Beginner finishing and Lowes

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Forum topic by drpdrp posted 02-09-2013 01:32 PM 4580 views 4 times favorited 25 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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150 posts in 2039 days

02-09-2013 01:32 PM

Okay, before I get started I want to make something absolutely clear:

Yes, I am THAT dumb and THAT helpless.

Well, maybe not helpless so much as paralyzed by doubt. But in practice they are the same.

So, finishing products, and to a lesser extent techniques, just intimidate and confuse me. I ask questions and when the answers come in (not here) my eyes glaze over like my wife at a car dealership. I try to listen for keywords and can sometimes even repeat verbatim what I was told… and then the kid at Lowes looks at me like I am on drugs. Have you people seen the finish section at Lowes?????

Now, why do I keep mentioning Lowes? Because there is one right by my house and it has better lighting than the slightly further away Home Depot.

Here is my question/request. I want to get enough “know what to do” to start finishing a lot of small projects so I can start to understand and develop my own opinions. Currently I make something and instead of finishing it say, “well it looks good natural!” or “maybe I will just paint it”. So what I want to do is list a handful of things I’ve either made or would like to make- and have people tell me what SPECIFIC PRODUCT to buy from Lowes to finish it. Like- look on the website and include an item number maybe?

Anyway, if this level of hand-holding is distasteful to you I apologize and give you permission to ignore this thread. I just can’t handle another “just use shellac” reply- do you have any idea how many freaking cans of different stuff say shellac on them? It is a lot. Looking up shellac on wikipedia didn’t help much either- it is made from bugs? What the hell? I was better off not knowing.


Play blocks for grandkids
coffee table
kitchen table
cutting board
changing table
anything made with cedar
outdoor anything

Thank you,

25 replies so far

View waho6o9's profile


8187 posts in 2570 days

#1 posted 02-09-2013 02:01 PM, for your reading pleasure.

Model # 265502Store SKU # 995592 This is at Home Depot. Lowes didn’t
have the natural Watco listed on their website where I shop, Oops.

Oily rags are combustible, after use store in water and discard, be careful.

Let the oil cure for a couple of days, then apply a wax, like Johnston paste wax, or
a premium wax on the Woodcraft’s.
Or you can make your own with Bee’s wax and mineral oil.

You can also search LumberJocks on the right side of the page a little down
from the top.

PM me for any questions or concerns you might have. And practice on scrap first, always.
No sense in messing up your fine work.

View waho6o9's profile


8187 posts in 2570 days

#2 posted 02-09-2013 02:06 PM

Cutting boards recieve Good Stuff from Emmets. And then mineral oil
until the board is saturated. Let stand for a week or so.

I’m not sure what to suggest for “outdoor anything”.

Emmets was purchased at a cabinet shop so there isn’t an item number, but
you can google the product and find a place close to you.

View Tennessee's profile


2870 posts in 2508 days

#3 posted 02-09-2013 02:17 PM

OK, I’d start with only one or two finishes, although the playblocks for the grandkids, cutting boards and maybe the changing table are kind of in a category by themselves. And yes, Lowes has what you need, and it can be daunting with all the companies competing for your business.
Realize that most of us get comfortable with two, once in a while three finishes and we keep on using them over and over. I’ve never met a woodworker yet that is proficient in every type of finish, so don’t worry, you’ll be good. One person will use lacquer, one poly, one teak oil, on and on and on….

Starting with the stuff your kids won’t chew on, that you won’t cut food on, most of the non-food/kids items can be done with one of two products. Minwax makes a fast drying polyurethane spray and brush product. They also make this in a Spar polyurethane product for outdoor use in spray and brush. The fast drying comes in a black and silver can, and the spar comes in a green can.
What’s the difference? The spar has less carrier, and more poly for a tougher finish. It also dries much, much slower and is better for the outside.
For my first items, I’d try something that will not be used for child play or food, and initially use the brush product. Buy the smallest can you think you can get away with, in case you don’t like it. China bristle brushes. Steel wool in 0000 grade, and Johnson’s or Minwax paste wax after using the steel wool on top of the final finish will give you a nice finish. Smoothness is the key here, not being able to count your hairs or fingers in the finish. That can come later when you start discovering rubbing compounds and such.

