Painted Wood: A Sin?; Radial Arm Saws: OK for Dadoing?

In last issue’s eZine, Rob asked whether painting wood was “a sin, or just very wrong.”(There’s nothing like beating around the bush to indicate how he feels about it, now is there?)

We did receive one response to the hypothetical situation in that editorial about a loved one suggesting that the little end table you, the woodworker, had just completed “would look great in white enamel!” (And we’re pretty sure this one response was a sarcastic one.) – Editor

“I would recommend painting that little end table — if you made it out of concrete or plastic.  Better yet, cover it with a wood grain contact paper. If you think your zebrawood is too contrasty, a nice coat (or two) of battleship gray will fix it right up.” – Jeff B.

Ironically…

“The only furniture that I ever saw painted — that kept it’s coat and didn’t scratch, peel or need re-work at the first bump — was the two items my grandfather painted. With that in mind, I painted both of the corner desks I made for my kids using the best xylol-based paint (floor paint) that I could find because everything else I tried was far less than satisfactory. Two desks: one battleship gray and the other white with a touch of blue in it to make it bright. It’s OK to paint; the paint makes all the difference.” – Riley Grotts

For some, the choice comes down to the customer, who is always (?) right. – Editor

“There are two criteria to be considered when painting wood. The first and most important, ‘What does the customer want?’ The customer may be [significant other], children, grandkids, neighbors or a paying customer. What they want is what they get. The second is the project. An example of the project requiring paint may be a piano bench, black to match the piano. Now if you really want to open a can of worms, let’s talk about stain on wood. A beautiful solid cherry coffee table and ‘But Dad, I want it to be red.’ So, General Finishes Cranberry over the cherry. It actually hurt to do so.” -Rich Flynn

“If you are making something specifically for someone else, best to find out beforehand what they are expecting and then make your wood choice. If it is a surprise, then it depends on how well you know that person. If you are creating a piece for a contest or jury; well, like everything else, you gotta study to find out what is ‘in’ and what the so-called experts would find ‘appropriate.” – Tom Goebel

“I restored a toy chest that belonged to my wife when she was little. It was given to her used, and she has years of fond memories about it. The original builder had used rough-cut pine boards of varying widths to piece together the chest for his son. It had a couple of layers of mint green paint (probably lead-based) on it already. Structurally, it was not great, both in design and heavy play. I have corrected the structural integrity without sacrificing the original look, repainted it after (safely) stripping away the old paint and lined it with cedar. It now holds a special spot in our home, surrounded by natural wood projects. It even really stands out in the midst of them. Not my style, but then it isn’t really about me in this case.” – Kyle R. Young

“I got a message from my daughter-in-law last month, and she asked if I could build a vanity for my granddaughter for a Christmas present. She attached a picture and, of course, it was painted white. Will I build it? Yes, I will. Will I paint it white? Yes, I will, but I feel, like most of the other woodworkers, that there is nothing more beautiful than the true color and grain patterns of natural wood. There is a saying I have used many times about things like painting wood: ‘You may have a lot of good taste, but it has to be all in your mouth,’ or to rephrase another of my favorite old sayings, ‘Painting wood shows a lot of class and all of it low.” – Charles Buster

For others, it’s the project – or their own personal preferences. – Editor

“White Adirondack chairs are an example of wood needing paint. There is a place for unpainted chairs, but there is definitely a place for white painted chairs.  It depends on the surroundings.” – Tom and Angela Cook

“Of course painting is appropriate in some cases; ever hear of a ‘Little Oak Wagon’? The stake sides can be natural, but the bed’s gotta be red.” – Lyle Hestermann

“I can’t often afford actual real wood, or even good plywood, so painting is my choice. I really don’t like natural wood finish in a kitchen. I want paint! I like the cabinets to be a nice color, maybe bright, and the doors to be a shiny white. The contrast is just so nice, and cleanup is a cinch. Finish off with fancy painted ceramic knobs, and I’m in heaven!” – Helen Hart

“Like most things in life, this topic is not readily answered by a simple yes or no. I believe it has to do with the purpose of the wooden article, the use of the wooden article, and what it is made of. Do I paint the benches I made for the kids’ school with a heavy-duty enamel? Yes, because, splinters are not an option and that makes them easier to keep clean. Do I paint the mahogany table? No, that is a criminal offense. I find it hard to use colored stains on most things made from fine wood, preferring to let the natural beauty of the wood’s own shades show through the finish as much as possible.” – Frank McEnulty

Some evoked historical references to painted wood. – Editor

“Painted furniture and painted woodwork of all sorts have a long and honorable history. Think of early Shaker pieces, which were often painted with buttermilk paint, or of Pennsylvania blanket chests with their elaborate lettering and emblems. Consider the arts of marbling, wood graining, and tole work that graced the homes of even quite successful planters, farmers, and businessmen during the first couple centuries of this country. Hop across the Pacific and admire Japanese lacquer work, or head the other way for Renaissance and Rococo gilt work, or Scandinavian rosemaling on all kinds of furniture. Cast an eye on a Russian doll or an English “bodger”-made chair. All of these are a form of painting. Wouldn’t we be the poorer without these traditions?

