Finishing furniture

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Forum topic by jmartel posted 10-06-2013 05:39 AM 1311 views 1 time favorited 13 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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8279 posts in 2388 days

10-06-2013 05:39 AM

So, I’m terrible at finishing. Trying to get better, but still absolutely terrible. I can sand to 400 and apply danish oil, I can brush on poly and hope it’s pretty even, I can apply mineral oil to cutting boards and buff some beeswax on them and that feels pretty nice, but that’s really the extent of my current abilities.

I have a coffee table that I will be finishing up construction of shortly, and then I need to finish the darn thing. It’s craftsman style, made out of walnut, and what I’d consider my first “real” furniture piece. I’d like a finish that feels nice to the touch, like you see at the furniture stores (I know they spray lacquer at the end at the very least). I don’t want it to be semi-gloss or gloss, probably more like satin.

I do have a HVLP gun kit from Harbor Freight that I bought to paint my motorcycle with, but it’s still unopened in the package and all I have is a pancake compressor.

Since it’s a coffee table, I’m not super concerned about water resistance, or super long wearing. It’ll have my feet put up on it, and store magazines/an ipad on top. That’s usually about it. Drinks will have coasters.

So far, I’m considering shellac, and also considering spraying lacquer over whatever basecoat I end up choosing.

-- The quality of one's woodworking is directly related to the amount of flannel worn.

13 replies so far

View shipwright's profile


8187 posts in 3036 days

#1 posted 10-06-2013 05:56 AM

You’re already amusing Danish oil. Try applying it with the sandpaper.
Apply it liberally and rub it in with 600 grit wet/dry paper. Wipe off excess and repeat when dry until you like it.
It should soon feel like glass and have a satin sheen.
It is a great beginner finish because there is no spraying, brush marks or drying time issues.

-- Paul M ..............the early bird may get the worm but it’s the second mouse that gets the cheese!

View Purrmaster's profile


915 posts in 2331 days

#2 posted 10-06-2013 06:10 AM

Here’s what I’d do. First, buy the book “Understanding Wood Finishing” by Bob Flexner.

Then I’d try using some nitrocellulose lacquer. You can spray it. Or you can get brushing lacquer to start off with. Both Deft and Watco make a brushing lacquer.

Lacquer has become my default finish recently and here’s why: It’s the easiest to get a nice, smooth finish on.

If you’re brushing, brush on 3 or 4 coats of lacquer. I don’t know much about spraying but I think the same thing applies.

Give it a day or two to dry. Then start sanding it. I’d start with 220 or 400 grit. Work your way through the grits (600, 800, 1000, 1500, 2000) with sandpaper. Use mineral spirits as a lubricant. If you have any kind of car polish lying around use that as a last step. If you want less gloss you can use matte lacquer or you can knock down the sheen with lower grits of sandpaper.

Another pretty easy thing to try is to get wipe on polyurethane. Just wipe several thin coats on and you should get a decent surface without much trouble.

View Monte Pittman's profile

Monte Pittman

30143 posts in 2576 days

#3 posted 10-06-2013 12:27 PM

One of the first mistakes virtually all of us make is our thought process about finishing. Most of us try to make finishing separate from the project. It needs to be thought of as part of the project. It’s every bit as important as any other part of the project. When we start a project, usually our intention is to make something beautiful. The only way it comes out beautiful and stays that way is the finish. My recommendations are to study as much as you can from Charles Neil. He has books, videos and on line courses on finishing.

Are you building it to last a couple years, or would you like it to be handed down through generations. Do not assume that water won’t be spilled on it or drinks won’t be set on it. Even resting your feet on it, there are finishes that hold up better than others.

Sorry to be long winded. But your question reminds me of me a couple years ago. Your projects will improve dramatically when you approach finishing with the same mindset as the rest of your project.

-- Nature created it, I just assemble it.

View NorCalQ's profile


21 posts in 2011 days

#4 posted 10-06-2013 02:20 PM

Arm R Seal, wipe on poly has been my go to finish. It has a slight stain to it and brings out grain. It wipes on so I have plenty of control and with a light sanding between coats, it really leaves a nice, durable finish with 3 or 4 coats. I use it on everything from pine to cherry.