Once you try polyurethane, you can try the same basic products in lacquer. I’d initially stay away from brush lacquer, it dries like the wind, and you can get caught with lots of brush marks that will be forever wrong. Spray lacquer at Lowes, the best in my mind, and others here, is the Deft Clear Lacquer in the white can with blue letters. Quick and dirty, fast, glossy finish but not too durable, lacquer is the way to go. Vertical surfaces will run so light coats are in order. It will dry so fast that if you are in a dry, warm weather you will see it frost on the wood as it dries from the nozzle to the wood. You will have to get what is called a wet coat, where it looks smooth and shiny, but it can still be thin enough to not run.

Finally, the blocks and the cutting boards. Some people will leave the blocks natural, and that is fine. Some will put on a salad bowl safe finish, which I think they carry one brand. General’s? I know there is one on the shelf. The cutting board can be done with the salad bowl food safe finish, or you can also leave them natural. Just don’t introduce any oil stain or finish which will have minerals in it for color and will transfer to food or the kids and is not people safe for ingestion.

That’s about all you need to know, save you will want to clean your brushes after you do your work, and to be honest, nothing does it quicker or faster than lacquer thinner. I use china bristle brushes, not nylon or any kind of plastic bristle brush, and I simply keep a little lacquer thinner in a resealable glass kitchen bowl or mason jar where I can dip the brush, swish it around, wipe it out with a disposable paper towel, and done.

Later on, you may want to try the water-based finishes, polyacrylic in the teal-blue cans. Follow directions, and they work almost the same as the oil and traditional finishes, but first I’d start with the old time tried and true, then if you want to move on to the water safe stuff, very good.

Start with these, and see how it goes!

-- Tsunami Guitars and Custom Woodworking, Cleveland, TN

View Kazooman's profile


1005 posts in 1946 days

#4 posted 02-09-2013 02:33 PM

A few additional comments:

For the indoor, non-chewables try Minwax Wipe-On Poly (gloss or satin). This is about the easiest finish you can use. You simply wipe on light coats with a rag. Take note of the comment above on disposing of oil-soaked rags.

Deft is great, but you need to use it in a WELL ventilated area. The stuff just plain stinks.

Danish oil finishes like the Watco mentioned above are a good choice, easy to apply, durable, and available in many stain colors. They do have a distinctive odor that can take forever to finally dissipate. Do some practice pieces to see if you like it.

View helluvawreck's profile


31019 posts in 2860 days

#5 posted 02-09-2013 02:36 PM

I love the Watco Danish Oil and use it on my boxes and carvings. On the boxes I also use Johnson’s paste wax. Right now this is the only finish that I use and it’s a technique that works well in a small shop and once you do it once or twice it is so easy and forgiving if you follow the directions. I watched the set of videos of box making with Doug Stowe over at Fine Woodworking and this finish is what he recommends on these videos unless I’m mistaken.

helluvawreck aka Charles

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View upinflames's profile


217 posts in 2156 days

#6 posted 02-09-2013 03:16 PM

I agree with all the others, just one more thing. Get some scraps and start playing with the different finishes, it’s easier to not like a look on a scrap than to have to start over on a finish ready project.

View Clint Searl's profile

Clint Searl

1533 posts in 2355 days

#7 posted 02-09-2013 03:24 PM

See my blog, then buy a gallon of Varathane waterborne gloss poly floor finish and a soft bristle synthetic brush, and use it and nothing else till you have it mastered. It can produce any desired effect, from a dull oiled look to a high gloss.

-- Clint Searl....Ya can no more do what ya don't know how than ya can git back from where ya ain't been

View Manitario's profile


2630 posts in 2876 days

#8 posted 02-09-2013 04:12 PM

Great book, helped me immensely with my finishing:

-- Sometimes the creative process requires foul language. -- Charles Neil

View Cosmicsniper's profile


2202 posts in 3152 days

#9 posted 02-09-2013 04:28 PM

The single biggest problem with finishing is that people think they need to change the color of the wood. That’s where all the screw-ups occur. If you just learn to pick the right wood for the look you need, then finish projects simply, that’s the place to start. After that, you can add wrinkles here and there once you gain knowledge and experience.

Clint advocates (not always gently) the simplist approach on this site…and it’s a good one. It’s just that many like the look and feel of particular products for different applications…my simple list will follow. However, a project can be as simple as brushing on a poly product…and then calling it done.

