Bringing out a shine? - Finishing with polyurethane

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Forum topic by CanadaJeff posted 05-24-2009 03:39 PM 34213 views 4 times favorited 16 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View CanadaJeff's profile


207 posts in 3637 days

05-24-2009 03:39 PM

Topic tags/keywords: finishing maple question

Hi everyone,
I’m finishing a jewellery box with a high gloss polyurethane. After applying 3 coats, the shine just isn’t as glossy as I would like it to be. I’m hoping to get almost a glass look. Any ideas on bring out more of the shine?

I haven’t done much finishing so I’m still learning tricks.

16 replies so far

View DaleM's profile


958 posts in 3411 days

#1 posted 05-24-2009 04:09 PM

Jeff, I use a light coat of paste wax on top of polyurethane for a really good shine. I use Minwax brand but I guess any brand will do. The only problem with paste wax is it requires periodic buffing to remove smudges if it’s handled a lot.

-- Dale Manning, Carthage, NY

View jerry mayfield's profile

jerry mayfield

36 posts in 4112 days

#2 posted 05-24-2009 04:39 PM

If you want a “glass look” you need to use a hard finish such as shellac or lacquer. A hard finish can be worked to a very high sheen which isn’t possible with a soft finish such as polyurethane varnish. Jewelry boxes get little,if any, hard use and polyurethane isn’t needed on one.


-- jerry,mlchigan

View TheCaver's profile


288 posts in 3866 days

#3 posted 05-24-2009 04:45 PM

Did you fill the pores? A glass smooth finish is a time consuming project, simply building a finish is not enough. Sure, you can heap 17 coats of something and get a gloss, but a nice, thin glass smooth finish is another matter entirely.

Normally for this I would first wet sand the item with tung oil (poly product, not real Tung) and let dry. At this point, sand with 220 and do it again if pores are not completely filled. Now sand with 220 again and you should have a very smooth surface. Next, 1 or 2 more coats of oil with 400 sanding in between or a 0000 scrubby. After a day or so, one coat of your topcoat (in my case shellac, I can do 2 or 3 before it gets tacky), let dry and level with 400. Two more coats, sanded to 600. A final coat or 2 and let dry for a week or more. Polish with your weapon of choice…In my case, wet sanded with Pumice and rottenstone. A couple days more and thin wax coats. This will give almost a mirror gloss and is where I stop. A further polish with automotive compound will create a full mirror gloss….

Like I said, its a lot of work….and besides, a thick, glossy finish with craters where pores used to be is a sign of a newbie :) I think a lot of woodworkers consider the finishing process just a step like cutting mortises and I believe that’s a mistake. Finishing is an art unto itself, a separate discipline and some woodworkers don’t have the time or inclination to devote, which is understandable, but I can tell you once you see a professional finishers work and compare it to your own, you’ll be blown away.

In my opinion, its worth the investment in time to learn the process in depth….and it’s no crime for finishing and prepping to take as long, or longer, than the project itself.


-- Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known. -Carl Sagan

View doyoulikegumwood's profile


384 posts in 4019 days

#4 posted 05-24-2009 05:04 PM

carver is on the right trak here jeff but pore filling isnt always needed on all woods not knowing what wood you’ve used i cant tell you weather or not to pore fill. you most sertinly did not want to use poly tho sorry. my finish of choice for a mirror finish is lacquer. but lacquer is an advanced finish and is pricey one gallon of pre-catalized lacquer will run you between 50 and 100 buck Sherwin williams sells a mid grade lacquer for around 75 dollers a can. after you get 4 or 5 layers of this on the piece you then have to rub it out staring with say a 3oo or 400 grit wet sand paper then moving to a 600 grit then your still not dun now you bring on the steel wool move for odd to 4 odd. after that bring on the jewlers rueogh its allot of work but very much worth it.
the finish as far as im concered is what makes something you built in to a peice of art work rather then just another project good luck if you have any question feel free to ask

-- 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 TheCaver's profile


288 posts in 3866 days

#5 posted 05-24-2009 05:08 PM

good point Gumwood…..An example of that would be maple….it rarely needs filling. I should have been more clear in my objective, that being to have the wood completely level before attempting to polish a hard finish.

As for the precat….man, I wish I had the equipment and space to spray :)


-- Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known. -Carl Sagan

View Myron Wooley's profile

Myron Wooley

226 posts in 3923 days

#6 posted 05-24-2009 05:16 PM

Let the poly cure out for at least two weeks; a month is better. Then do a rubout. I would start at 220 and take it as high as you want. Don’t skip grits, and change the sandpaper frequently. I would use water as the lube. When I want a high gloss, I will use the Micro-Mesh abrasives up to 12,000.
Polyurethane will take a shine, but you have to wait for a full cure.

