Sitting Bench Step Stool #3: The Finish!

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Blog entry by thewoodwhisperer posted 07-20-2012 05:21 PM 5762 reads 5 times favorited 6 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 2: Top, Stretcher, and Assembly Part 3 of Sitting Bench Step Stool series no next part

It’s time for everyone’s favorite topic: finishing!
I plan on using polyurethane to finish my Sitting Bench Step Stool, and this time, I’m not going to use an expensive specialty varnish. Instead, I’m making my own wiping varnish by diluting some good old Minwax Polyurethane 50/50 with mineral spirits. But before I apply the poly, I need to apply a single coat of Zinsser Bullseye SealCoat Dewaxed Shellac as a sealer. This is a good precautionary measure for just about any wood as the shellac seals off any impurities or oils on the surface. But if you happen to be using a naturally oily wood (many exotics fall into this category), this is a necessary step when using an oil-based varnish topcoat. If you don’t do this, the oil-based finish will have difficulty curing.

A Finishing Strategy
No matter what finish you use, the first coat is usually very forgiving. The wood is so thirsty that you aren’t likely to see any drips, runs, or streaks. So that’s why the first coat is the perfect time to establish your finishing strategy. Years ago, I created a DVD called A Simple Varnish Finish. The board I used for demonstration was nice and flat and as a result, the first question most people ask after viewing the DVD is “What about curved surfaces and assembled pieces of furniture?”. So to help fill in that gap, I decided to use the Sitting Bench Step Stool to demonstrate my personal strategy. Which part get’s finish first, second, and so on?

Two Rules
There are really only two rules that I like to keep in mind during this process. First, is to finish the least visible parts first. As you apply finish to any piece of furniture, there will always be a chance for drips, runs, and even finger prints to find their way into the finish. So if I leave my “show surfaces” for last, I can be absolutely sure that the most visible surfaces look perfect. If a secondary surface has a slight flaw, it isn’t nearly as big of a deal. So in the case of this project, the underside is where I start.

The second rule I follow is to follow the finish. As you apply finish to any particular piece, let’s say the stool’s leg, you are bound to get finish on the connecting parts. So pick the part that seems to have the most finish on it already and start applying your finish there next. Since every piece of a project tends to connect to another piece of the project, you can simply move from piece to piece by “following the finish”. If you work quickly enough, you should be able to blend all of the parts seamlessly.

As with any project, you’ll want to sand between coats with a high grit paper and remove the dust with a vacuum or a damp cloth.

Finishing the Finish
Let’s face it folks: our shops are terrible places for wood finishing! As much as we might try to keep things clean, there will always be dust in the air and our finishes will inevitably have grit and nibs in them. So we need a way to smooth the final finish so that the end result is a silky surface that just begs to be touched. The secret is an old technique called rubbing out. The idea is to use fine abrasive compounds to get rid of any imperfections. But instead of using abrasive compounds and a ton of elbow grease, I have a quick and dirty method that still produces fantastic results. The secret is to use high grit abrasive foam pads with a lubricant to abrade the surface. You can use various lubricants including soapy water and mineral spirits, but I prefer to use a simple solution of 50% mineral oil and 50% mineral spirits (thanks to a tip from William Ng). Since the mineral oil doesn’t cure, you have plenty of time to massage the surface and get a nice even appearance. The grit I uses most often for this operation is 2000.

The end result is a finish that will simply blow your mind. Silky smooth and not something you would expect from the average dusty garage or basement shop.

I hope you enjoyed this project. Although it is small in stature, there are lots of little details that go into making it special. I hope you build a few for yourself!

Original Article:

-- For free video tutorials and other cool woodworking stuff, check out

6 comments so far

View SCOTSMAN's profile


5849 posts in 3585 days

#1 posted 07-20-2012 07:23 PM

Nice little stool and even better little baby have fun I like your workmanship a lot. Alistair

-- excuse my typing as I have a form of parkinsons disease

View Kookaburra's profile


748 posts in 2224 days

#2 posted 07-20-2012 11:01 PM

Marc – this is a great finishing tutorial. You take it to a higher level than I have in the past, but i think I will be changing my process.

I do have one question about the 2000 grit abrasive pads. Do you use a new pad each time you finish something? If not, do you seal it in a ziploc bag? I feel wasteful (and guilty) when I toss things after one use.

-- Kay - Just a girl who loves wood.

View thewoodwhisperer's profile


604 posts in 4183 days

#3 posted 07-21-2012 02:28 AM

Thanks folks.
Kay, I do indeed re-use the pads. They are too darned expensive not to. The good thing is that the mineral oil never cures, so even if you left the pad on the bench top it would still be usable weeks later. But usually, because i don’t want to get oil everywhere, I put them in a ziplock bag. The amount of abrasion is so minimal that the pads really last a long time through MANY uses.

-- For free video tutorials and other cool woodworking stuff, check out

View flwoodhacker's profile


58 posts in 2925 days

#4 posted 07-21-2012 11:42 AM

Thank you for the tips and instructions on finishing. I learn something new every time I watch your videos. Great job!

View Skylark53's profile


2669 posts in 3060 days

#5 posted 07-21-2012 02:17 PM

Thanks Marc for an excellent short video on finishing. Lots of good information I’ll be remembering and using some in my upcoming projects. Beautiful family. Congratulations.

-- Rick, Tennessee, John 3:16

View jim C's profile

jim C

1472 posts in 3098 days

#6 posted 07-21-2012 10:37 PM

just for kicks try this.
When you’re all finished and you want that extra smoothness, take a piece of regular cardboard box and use it like the 2000 grit sandpaper. I got this tip from a housepainter and have had great success with that final “finishing the finish”

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