Best finishes for our projects?

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Forum topic by ajshobby posted 12-05-2016 02:38 AM 582 views 0 times favorited 5 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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102 posts in 2506 days

12-05-2016 02:38 AM

So in my tenure as a wood worker I never gave a real thought to how i finished my projects. I tend to just buy whatever was on sale at L&M (typically minwax products). Now I’ve learned mostly from the folks here on LJ there are better options. My current finish schedule is 3 coats of shellac followed by 3 coats of wipe on poly. i really enjoy the simplistic application of this finish combo and the looks it gives. i can go high gloss or semi gloss without any trouble and it makes my projects look good. Now I’ve been researching trying to expand my capabilities and really getting confused. My wife recently asked me to stain a toy chest, i went with minwax products (out of frustration) and it turned out horrible (at least in my eyes) though she liked it. So i have a few questions: 1. What are the best brands of poly to use. I’ve been using the minwax brand and its ok but id like to see if there is something better. 2. If someone was wanting to get into a bit of staining / slight darkening of oak and cherry projects to pop the grain what direction/brands should i be looking at for quality and ease of use. 3. smell is always a factor to appease the wife’s olfactory is water borne the best way to go to combat smell? Also is there a better wax than Johnson’s paste wax for polishing. Sorry for not spacing things out more. Chrome wont let me use delete and enter right now and haven’t fixed it. AJ in Minneapolis

5 replies so far

View mrbob's profile


182 posts in 767 days

#1 posted 12-05-2016 03:16 AM

View Rich's profile


3873 posts in 787 days

#2 posted 12-05-2016 05:55 AM

Well, there’s no single recipe. Flexner’s book is indeed the bible of finishing, but even he will tell you that there are no absolutes.

Pardon me if I ramble, but first and foremost, work on sample pieces before you commit to something you’ve spent hours building. The wood makes a huge difference on what will be the best finish. Oil or water-borne? Dye or stain? Top coat? It goes on and on. I have a lot of fun testing different recipes, and that would be my suggestion to you, to try different things.

My other suggestion would be that if your wife likes it, stop there. It doesn’t get any better than that.

-- Half of what we read or hear about finishing is right. We just don’t know which half! — Bob Flexner

View Lazyman's profile


2609 posts in 1585 days

#3 posted 12-05-2016 01:38 PM

On the smell issue, water based finishes do seem to stop smelling faster than the oil based but once fully cured it should not be a problem. You just have to wait longer before bringing it into the house. I personally think the oil based finishes turn out better in my experience so I think that they are worth the time when making something you want to look nicer (as opposed to just a protective finish on shop furniture and jigs for example). For a less plastic look, I prefer the wipe on poly finishes or Danish oil.

I have had mixed results with the Minwax stains over the years but that may be more due to the wood type and quality than the stain itself. I have always had good luck with Watco Danish oil with stain, though their color selection is pretty limited. You can put a poly coat on it if you want but it is not necessary.

BTW, Cherry typically doesn’t need a stain. The dark color actually deepens with age. However, Watco does make a cherry stain danish oil that will give you a slight darkening effect so you don’t have to wait as long to get the same look. I tried using it on some oak and pine and it looks terrible but if you just want to slightly redden an already dark wood it works well for that.

I have always heard good things about the General Finishes Stains and poly but have not tried them. Both Rockler and Woodcraft usually have a wide selection of GF stains and top coats. I have had the same can of paste wax for 30 years so I don’t know if one brand is better than the others.

-- Nathan, TX -- Hire the lazy man. He may not do as much work but that's because he will find a better way.

View LittleShaver's profile


419 posts in 817 days

#4 posted 12-05-2016 02:32 PM

The finish often depends on the use. For lightly used or decorative items, I like a shellac finish. I’m partial to amber shellac.
Another favorite is 1/3 miniwax fast dry poly, 1/3 BLO, 1/3 mineral spirits.

For hard use items, 1/2 poly, 1/2 mineral spirits (home brew wipe on) lots of coats.

I have been known to mix most of the above. For our bed, a mix of oak and mahogany, I started with a coat of BLO to pop the grain, then a couple of coats of amber shellac to fill the grain, topped that wit ha coat of de-waxed shellac as a barrier to the final 4 coats of my home brew wipe on poly.

-- Sawdust Maker

View ajshobby's profile


102 posts in 2506 days

#5 posted 12-05-2016 02:53 PM

I ordered flexners book this morning. I read up a bit and it seems this book is highly regarded. I keep forgetting that you can use wipe on oils under shellac. I especially like the idea of the watco cherry oil. Those are the ideas I guess I am looking for. I want to keep my finishing as simple as possible so 1 I can keep my finishes looking good and 2 so I can keep as few finishes on the shelf as possible. As a weekend warrior I don’t want 30 cans of possible toxic and flammable liquids sitting around.

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