Category Archives: Finishing

Happiness is an air gun

After much hand-wringing and many side projects, I am pleased to report that the summer of coffee tables is quickly coming to a close. With construction done and sanding complete, it’s time to turn my attention to how I plan on finishing the piece. Of course, before I started working on the finish, it was only appropriate that I take my favorite youngest son out for breakfast, the most important meal of the day.

Mmmm, breakfast

From there, we came back to the shop, and tried to figure out the best way to apply the basecoat of shellac for the rude-and-crude finishing method. The top was going to be easy, as it was just flat. However, the base was going to be a little intricate, it’s still hot here in Florida and there were football games to watch. What was I going to do?

The Beatles working on the White Album in 1968

I took my cue from a John Lennon composition from the Beatle’s 1968 masterwork known as the White Album – Happiness is a Warm Gun. Actually, Happiness is an Air Gun in my shop – and HVLP gun to be exact.

My HVLP gun

Yes, I have been holding out on you guys for a while. Even on myself. A few years ago, I bought this HVLP system. It was cheap, and I thought it could get me into the wonderful world of HVLP spraying. And, for a few projects, it has. But, for some reason, I can’t bring myself to use it on every project with different materials. I have sprayed shellac, but I hesitate to spray anything else because, well, it doesn’t have really fine control. Maybe it’s just operator error, but for the shellac basecoat, it’s a winner.

Table time

So, I popped open a few Portamate saw horses and moved the table out to the side yard for a little work. I popped it face down on the sawhorses so I could do the base first, and got the gun ready.

Filling the gun

It’s actually a simple system, with the only real prep being to pour the finish into the finishing cup and screwing the business end onto the top of the cup. OK, that’s pretty easy…

ready to go

From there, I plugged in the system and started up what basically is a small shop vac that blows the air through the system. I closed my eyes, pulled the trigger and started sending the finish onto the piece.

Wow, that was fast

Holy smokes, how fast could that be?  I mean, the entire base – with all of the angles, edges and such was covered in less than two minutes. A fairly decent coat, too, with just a few boo boos… nothing that can’t be sanded out when i get to that step of flattening out the undercoat with some 320 paper.

Top it off

A quick flip over and I was spraying on the top. A really nice looking coat.

Clean up was easy by running some denatured alcohol through the gun, followed by hot water.

Now, I have to let the shellac cure overnight before I can really take it down with some paper. Because the top is going to take a lot of abuse, I know I am going to need a few coats of something tough to resist moisture, spills and other nastiness.

Maybe a water based topcoat administered by my old new HVLP gun, just to make clean up a little easier…

A friend finishes

Tonight, I was out in the shop getting the hope chest into its final stages of finish … and I hope to show you the finished project shortly. Since I was going to use my regular finish formula, I wanted to give the opportunity for someone who learned the process from this blog the opportunity to share his experience with it. His name is Steve Stutts, and we met at the St. Petersburg Woodcrafters Guild a few years back.

Take it away, Steve:

I don’t know all there is to wood finishing. No one knows it all but I have learned a couple of things that have given me some very nice results. Until I read an article on finishing, my technique was a hit-or-miss experience for me. I sprayed it out of a can or slapped it on with a brush and it turned out after it dried. Then I read an article by my first and favorite wood blogger. Tom Iovino and he writes “Tom’s Workbench.”

Steve and his ingredients

I was surveying his past articles and I found an article entitled Become your own mixologist where he gave us his formula for finishing that has been the basis of all my finishing techniques since that time. First, it makes sense to sand and seal any wood that is worth finishing. Whether you paint it with a pigment stain or leave the wood to a natural color, my theory is that all woods need to be sealed. Tom recommends mixing #2 dewaxed shellac with 50% denatured alcohol. First you want to sand the surface of the wood with progressively finer grits until you get the surface to at least 220. I have four palm sanders and I put a different grit of paper on each sander (I bought them all at the guild “used tool” sale for $10).

Wipe, Steve, Wipe!

After sanding, I wipe on the shellac by hand. I wear rubber gloves – they keep my hands from getting messy. I leave it to dry for a few hours. The alcohol makes it dry fast. Then I sand it down to 220 grit and repeat the process. I apply 6-8 coats and it takes me a few days. The final few coats I sand further to 330/360. The wood is well sealed and will not blotch. Even cherry seals – and it is the worst for blotching.

Then I like to wipe on polyurethane that has been thinned with linseed oil 10% and paint thinner 20-25%. This is Tom’s formula for the perfect “mixologist.” The wipe on poly sits on top of the smooth shellac and is not much absorbed.

It just shines!!!

Ta da!


I let it dry for at least 24 hours since the linseed oil tends to sit on top of the finish. I wipe off the excess. Then once the surface is dry, I sand it again to 330/360 or 400 grit and wipe the poly mix on again. I do this for 5-6 coats again. So far, my results have been very nice.  An even, lustrous finish that looks deep and rich the darker the wood. If you don’t want a high shine it works well with satin finish too. Sometimes I have to wait a day or two between coats of wipe-on poly. Particularly if its below 65 degrees. Once the finish is cured I like to wipe the surface down with a good furniture polish, oil or paste wax. It preserves that shine. Then once or twice a year I reapply the polish to preserve the work.