“Like any technique, paint (and its more elaborate cousins) requires some skill to use well, and that does not always come easily. And it requires aesthetic judgment when the maker decides whether to use it. If you are going to paint a piece, you need to plan for the finish from the beginning, and to use it judiciously on an appropriate wood. I like poplar for painted finishes, but soft maple, pine and a whole lot of other ‘secondary’ woods are good bases for paint as well. Painted work can be playful, durable, charming, or even sophisticated when it’s done right. It’s just sloppy when it’s done wrong.” – Louise Heite

And some felt the choice depended upon the wood itself. (Some, for instance, apparently don’t care for poplar.) – Editor

“It is perfectly OK to paint any piece of furniture or project — ONLY if it is made from MDF, OSB, or any of the other home building grades of plywood! LOL :). Honestly, to each his own. I mean it is not my place to tell another they should or should not paint anything. I myself prefer not to paint any wood, including MDF. If I wanted a dramatic color such as white, I would use a light colored wood and then use a near white stain or dye.” – Kevin Hanes

“Paint should be reserved for the ugly and bland woods that have no appeal even if stained and sealed. I painted one of my sculpted boxes that had an ugly bland grain, and I still felt remorse after painting it. I have seen plywood that was laminated and finished with clear sealers that looked quite nice. I have refused to make a coffee table for a person that wanted me to paint it glossy black. I told him he should go to the unfinished furniture outlet and finish it himself if that is what he wants. Pressboard begs for it…but not by me!” – Greg Little

“Depends on the wood. Walnut: h__ no! Most of the exotics: also h__ no! if you are going to paint, find a wood that has a lot less character. On the other hand, we have some very attractive dining room chairs with natural finish dyed maple seats with the legs and spindles of the back painted semi-gloss black. So, it depends: what is the piece going with? Are there imperfections to cover up, nondescript wood, or whatever?” – James Yarbrough

“If furniture is made from display grade wood, then clear finish seems to be in order. If it is made from common wood which may have defects and flaws covered by plugs or filler, then paint is the answer. I would certainly not put money into figured maple for a dresser, then cover it with paint. Outdoor furniture made from plywood, I would.” – Lee Mothershead

“If you are speaking of the finer woods that God intended to be show pieces, then absolutely not. Grains and knots add character to woods, and they are not intended to be covered by artificial colored means. ‘To protect and show off’ is my motto. Man-made products can be painted, but leave oak, walnut, cherry, teak and so on alone … please!” – Dennis

And finally, some were convinced that painting wood is, indeed, a sin. – Editor

“I would chime in that I have seen some incredibly beautifully painted pieces. The intricate, painstaking time that would have taken has to be appreciated, Yet I think paint is not meant for wood. Why hide the absolute beauty when it can be exaggerated instead? Imagine covering up some burl, or tiger maple, or quartersawn oak, with a coat of paint. That has something inherently wrong. I would say ‘No Paint.’ Leave that to automotive or better yet, metal furniture, but for heaven’s sake, not nature’s artistry. Highlight, do not hide.” – Randy Martinez

“I have no doubt that, at the very least, those who have painted hardwoods and most antiques will have to apologize and sign something when they stand before their Maker. In today’s world of fake wood and fake rock, a well-finished piece of wood sets itself apart. A very interesting note you may not be aware of: early Mormon pioneers who came from hardwood forests of the East to the softer wood forests of the West in the mid 19th century often painted pine to look like oak or maple. It is said that they missed those beautiful hardwoods. You can barely tell the difference in many items I have seen.” – Bob Tingey

“Thanks for bringing this subject out in the open.  Wood should only be painted as a LAST resort.” – Bob Carruthers

Shiny Throatplate

In last issue’s Q&A, our experts admitted that they didn’t know why the throatplates on new table saws are shiny. Here’s one reader’s input. – Editor

“Regarding the question on the shiny area on the table saw insert. It is my understanding that is the area where the anti-kickback pawls sit. That way, they won’t dig into the insert. Just my 2 cents.” – Bruce B.

Radial Arm Saws: An ‘Evil Machine’ Or Fine for Dadoes?

Also in last issue’s Q&A, a discussion addressed making dadoes on the radial arm saw. That sparked some strong opinions. – Editor

“I have been using my radial arm saw for just over 37-1/2 years and never had a problem using it for a dado or any crosscut. Ripping could be a problem if you don’t know what you are doing — which obviously you don’t, as your rhetoric proves. Your answer was very extreme. You can be safe with a radial arm saw. I have been. No missing fingers, arms or legs.” – Ron Davis

“A radial arm saw is an evil machine that begs to be used left-handed but can’t because of the physical design. The accuracy of the RAS is on the right side of the blade and the motor, guard seem to get in the way. The accuracy of any measurement tools are changed with every blade change. Woe is the woodworker that goes to the home center to buy a blade and comes away with a table saw blade. Any cut on a RAS other than a 90° crosscut comes with a possible ER visit. The worst part of a RAS is that they are sold as a do-everything tool, but the caveat ‘You could lose fingers’ seems to be lost in the marketing hype. I had a RAS for over 20 years and somehow still have all 10. I know that with every cut, before the saw was turned on the mental analysis of ‘what could happen’ took place. And yes, there were some spectacular crashes, but knowing what could happen saved the digits.” – Rich Flynn

