. What it does is make the surface more slippery and therefore slightly less prone to physical wear.

If I had to pick one book I’d use as my finishing bible, this is it. It doesn’t answer every and all questions but it comes close. I intend to use this as a baseline reference for finishing from now on.

This review is for the 1994 edition of the book. I’m getting the latest edition from the library and will update this review with any differences I find between the two versions.

Highly recommended.




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Purrmaster

773 posts in 594 days



11 comments so far

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Handtooler

1009 posts in 633 days


#1 posted 498 days ago

purrmaster, Thanks! I’ll also try to acquire one for my wife for Christmas, as she does finishing pretty well. And if it brings up a question that it doesn’t answer for you, please contact him at Poplar Woodworking Magazine. Megan Fitzpatrick the managing editor will pass the question to him and he;ll reply in detail usually within 48 hours. megan.fitzpatrick@fwmedia.com.

-- Russell Pitner Hixson, TN 37343 bassboy40@msn.com

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wunderaa

178 posts in 704 days


#2 posted 498 days ago

Favorited

Thanks for the review. I’ll have to check the book out. That sort of approach is right up my alley. I much prefer to understand the “why/how” behind things to better understand what’s going on.

Thanks!

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a1Jim

109317 posts in 2078 days


#3 posted 498 days ago

Thank you for your review .Bob’s book has been around for a long time and unfortunately is not up to date.Bob’s been know to miss on some subjects like saying “that cherry and maple will not blotch” Charles Neil is coming out with a new book just before Christmas that will be my choice for up to date information on modern finishes. I view Bob’s book on finishing as a kind a kind of high school class of finishing and Charles Neil’s a collage masters degree.

-- http://artisticwoodstudio.com Custom furniture

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NiteWalker

2310 posts in 1078 days


#4 posted 498 days ago

I’m getting Charles’ book too.

I have flexner’s (the updated one) and I don’t agree with all of his views. For instance, he says that waterborne finishes aren’t very mature or durable, both very false.

-- He who dies with the most tools... dies with the emptiest wallet.

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Ken90712

14500 posts in 1690 days


#5 posted 497 days ago

I have his newer addition that I did a review on as well.
http://lumberjocks.com/reviews/2138

One of the BEST woodworking books on finishing out there. Taught me so much and how to solve problems before its to late.
Nice review on this.

-- Ken, "Everyday above ground is a good day!"

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Purrmaster

773 posts in 594 days


#6 posted 497 days ago

In the 1994 edition I don’t recall Flexner saying water based finishes weren’t durable. He didn’t seem to have any preference for water or oil based finishes. I, myself, have generally preferred solvent based stuff.

I believe his choice for the most durable finishes was the cross linking ones. That is, finishes that not only dry but also change chemically by forming molecular bonds. As you can tell, I’m not a chemist.

Feel free to correct me.

I intend to get Mr. Neil’s book as well.

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BigDaddyO

90 posts in 1278 days


#7 posted 496 days ago

wow, seeing that book cover is a flash from the past. That was my text book back when I was in college in 96

-- www.bigdaddyoworkshop.com

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Rick M.

3384 posts in 881 days


#8 posted 483 days ago

If every woodworker read this book, 95% of finishing questions would never be asked. I don’t remember any bias against waterborne finishes although I haven’t read it cover to cover in a few years and I don’t remember anyone ever demonstrating any information in the book to be untrue. This is the only book I own on finishing and will probably be the only book on finishing I ever own because I’m not pushing any boundaries and it has covered everything I’ve wanted to know for the last 15+ years.

-- |Statistics show that 100% of people bitten by a snake were close to it.|

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Purrmaster

773 posts in 594 days


#9 posted 483 days ago

I’ve now read the updated version cover to cover. So I can comment on the comments.

He doesn’t say cherry and maple don’t blotch. In fact he specifically mentions issues with cherry and maple (among others) blotching.

As far as his being hard on water based finishes…. you’re right. I read through that section and he is much more critical of the water based finishes in the 2005 book than the 1994 book. Something which I found surprising considering that I would have thought water based finishes would have improved in the last 11 years.

I got the impression in that chapter that he was disappointed by the water base finishes. They were pretty new and not as widely used in 1994 (I think). I think Flexner had higher hopes of water finishes in 2005.

I’m speculating on a man’s thoughts though, so bear that in mind.

I think the 2005 book is overall better than the 1994 one in the sense there is more information in the 2005 version.

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Rick M.

3384 posts in 881 days


#10 posted 482 days ago

Thanks for the update. If I ever stumbled across a cheap ‘05 copy I’ll buy it for the new info. I typically only use 3 different finishes though: oil/wax, acrylic spray lacquer, & shellac; and I doubt much if anything has changed with those.

-- |Statistics show that 100% of people bitten by a snake were close to it.|

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Woodsurgin

30 posts in 1112 days


#11 posted 429 days ago

I received a call from Bob Flexner after I put in a comment in FWW’s letter’s to the editor about some finishing problems I had with water borne lacquer. He gave me a lot of advice and left the impression that this man knows what he is talking about. I went out and bought this book and have enjoyed advice that I can trust.

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