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Forum topic by scottb posted 04-17-2007 05:29 AM 1993 views 0 times favorited 8 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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3648 posts in 4527 days

04-17-2007 05:29 AM

Topic tags/keywords: finishing help

I’m thinking that most of us have started using whatever was available at the big box, and slowly branching out from there (if at all). Perhaps this question will help others as much as it helps me.

In doing my box series, I’m quickly filling the house with several projects to finish at one time. Original plan was to use wax, boiled linseed oil, or some other wipe on product to keep it simple – and not have to sand corners inside the box!

But now that I have the waterslide paper to make my own decals I’d like to use that – David did a great how to – and mentioned success with lacquer, poly, shellac, and acrylic finishes…

Now what I don’t know is this… There are so many, seemingly similar options, but what is the difference between them, where would we use them/not use them and why. Also what finishes can go over/under others, and which don’t play nicely together.

Please help!

-- I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it. - Van Gogh -- --

8 replies so far

View dennis mitchell's profile

dennis mitchell

3994 posts in 4514 days

#1 posted 04-17-2007 05:42 AM

I get a headache just thinking about it! From a cabinet makers point of view I don’t use anything from the big boxes or local lumberyards. Mine comes from commercial paint stores. For reasons of economy and durability. For a year my job was to run the finish room in a small woodshop so I tend to spray everything.

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3648 posts in 4527 days

#2 posted 04-17-2007 05:50 AM

Thanks Dennis… I’m not at the spraying stage yet, I’ve noticed a few others are, probably all professional woodworkers I’d bet.

I forgot to mention the main reason I’m asking now is that I need to protect these waterslide decals with a layer (or several layers) of some type of finish… as they would wear off otherwise.

I’ve noticed a few jocks lately mentioning a mix of oil, spirits and/or something else… what is the methodology behind that?

-- I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it. - Van Gogh -- --

View MsDebbieP's profile


18618 posts in 4361 days

#3 posted 04-17-2007 11:23 AM

I don’t think this is exactly what you are looking for, but since this topic is titled “Finishing” I thought I’d link it to information Don provided me during one of my earlier projects. By having the link here we can keep all of the information under one title!

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (, Young Living Wellness )

View Douglas Bordner's profile

Douglas Bordner

4034 posts in 4264 days

#4 posted 04-17-2007 12:21 PM

I have a pancake compressor (one of the Porter Cable ones paired with a 18 ga. brad shooter) and a PC (really Devilbis) HVLP conversion gun. I got in at less than $300 and I think it has improved my work significantly. I started out spraying catalyzed lacquer, which is nasty and dangerous stuff. Waterborne lacquers are safer, easier to clean up, and have great durability and better clarity than most nitrocellulose or conversion lacquers. Much friendlier for the home shop user (the tribe to which I belong). You can get by with a small compressor with HVLP and small boxes

No Spray Alternatives For ease of use, equal parts of Boiled Linseed Oil and mineral spirits. I like to make my own “Danish Oil” with one third each BLO/MS and alkyd varnish (Pratt and Lambert #38). It doesn’t make much of the way of build, but offers better moisture protection than just the BLO/MS. You must store the Alkyd varnish with no head space in the can or it will gum up. You can buy the inert gas Finish Preserve stuff (expensive), or buy glass marbles used for holding bouquets upright in a vase (Hobby Lobby) and add them to the can as you use the varnish. One nice thing about the oil varnish mixture, if gets damaged you just sand out the damage and reapply the juice. Another thing is to wet sand the oil varnish in with P400-600 silicon carbide auto wet-dry paper. The slurry will fill in pores on open grained woods like walnut and oak, making for very touchable boxes. It will significantly darken/yellow light woods like Maple.

As far as the no sanding interior corners – finish the box inside before glue up (tape off the joint areas so the finish will not interfere with the glue), and tape just adjacent to the glue line inside the box to keep squeeze out to a minimum. I also will put a thin layer of Renaissance Wax on the squeeze out zone prior to glue up (instead of tape). I cut most boxes into top and bottom sections after the glue up, so I can’t get in to pop squeeze out off until things are throughly dry.