Like I said, I don’t know everything about wood finishing but I have confidence in this method.

Thanks, Steve. Glad you liked the process!  It looks like you have had a lot of success with it. Hey, don’t be afraid to mess around with finishing. With some good techniques, you can have a blast with it!

Now, the moment nobody likes

OK, maybe that’s too dramatic of a title, but I’m at the point in the hope chest build where woodworkers often fear to tread – sanding. Ugh. I know that I have to make the surfaces of the chest buttery smooth to the touch, but why does this remind me of an old timey household chore?

Washboard - but not abs

Be that as it may, the time has come. So, I might as well get started. Fortunately, I had done a fairly good job of getting things nice and smooth with the thickness planer, so removing the machining marks is one thing I will have to do. Of course, I am going to employ the random orbit sander for this…

The sander

It does an OK – if not reduce-you-to-tears-of-boredom – kind of job on the piece. And it does an admirable job of taking down any glue squeeze out, thickness planer divots, dings or the like. It’s a nice tool, and the model I have connects easily to the dust collection, so at least I’m not breathing this junk in.

Get that glue!

Oh, crap, I had a few spots where glue from the corners squeezed out. To tackle that, I turned to one of my Japanese chisels sharpened to a sweet edge. At least this feels more like woodworking…

For areas where the random orbit sander can’t get, I suppose I could wrap some sandpaper around a block and sand into the corners. Yeah, we’re back to the washboard analogy. Instead, I have turned to another tool that makes this less of a chore – a card scraper.

Deal me in on these card scrapers

Properly sharpened, this thing is a joy to use up in the corners, and it helps make this not too tolerable job just a bit more tolerable.

Sanding... hooray

OK, the end result is always good, so I guess it’s just going to be time for me to suck it up and get on with it. After all, the only way this surface prep is going to get done is to get off my butt and do it.

A fabulous new product

Hey, everyone, it’s me, everyone’s favorite Trained Shop Monkey, and I have to tell you about the best new product for woodworkers I have ever seen. I mean, this stuff is the absolute bomb. It will change the way you woodwork forever.

Weasel Spit

That’s right. It’s super high quality Weasel Spit, distilled from only the finest quality expectorations from members of the Mustela Genus. Used for centuries in the Subcontinent on the most expertly crafted furnishings of the grand Svengalis, this finish has the ability to turn lumps of simple scrap wood into outstanding expressions of the craftsman’s art.

Weasel Spit. before

Allow me to show you an example of Weasel Spit’s tremendous power.  Here I am in the shop (We try to keep Tom out of it more often than not these days, what with his long commute and all) with just some simple scraps and a can of my new favorite finish. As you can see, nothing up my sleeves, no slight of hand here.

Weasel Spit, after

And, this is what the project looks like with just ONE coat of Weasel Spit on it. Do you notice just how quickly it pulled the piece together and made the details pop? I tell you, it’s dynamite stuff.

What else can you use Weasel Spit for? It cleans stains off of bath fixtures, etches concrete for epoxy finishes, removes rust from cast iron surfaces in one swipe and makes a great ice cream topping.

While people have harvested wild Weasel Spit for centuries, it has only recently come to light that excretions of a higher quality can be had from ranch-raised weasels. In fact, it’s been discovered that the constant playing of Barry Manilow songs increased weasel output up to 75%.

Barry Manilow

Fortunately, these weasel ranches can be isolated to keep the noise complaints to a minimum.

Oh, and happy April Fool’s Day!

Rub it in

By Rhonda (shhh!) Iovino

Tom is busy in the shop, so I thought I’d take a minute to fill you in. The bed… our new bed… MUST be manufactured. There is NO way that Tom could have made it so quickly and painlessly. Usually with a huge build like that, there is debate, discussion, defeat, followed by denial and eventually acceptance. (There is no “d” word for acceptance. I checked.)

But that didn’t happen. Yet our new bed is perfect. Can’t be. But I checked all recent credit card purchases and I didn’t see any big payments to Ethan Allen or American Signature. Still… the project is perfect. But he didn’t rub it in.


This weekend, Tom and I did finish the bed with the same lack of dissent. “Ember” was the color he came home with in an all-in-one water based stain and finish, and Ember it is. And I love it. The whole process was simple and practically odor-free.

Bag o rags

First, we got out a bag of rags, and I donned some rubber gloves. I definitely recommend the gloves. Not only did they save my freshly-painted blue manicure, but they kept me from standing at the sink for 10 minutes. Tom scrubbed and scrubbed, but the stain was stubborn. Eventually, he got it off his hands. But it wasn’t until the next day. I didn’t rub it in.