View CharlieM1958's profile


16281 posts in 4456 days

#5 posted 10-06-2013 02:37 PM

Ditto on Purrmaster’s recommendation of Flexner’s book.

Shellac and spraying lacquer and a whole bunch of other methods can give you beautiful results. All those techniques are worth learning. But since you are relatively new to finishing, and you really don’t want this coffee table to be a “practice piece”, I recommend satin wipe-on poly. It practically fool-proof.

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View Clint Searl's profile

Clint Searl

1533 posts in 2599 days

#6 posted 10-06-2013 03:05 PM

Waterborne poly with a soft brush. Why complicate it?

-- 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 bondogaposis's profile


5151 posts in 2589 days

#7 posted 10-06-2013 03:22 PM

I also recommend Flexner’s book, he really breaks down all of the confusing manufacturers claims and simplifies the process in a step by step approach. Do a little homework and your finishing will improve greatly.

-- Bondo Gaposis

View Purrmaster's profile


915 posts in 2331 days

#8 posted 10-06-2013 03:46 PM

If you’re just getting started I would suggest making it easy on yourself. If you try to get fancy and complicated right away and something goes wrong you’ll be discouraged. And whatever went wrong may not even be your fault.

The wipe on finishes are the easiest. Wipe on poly, danish oil, etc. Another thing to look at is gel polyurethane. It’s almost impossible to screw up. You use it kind of like danish oil. Wipe some one, wait a few minutes and wipe off the excess. No brush marks or pad marks. But gel poly does require a lot of coats.

View RBWoodworker's profile


441 posts in 3590 days

#9 posted 10-06-2013 04:25 PM

I will tell you IMHO, that after making a delivering fine furniture and cabintry for the better part of 25 years, I thought I had finishing down, but sadly that was not the case..I knew how to do all the wipe on’s and spraying the Nitro lacquers and so forth, but while although my pieces turned out nice..they just were not that “store furniture” look or feel, they just lacked..I never could figure out why either no matter what I did.. In came Charles Neil. I had a lady who I had just finished a big entertainment job for and she pointed to her coffee table and asked me if there was anything I could do to “revive” the finish because it looked like an L.A. roadmap all cracked. She told me that the table was about a $10,000 table if she were to purchase it today and that she called about 10 different refinishing places and was told that they wouldn’t touch it with a 10 foot pole..I took pictures and e mailed Charles and he replied “take the job”, I was like But I have never done a refinishing job of this magnitude before.. he responded “take the job” you can read about it on my blog here..

anyways..Charles Neil is my “go to” for finishing and pretty much everything woodworking and I will have to confess that it’s now my biggest seller of my cabinets and furniture..folks just cannot get over how nice and buttery feel the finish is.

If you want a no nonsense, easy to understand, no big words or complicated procedures, or sophisticated steps, I would look into Charles Book and his online finishing classes AND.. and this is a very big “AND”.. he answers e mails daily, can call him direct and speak with him, AND.. he will never ever leave you hanging or confused..and finally AND.. he will stay with you the whole way until success is doesn’t get better than me..

-- Randall Child

View Fred Hargis's profile

Fred Hargis

5236 posts in 2731 days

#10 posted 10-06-2013 05:39 PM

>>>>>>Here’s what I’d do. First, buy the book “Understanding Wood Finishing” by Bob Flexner.

Amen to that. Be sure to get the second edition to be as up to date as possible. Then take the time to read through it, it’s that well written.

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

View Purrmaster's profile


915 posts in 2331 days

#11 posted 10-07-2013 01:56 AM

I’ll second that Mr. Neil is an excellent resource.

I get a little tired of hearing that people want “store” quality furniture considering that most store furniture is made of particle board.

View jmartel's profile


8279 posts in 2388 days

#12 posted 10-07-2013 02:44 AM


I was referring to the stores that sell furniture made out of hardwoods. I have a couple near me, and I know they use an oil finish followed by lacquer. Not the particle board crap you see at the national name brand furniture outlets.

I picked up some deft today as I wanted to try spraying lacquer anyway, so I’ll do some various tests on scrap this week

-- The quality of one's woodworking is directly related to the amount of flannel worn.

View Purrmaster's profile


915 posts in 2331 days

#13 posted 10-07-2013 03:59 PM

Ah, I see. My bad.

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