Then there is de-waxed shellac. Many people like to mix their own flakes, as Shellac has a limited shelf life. It will not harden after it goes bad, which is relatively speaking a nightmare. I have had super luck with Zinnser Sealcoat De-waxed shellac. Stays fresh longer, is pre-mixed to a two pound cut, is pale blond so it doesn’t get in the way of the color of the wood much even on maple, lays down a true film finish which makes figured wood SING (chatoyance from across the room). It can be cut with denatured alcohol to use as a sanding sealer, as a film over which you may glaze colors using gel varnish or stain. I use it to seal something prior to waterborne finishes to prevent grain raising. It can be easily padded on with old sheets, t-shirt scraps etc. And if you have a crappy old kitchen island with bad laminate like I do you can watch TV in the kitchen with your wife in the winter and finish boxes without sharing poisonous vapors or noxious aromas. (NO BEAN JOKES GUYS!) The downside is it’s not the most waterproof or durable finish for kitchen or table use. Rubout with Mirka Abralon and a RO sander all the way up to P4000 grit, follow up with wax (not Briwax though unless thoroughly cured – the toulene will screw up the mirror finish) easy and beautiful.

-- "Bordnerizing" perfectly good lumber for over a decade.

View scottb's profile


3648 posts in 4527 days

#5 posted 04-17-2007 01:18 PM

Great info, thanks Douglas!

...and for the link Debbie, that is what I was looking for (or perhaps avoiding looking for by simply asking everyone! Great advice from two great boxmakers!

-- I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it. - Van Gogh -- --

View Dan Lyke's profile

Dan Lyke

1520 posts in 4325 days

#6 posted 04-17-2007 05:48 PM

I’m not that far ahead of you, Scott, but I’m headed two directions: The aforementioned Zinnser de-waxed shellac, and an oil followed by wax coat.

I’ve done a stain and a stain/poly mix and as easy as that finish is, I’ve had at least one incompatibility show up that I’m going to have to completely strip off and re-do. Luckily it didn’t happen on the turned legs with the compound curves, just on the flat table surfaces, but it’s still going to be an extra few days of work on a piece that I just want finished so that I can use it.

The shellac and waxed oil finishes aren’t necessarily monstrously durable, but they’re easy to re-apply and maintain, and as Douglas mentioned, probably have the least long-term nasty stuff and outgassing of all of your options.

-- Dan Lyke, Petaluma California,

View BassBully's profile


261 posts in 4297 days

#7 posted 04-17-2007 11:23 PM


My favorite finish is Minwax polyurethane for several reasons. It is durable, easy to apply, and can be applied with a brush or with a spray gun. I prefer to spray it because it lays on a little smoother and you don’t even need a fancy spray gun to apply it. I’ve even used an electric Wagner paint sprayer to apply it and it looked great. Another reason why I’m biased towards it is because it is the first I’ve ever used. The main disadvantage to poly is that it takes a long time to dry between coats—something like 6 hours. I use a #0000 steel wool to sand between coats. If you experience bubbles when applying it with a brush, add a little bit of mineral spirits to the poly. This will require more coats but it is an alternative to spraying.

In my personal opinion, I don’t like any finish that is going to require maintenance after the project is completed. This is why I don’t use boiled linseed oil or wax finishes. You often hear about people applying linseed oil several times for the first year, less the next, then one coat per year afterwards. That gets kind of tedious if you make many projects for your home. I also don’t like wax for the same reason plus wax provides very little protection as a finish. It collects dirt, melts at 140 degrees F (hot coffee anyone?) and can become a problem when applying it on water based varnishes if the varnish isn’t dry.

My alternative to poly finish is shellac. Especially if the item is not heavily used or may not be exposed to large amounts of water( It is a strong durable finish just not as strong as poly). It is like poly where you can spray or apply it with a brush (you must thin if brushed) but it dries very quickly. The disadvantage is that shellac mixed with alcohol doesn’t have a long shelf life so it is best to purchase the flakes and denatured alcohol and learn to mix it yourself.

-- There are three types of people in the world, those who can count and those who can't!

View scottb's profile


3648 posts in 4527 days

#8 posted 04-19-2007 04:49 AM

Ok, here’s another question along this line…

I’ve been to 2 places that used to carry Pratt & Lambert #38 Alkyd Varnish.
The first told me they’re discontinuing it (I thought he meant the store)...
The second stop (another non-national chain store) no longer has it either. (Maybe I misunderstood and the line of product is going away?)

The first didn’t seem to have anything other than a spar varnish (which I know is for outdoor use)

The second store has a Benjamin Moore Alkyd Varnish (also says on the back – no thinning!)
Lowes carries an indoor/outdoor Varnish (100% Urethane product)

So here’s my question, is there really a difference between Varnish and Alkyd Varnish? I’ve used the latter, thinned with mineral spirits when finishing my table last year (following instructions in a FWW article) and had good luck with that. My thinking is that I’d be fine either way, but one never knows….

-- I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it. - Van Gogh -- --

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