To apply the stain, we dipped rags into the stirred quart. I took lots of care to avoid dripping onto the floor. I hate clean-up. It’s not the fun part. As we wiped on the first splash of stain, the wood soaked it up. It looked like we’d need more. but in the end, as we rubbed it in, the dresser fronts didn’t need as much. So we worked our way to the footboard and finished that too. We even had some left over in case we needed to do touch-ups. Now the wood is warm and homey and even more professional-looking.

finished bed

I couldn’t be happier with the bed and just one day after the staining, which only took one coat, there are NO smells. I would know. I have a sensitive sniffer. But if you know something I don’t about how Tom made that bed so fast and so efficiently, you’d better tell me. I promise I won’t rub it in.

Water you good for?

So, the bed project is rounding the clubhouse turn, and it’s time to start thinking finish. So, I need to start thinking about my options when it comes to finish, and it’s looking a little bit like I know where I am headed.

Painting a wood project

You see, my first thought was to paint the bed – perhaps something like a milk paint or some kind of acrylic that would be tough, durable and would make the piece look more unified. I have used paint several times, and since this project is mostly plywood, I wasn’t going to have too much heartburn going that route. It has served me well on utility projects for years.

But, then, a funny thing happened on the way to that decision. Rhonda decided that perhaps we didn’t want to paint the piece. She is now leaning toward applying a stain or dye and then using a finish over that.

Applying stain

Now, I’m not a big one for the stain. However, I do have to say that getting the piece to match the rest of the furniture in the room color wise wouldn’t be a terrible idea. I’m dealing with a plywood project, so this isn’t some outstanding piece of curly maple that I could ruin. I know that stains are made of pigments that are ground up and suspended in a solvent, embedding in the small nooks and crannies of the wood.

Applying a dye

We could also conceivably go with a dye. These babies have the color as a liquid – a lot like what clothes are colored with – allowing them to be more transparent. They can be a little tricky to apply, so I’m not sure I want to go that route.

Oh, by the way, now that I’m this far into the post, I should also let you know that I have already assembled the bed – inside my bedroom. Which means that traditional oil-based stains and dyes are going to be right out. I need this bed to dry fast and without choking fumes that will leave me out on the couch for days.

Nice challenge, right?

Minwax stain

That means I’m probably going to have to go with something like a water-based stain. The cool thing about this is that it can be tinted at the local home improvement center paint counter, which means I can bring in a drawer from an existing piece of furniture and have them match the color exactly.

Minwax Polycrylic

The same issue goes for my topcoat, which – as far as I can tell – the best option is to go with a water-based finish. I know the science behind these babies has changed tremendously over the past ten years, and they are becoming a lot easier to apply and more resistant to abuse. Plus, they dry fast and they don’t stink, two huge pluses as far as I am concerned.

How well will this work?  Not entirely sure. This will be my first crack at using products like these, so I’l be testing and letting you know how well they work.

So far, the bed has been an easy build. I hope that the finish goes as smoothly as the build.

But, if it doesn’t, there’s always paint!

Sanding senses

Today, I begin sanding my dresser top valet. Yay…

You tell 'em, Brad

Oh, sanding is such a joy. I mean, who doesn’t enjoy rubbing rough paper over their project for hours until it is good enough for finish? I mean, what else could you be doing with your time? Watching grass grow? Checking in on drying paint?

Yeah, even though it’s an essential step in the process, I don’t think anyone really wants to sand. Ever. If someone could invent a device where you put your assembled project in one end, and it came out smooth, blemish free and touchably rounded over, we’d cough up huge bucks for it. But, until then, we have to do it the old fashioned way with sand paper, hand planes, scrapers and elbow grease.

Fortunately, I also like to employ one of the most sophisticated devices known to humankind to determine when I have sanded enough…

The fickle finger

Yup, I’m a touchy-feely kind of guy. I like to feel how I progress while I sand, and that starts with the edges of the boards. Now, when I cut those suckers, I was looking for a sweet 90 degree angle, straight, square and true as the boards came off the table saw. Now, not so much.

Potential ouch zone

Those sharp edges can be very uncomfortable to bump against, and can easily cause a splinter if I rubbed my hand against them. So, a little bit of 120 grit sandpaper, some work on the corners, and bingo, I’ve put myself into a much more comfortable situation.

Sandy SandyOnce I have the edges broken, that’s when I turn to the random orbit sander to do the majority of the bulk work. Some joints need a little leveling, and some mill marks need to need to disappear. That’s when I start to look for a way to gauge that I am sanding evenly.

Ooooh!  Pretty pencil

My dad taught me this trick, and I still do it today. I take a pencil and run a squiggly line down the face of the piece I want to sand. Once I have this on the board, I take up the random orbit sander with a 120 grit pad, and get to it. With the sander hooked to my dust collector – and on a project this small – it’s a pretty easy task to get an even sanding on the piece in very short time.

Line be gone!

Once that line is all gone, I know I have done a decent job getting a good sanding on the piece, I will also look at the project face with a raking light to see if I have gotten rid of all the milling marks and other imperfections. When I don’t see any more, I switch to a 150 grit pad, and give everything a once-over to refine the piece a little more. Of course, anything that’s tough to get to with the pad needs some more hand work, but that’s not too bad.

Next step, a little finish, attach the handle, then start cleaning off my dresser top.