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Thread: Finishing Supplies: Must Haves

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Nov 2006

    Finishing Supplies: Must Haves

    Hello All,

    From my 2 car garage in Oregon I run a small part time wood shop devoted to making my wife happy so that she will continue to finance my woodworking habit. As such, I find myself making a variety of projects. Up until recently, I've payed little attention to the finishing aspects of the project, content to just slap on what ever minwax finish that I picked up at the local mart.

    I'm beginning to see that my finish is much less than professional, and I believe it is holding me back.

    I've been lurking for a few months here and have visited this forum on several occasions. I've seen you discuss some very interesting finishes. I've had a hard time deciding on one or two techniques to try out first.

    At this point in the shop I've just started (is that what you call it when there is a stack of lumber in the corner and some half drawn plans?) a white oak china hutch and I'll be starting on a maple corner bookshelf after that. I'd like to get some recommendations for these two projects from a finishing prospective so that I can order the materials and try it out on some scrap and get the boss to buy off on it.

    What would you consider the "Must Haves" in the finishing toolbox? It seems that right now I've got just about every mixwax poly that they make, but I'd like to branch out to some other (simple?) techniques to get me started.

    Any suggestions would be helpful.



  2. I'm a fan of three different types of finishes, BLO (boiled linseed oil), shellac and Target Coatings' Oxford Ultima Spray Lacquer. The Oxford USL is applied with a cheapie ($100) HVLP sprayer from Home Depot.

    One of my favorite techniques:
    If I have to fill grain on red oak, I use BLO and 4F pumice, and rub it into the grain in a circular motion. The pumice is "slightly" abrasive, and rubs off some of the stock, and really packs the pores of the wood. On red oak, it darkens it a bit more than the oil alone, so you would want to test this for color.

    After the grain is filled and the BLO cures for about 48 hours, I wipe on a 1# cut of shellac with the grain with cheesecloth (a 1# cut of shellac is 1 ounce of dewaxed shellac flakes in 8 ounces of denatured alcohol.) The shellac goes on very easily this way, without drips, runs, or ridges where you overlap (like lacquer, it tends to melt into the previous coat). You might need a light sanding with 400 grit paper after applying shellac, as it can raise the grain, but I haven't had this happen after the BLO/pumice treatment.

    So far, all of this is pretty foolproof, which means even I do it sucessfully all the time. The shellac dries in minutes, and when its no longer tacky, you can spray the Oxford USL on it. The shellac provides a sealer/tie coat so you can put nearly any finish over the BLO, including the water based Oxford USL.

    Because the Oxford USL is water based, its easy to use. Its the right consistency for the cheapie HVLP sprayers, but you still want to remove all the cars from the garage (er, shop). I build a primative spray booth by taping those cheapie plastic paint tarps to the shop ceiling and letting them hang. If you apply a very light spraying of the Oxford USL, you'll be fine. The thing I really like about the Oxford USL is that it dries very quickly, and can be resprayed within about 20 minutes. You don't even have to clean out the gun, and you can spray another coat. Because its a lacquer, it "melts" in the coat sprayed previously to make a single, thicker coat. 5 or 6 coats, and you have a beautiful finish.

    Each of these three - BLO, shellac and Oxford USL - are finishes in their own right, and could be used alone. I like to fill the grain of oak, and like the "honey oak" coloring I get with BLO and dewaxed garnet shellac. For a lighter look on your white oak, you may want to go with a commercial, non-darkening pore filler, then either shellac in a 2# cut (2 ounces of shellac per 8 ounces of denatured alcohol) or a 1# cut of shellac and something like Oxford USL.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    New Lenox, Illinois
    Frank is right on the money. I've used wet sanded BLO in with 400 grit wet/dry paper. The color is "outstanding" and the finish is glass smooth with the pours filling in from the slurry that is created. It really doesn't get easier than that...

    I bet you'll like it..... Good luck..... Ken
    If you can't fix it with a hammer, you have an electrical problem.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Feb 2003
    Shoreline, CT
    I'd recommend Bob Flexner's Understanding Wood Finishing as the nist comprehensive guide to stepping up to the next finishing level. It is particularly good at identifying materials and helping to select them.

    For just a sampling there are lots of options for finishing white oak. For very modern styled pieces an "oil" finish, in the wood not on it, is best achieved by an oil/varnish mix, such as Watco. This kind of finish would not have pores filled.

    Mission finishes call for darker colored white oak, best achieved by starting with dye and then using pigmented stain. Jeff Jewitt has an article on the step by step of such a finish. One place to find the article is at

    When you go to a film finish that builds on the surface you can consider whether to fill the pores or not. I generally think that film finishes require filling. The oil/pumice method works, though I prefer to use a commercial pore filler, such as Behlen's Pore-O-Pac Without filling a film finish on oak can look "cheap".

    For really professional results it is a good idea to learn spray finishing. That opens up the range of higher quality pro finishes, including water borne finishes, and since those finishes are typically fast drying reduced, but doesn't eliminate, the amount of rubbing out needed to get to a good professional level finish.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Nov 2006


    Frank, Ken, and Steve:

    Thanks for all the good advice. I'm looking forward to finishing becoming as enjoyable as the rest of the process.

    I'm going to have to break out some scraps and start experimenting.

    Thanks again,


  6. #6
    Join Date
    Apr 2004
    Livermore, CA
    For me, some 'must haves' in the finishing equipment arsenal:

    good hvlp sprayer(s).

    tapered round brushes.

    assorted colors of both dyes and pigments.

    Target Coatings USL and 9300 for topcoats

    Target Coatings EM8800 and water shellac for sealing

    Alcohol cut shellacs.


    synthetic abrasive pads.

    Norton 3x sandpaper.

    Festool sanders and vac.

    Lazy susan stands for the work to set on.

    latex gloves - Nitrile gloves get eaten by the denatured alcohol.

    lint free cotton rags.

    glass measuring cups for repeatable dilution of dyes/pigments.

    Menzerna polishes and associated polishing heads for Rotex.

    Lots of scrap wood to cobble together stands and other implements to set the work on.

    Butcher paper roll.

    Pieces of scrap carpeting to lay down so I don't ding the work while sanding/assembling/finishing.

    RO water filter so I have a ready supply of 'clean' water.

    And the list goes on....:- )

    on the neverending quest for wood.....

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