For knick-knacks and boxes…Watco Danish Oil and/or shellac.

For cabinets and tables that will receive wear…thinned poly (oil-based to give an old world amber look and water-borne to give clear transparency) that you can wipe or brush on.

For an extra “feel” of the wood once the clear finish is down, you might use paste wax to rub it down.

After a while, you’ll learn to add dyes (mixed with alcohol, water, shellac, or lacquer to create options for color delivery), which will take away the issues with choosing and applying stains for color.

You’ll also get interested in spraying, which opens a new set of options.

You can make it as complicated or as simple as you wish. For me, I enjoy the complicated part. :)

-- jay,

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2202 posts in 3152 days

#10 posted 02-09-2013 04:28 PM

Ditto on Rob’s book recommendation. Get it.

-- jay,

View Monte Pittman's profile

Monte Pittman

29216 posts in 2332 days

#11 posted 02-09-2013 04:43 PM

My main finish is 2 coats of Danish Oil and then enough coats of either water based polyurethane or wipe on poly till I like how it looks. There is no consensus “perfect” finish.

-- Nature created it, I just assemble it.

View Fred Hargis's profile

Fred Hargis

4980 posts in 2487 days

#12 posted 02-09-2013 06:45 PM

Another vote for you to get Flexnor’s book. An alternative would be the one by Jeff Jewitt strikes me as being a little easier to read. The 2 books have pretty much the same info. One, or both, should be required material for any hobbyist wood shop.

-- Our village hasn't lost it's idiot, he was elected to congress.

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Fred Hargis

4980 posts in 2487 days

#13 posted 02-09-2013 10:25 PM

Somehow I got my words all twisted in the above post…Flexnor’s book is a little easier to read than Jeff’s (my opinion) but they are both very good. Sorry ‘bout that…

-- Our village hasn't lost it's idiot, he was elected to congress.

View Purrmaster's profile


915 posts in 2086 days

#14 posted 02-09-2013 10:58 PM

The Flexner book is great. It’s a pretty easy read and you will learn amazing amounts of material on finishing.

Start with wipe on finishes (i.e. Watco danish oil and Minwax wipe on poly). They’re easy to apply and hard to screw up. It takes a lot of coats for a wipe on finish to get a good film build but if you start brushing poly you’re going to get frustrated with brush marks and the like. Make it easy on yourself, at least to start with.

According to Flexner all finishes are food and chew safe once fully cured. I think he’s right but I can also understand the reluctance to use poly or danish oil on something that kids will chew on. If you need a truly chew safe finish use shellac. Just get the Zinsser Bullseye shellac and brush or wipe it on. Shellac is completely safe. It’s on pills and candy and tons of stuff. And it dries fast. The other nice thing about shellac is that if you screw it up you can completely redo it just by using denatured alcohol or more shellac.

I tend to agree about staining. If you want to color the wood then use a stain. But if you don’t want to color the wood or don’t care just skip the stain.

Last but not least: Go easy on yourself. If something goes wrong, don’t berate yourself about it. Keep asking questions here. The folks here know their stuff.

View MT_Stringer's profile


3168 posts in 3225 days

#15 posted 02-09-2013 11:17 PM

I startd building stuff 30+ years ago and no one ever told me I was dong it right or worng. So, I have continued to this day using some of the same products.

I learned the hard way that varnish will ruin (change the color, smear, etc) anything painted with the stuff tole painters use (forgot the name). I started using Deft Clear Wood finish in the 80’s and still do to this day (actually it was today). Deft leaves a clear finish. I use both gloss and satin. My projects posted reflect that.

I have used several different Min Wax stains to get the look I want or the customer wanted.

I wipe on the stain and shortly thereafter wipe it off with a cotton rag. When it comes time to apply the Deft, I mix about 15% lacquer thinner with the Deft, stir and spray a coat with a HVLP spray gun. After about three or four coats have dried, I lightly sand the surface with either 320 or 400 sandpaper…just enough to scuff the finish and smooth out any thing that sticks up. Then I wipe it down good and spray several more coats. Each coats dries to the touch in about 20-30 minutes. I just finished a coffee table using this method and will post the finished project in a day or so.

Well, that’s my story and I am stickin’ to it. :-)
Hope this helps.

-- Handcrafted by Mike Henderson - Channelview, Texas

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