HELP!! How to finish project!

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Forum topic by dakremer posted 12-16-2009 11:21 PM 1628 views 0 times favorited 11 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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2672 posts in 3084 days

12-16-2009 11:21 PM

Topic tags/keywords: question oak cedar finishing modern

Hi Lumber Jocks, I am a beginner wood worker. While I have been building things and fooling around with wood for a while, I am now doing, what I consider my first REAL project. I just joined and need some advice. I see all these awesome projects on here and would love to be able to make things like this. The skill is here, just the know how is not. I just recently got my first toy (a router and router table). I am trying to make a humidor (cigar box) for my brother for christmas. I have made the box out of Oak with an Aspen inlay on the top. I’m going to line the inside with Spanish cedar. Very basic – again, it is my first REAL project. My problem is this: I have NO IDEA how to finish things. I’m going for a modern look, thats why the basic design – now i need a modern finish. With those woods, I need some advice on how to finish it – do I stain and varnish it? do I just put an oil on it??? I want to have a glassy, professional, modern look. If you have any ideas, it would be MUCH appreciated as Christmas is just around the corner!! Also if you can share on HOW to apply the finish so I don’t get brush strokes, etc, etc. THANKS A LOT – I will definitely post my project on here so you guys can see how it has ended up!! Thanks in advance for the help!!


-- Hey you dang woodchucks, quit chucking my wood!!!!

11 replies so far

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27250 posts in 3815 days

#1 posted 12-17-2009 12:24 AM

Doug, oak is an open grained wood and if you want a glass finish you will need to fill the pores. Here are a series of videos produced by Marc Spagnolo that contain useful information and techniques with regards to finishing.

As far as staining the humidor or not that is really a personal decision. I generally prefer to use a oil base light golden oak stain on my oak projects. I would then seal the oak with a 1# coat of shellac to prevent the stain bleeding into the topcoat and topcoat it with shellac or polyurethane. I do not usually fill the pores because I do not go for a glass smooth surface. Of the two wipe on polyurethane is the more forgiving topcoat to apply.

Whether you apply a hard topcoat such as a varnish or oil again is a personal decision. Oils, such as pure tung oil or boiled linseed oil bring out the grain in the wood but do little to protect the surface of the wood since you cannot “build” a finish with them. Varnishes provide surface protection but are a challenge to repair, should it be needed. Shellace offers a hard protective topcoat but it can be damaged by water or alcohol.

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

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2672 posts in 3084 days

#2 posted 12-17-2009 01:47 AM

Humidors have moisture on the inside, thats why it is lined with spanish cedar, to keep the cigars from drying out. I basically want to make the oak really dark, and the Aspen stay light (maybe no color added to the aspen at all). I guess I really just want to make sure I don’t screw it up – I put a lot of work into making the box square and nice corners and sanding and everything and I don’t want to make it look bad because I did a poor job applying a finish. What is the easiest to use? I want the oak to be dark, and no color on the aspen, but want a glassy finish over everything. Bare in mind I’ve never done anything like this, and don’t have really any knowledge on what to do!! What would be the easiest way (with minimal risk of screwing it up) of finishing it!!??

Scott, if i understand you right I should #1 – Apply oil based stain, #2 – apply shellac, #3 – apply either more shallac or poly (polying being easier)? then #4 apply varnish? or varnish for step #3?? haha i’m so confused!

-- Hey you dang woodchucks, quit chucking my wood!!!!

View Chuck 's profile


88 posts in 3193 days

#3 posted 12-17-2009 02:23 AM

Waterlox. its a mixture of tung oil, varnish, and other stuff. it works well with filling grain, although I’ve never tried it on oak. 2 coats of sealer followed with 1 or more coats of finish. when you say glassy, I assume you are thinking glossy: a “gloss” or “high gloss” finish.

-- Chuck, Washington D.C.

View dakremer's profile


2672 posts in 3084 days

#4 posted 12-17-2009 02:25 AM

Yes I want it glossy – i guess when i said “glassy” i mean the touch – i want a hard finish that you don’t feel the wood, you feel like a glassy, smooth, hard finish.

-- Hey you dang woodchucks, quit chucking my wood!!!!

View Mark's profile


1807 posts in 3267 days

#5 posted 12-17-2009 03:01 AM

you can always do wipe on poly…very easy and gives you the results you want

-- M.K.

View LesB's profile


1718 posts in 3436 days

#6 posted 12-17-2009 09:23 AM

Reading this thread you say you want the oak dark and that may take several coats of oil base stain you choose because oak can be hard to get really dark.

Mark’s suggestion of a wipe on poly finish is good but it may take as many as 8 or more coats (sanding lightly between every other one) to build a smooth surface, because it goes on very thin. If you use it also apply a coat of wax as described below.

A brushed on water base poly will build up faster to a “glassy” finish. Sand with 400 grit paper after the first two coats. Water base poly will lift the wood grain with the first coat so sand it down lightly if necessary. After the first two coats you can use the 400 grit paper or 0000 steel wool. Do not use steel wool on raw unsealed oak because if steel fibers stick in the grain and oxidizes it will leave black stains. Your two coats of poly should provide the seal. I would suggest applying at least 4 coats.
Let then final coat dry thoroughly, 4 or 5 days Then apply a coat of a carnauba based paste wax with a 0000 steel wool pad; buff the wax with a soft cloth. A second coat of wax might be needed. When done well the finish will be so smooth and glassy you can hardly hang on to it.

-- Les B, Oregon

View doyoulikegumwood's profile


384 posts in 3985 days

#7 posted 12-17-2009 11:12 AM

well I’m going to have to be the voice of resistance on using poly. from what i have read here you want a glassy glossy finish and the best way to do this is hands down lacquer.

it builds fast, it creates one solid film instead of layers or film and it rubs out wonderfully

-- I buy tools so i can make more money,so ican buy more tools so I can work more, to make more money, so I can buy more tool, so I can work more

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27250 posts in 3815 days

#8 posted 12-17-2009 01:57 PM

Dakremer, at step #3, if you want a glass smooth finish, fill the oak with a pore filler #4 I would recommend applying another coat of shellac #5 start applying topcoat of choice- varnish, lacquer or continuing with shellac

Because of its ease of application I would recommend using a wipe on varnish such as polyurethane. You can get a smooth finish using poly without filling the grain but it will take several applications to get to this stage (I would guess in the 8 to 10 coat range).

Here is another video to watch that describes how to get a glass smooth finish.

But, by all means, since you are “boldly going where you have not gone before” try out the finishing routine on some scrap wood that has been sanded to the same level as your project and develop a “story stick” of the finishing routine. Do this by using some scrap and show each finishing step in the process that you decide.

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

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Mr M's Woodshop

420 posts in 3060 days

#9 posted 01-10-2010 04:40 PM

Is there a good book on finishing that is recommended?

-- Henry Mowry, Santa Clarita, CA,

View trick's profile


2 posts in 3014 days

#10 posted 02-16-2010 07:12 PM

I am in the exact same boat here, these are great posts / advice, any differences other than no stain if using exotic woods, ie monterillo and canary?

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27250 posts in 3815 days

#11 posted 02-16-2010 09:45 PM

Henry, two authors that I have enjoyed reading are Jeff Jewitt and Bob Flexner. Both have published several books on finishing.

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

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