-- The days are long and the years are short...

View Douglas Bordner's profile

Douglas Bordner

4024 posts in 4091 days

#7 posted 05-24-2009 05:36 PM

Like Myron suggested, it’s all about the rubout after cure. You can also use Mirka Abralon pads on your ROS (they were originally intended for use in the Automobile finishing industry) and they last a long time and may be washed. They go up from 500 to 4000 grit. You can use these dry and the mess factor is eliminated.
Then follow up with Meguiar's Mirror Glaze Swirl Remover.
This works well on Shellac (ready made Zinsser SealCoat is my favorite and it’s usually fresh and available at the big-box stores), as well as lacquer, pre-cat etc.

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

View Myron Wooley's profile

Myron Wooley

226 posts in 3923 days

#8 posted 05-24-2009 05:47 PM

We use a lot of Abralon pads- they work well, but they ain’t cheap! A box of 25 is almost $100! We use them wet in order to avoid corning (a buildup of hard little nuggets) which leads to pigtailing (little swirly marks that the corns cut into the finish). Pigtails are a nightmare to deal with, especially on someone’s dining room table.

-- The days are long and the years are short...

View doyoulikegumwood's profile


384 posts in 4019 days

#9 posted 05-24-2009 05:52 PM

grrr gum hate pigtails, make me mad, make me type like neanderthaull lol

-- 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 willy3486's profile


77 posts in 3424 days

#10 posted 05-24-2009 06:45 PM

I am by no means an expert but I have a process I lucked up on. I made some jewelry boxes for my wife and child about 6 years ago of cedar. I had the same trouble of it not being shiny and glass like. I got to thinking how to make it shine so I thought I would redo the finish. I didn’t want ot take all of it off so I got some wet or dry automotive sandpaper, a water spiray bottle and sanded it. I use polycrylic on my projects. after I did that I wiped it down with a damp cloth and let it dry. I then recoated it. I got to thinking about wetsanding the clearcoat on autos so I thought it might work on this the same way. So I wetsand the second coat I had on it. Then I put on the last coat and did not sand it since it was nice and shiny. This is what I do now. I coat and sand the finish lightly with about 800 or better grit. I then clean, dry the coating and reapply. I do this until I like the finish. It usually is the way I want it in 3 or 4 coats. Some I have had to do in 6 or 7 coats but that is rare. I have used it on cedar,oak,plywood,etc and it has worked for me. As far as the jewelry boxes they still look as good as when I had just finished them. So like others here who sanded thiis process worked forr me as well.

View CharlieM1958's profile


16275 posts in 4245 days

#11 posted 05-24-2009 09:26 PM

My process is similar to what Willy describes above.

First let me say hat’s off to Caver…. he gave you the thorough and proper way to do it. Now if you’re lazy like me, here is what I do (still time-consuming). First, wipe on several coats kinda on the thick side. Then go back and sand with 220 through 400… not enough to get to the bare wood, but almost. What you have now done is , in effect, filled the pores with your poly. Your project should look like a mess at this poinr, but when you wipe on a few more thin coats, you should have the glassy look you’re going for. Occasionaly you will have to repeat the buildup and sand down process before you get it just right.

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

View Bill White's profile

Bill White

4950 posts in 3987 days

#12 posted 06-13-2009 10:03 PM

I quit using poly unless absolutely specified. I use a wiping varnish which allows any sheen requested.


View SCOTSMAN's profile


5849 posts in 3612 days

#13 posted 06-13-2009 10:41 PM

You will get a good finish with high gloss polyurethane make sure you havent bought matt or eggshell finish .The secret is to sand between coats every time it works great.Have fun Alistair

-- excuse my typing as I have a form of parkinsons disease

View stefang's profile


15881 posts in 3361 days

#14 posted 06-14-2009 06:07 PM

I always sand between coats with 240 grit. I have gotten some extraordinarily smooth tactile glass-like finishes by using auto rubbing compound as the last operation. I use it with a dampened rag to avoid a too aggressive rub.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View a1Jim's profile


117126 posts in 3604 days

#15 posted 06-14-2009 08:34 PM

I agree with Myron,Charlie,Alistair,Mike . Let it dry very well before rubbing out

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

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