One reader gave a longer discourse on both the ‘how well’ and ‘how safe’ questions of cutting dadoes on a RAS. – Editor

“While I appreciate Tim’s and Chris’ concerns on the dangers of radial arm saws, I think they missed the point just a little. The reader, Jeff Dees, asked, ‘How well and safe would it be …’ Tim and Chris responded a little emotionally to the safety issue but did not address the ‘how well’ part. While radial arms do have unique ways to cause harm, simple safety precautions are all that are required, just as with any power tool. I’ve used my radial arm saw (bought new from Montgomery Ward) since 1972 and still have my full set of digits. However, as Tim and Chris rightly point out, there are some precautions that must be taken.

“When crosscutting or using a dado set, the user should pull the blade all the way forward before starting the motor, then push the blade through the material rather than pull. This avoids the ‘climb cut’ problem and its inherent problems. Also, the operator should take only a small amount of material with each pass.

“The same with ripping: proper setup means tilting the rear of the saw guard to within one-eighth of an inch of the material to prevent climbing, and dropping the anti-kickback fingers to contact the material as it is fed through the saw blade. NEVER try to rip on the climb; that’s obviously very dangerous … imagine trying to rip from the rear of a table saw.

“I think Tim took the wrong lesson from his college professor’s demonstration. I’m pretty sure the professor was demonstrating the dumb way to rip with its almost inevitable consequence. This does not happen when pushing against the saw blade’s rotation, which can be done safely so long as the operator keeps his/her fingers well away from spinning sharp things, which is true for any power tool.

“However, a radial arm saw cannot match the accuracy and quality of the cut of a well-founded table saw for ripping or cutting dadoes. I don’t use my radial arm saw for much more than crosscuts on long boards that are too wide for my chop-saw (always on the push). My table saw does a much better job for everything else.

I think a better answer to Jeff’s question might have been, ‘Not nearly as well as a table saw and only safe if done properly.’” – Kelly Anderson

Others cited their own experiences with dadoing. – Editor

”The answers to the question on dadoing on a radial arm saw were, in a word, nonsense. My dad started doing this almost 50 years ago, and I am using the same adjustable carbide set currently. The cut is very smooth and effortless and no pull at all. The same with ripping and, of course, crosscutting. If you use a good carbide blade and the hold-downs and a good fence, there is never any problem. I have made beautiful cabinets and furniture and more items than most woodworkers ever will — all with a radial arm saw and a drill press.” – James L. Erbrecht

“I have a rebuttal about the comments made about radial arm saws. I have been using them safely for over 30 years. Yes, they can be dangerous when improperly tuned up and improper blades are used. Smaller saws especially, such as 10″ & 12″, need negative rake blades, but this doesn’t always help if it’s underpowered. Mine is a classic old DeWalt, probably from the 60s. It’s used daily. It’s a 16″ 5 HP saw, and it takes a lot to bog it down so it never binds or climbs; granted, I run a $200, 80 or higher tooth blades. With the right blade, I get mirror-smooth cuts on hardwood and little to no tearout on plywood. I can hog across a hardwood 6×6 without fear. Early in my career, when I worked for others, I used similar saws not set up correctly and yes, they could be scary at best whenever you needed to make a cut.” – Carl W Evans

Yeah, It’s Dangerous, But …

Still others admitted that there are safety concerns about a RAS, but they had other reasons for using it. – Editor

“Although I agree that the radial saw is the most dangerous tool in the shop, if used safely, it’s a great tool. I have used it for dado cuts on countless occasions without any problems. Many times I will make a dado with the radial using the cutoff blade by making repetitive cuts. You can also keep your eye on that 3,500 rpm spinning multi-toothed chopper. Never have, or will I, ever used it for ripping and only occasionally make angle cuts if the board’s width requires it. As in using all tools, think SAFETY FIRST! Know where both of your hands are. Use clamps whenever possible. I feel that a table saw is more dangerous for dadoes because the splitter and guard must be removed for the cut and you cannot see the blade.” – Wes Perreira

“The RAS is a very versatile tool and most people think of it only as a cutoff saw. It can safely dado and many other things safely if you read and understand the manual on how to set up and use the RAS. It can be dangerous, like most any tool, if used incorrectly or without safety equipment. In 9th grade shop class a friend and I tried to rip incorrectly on a RAS and sent a short piece of 2X4 halfway through a concrete block wall from about 15 feet away from the wall.” – Paul Summer

But at least one reader agreed that he wouldn’t cut dadoes on a RAS – for the practical reason of how easy it is to make an “oops” on depth of cut. – Editor

“I agree with everything said about safety, but there is also a practical reason for not doing it: you can’t control the depth of cut. A table saw has the table between the blade and the workpiece; if, for some reason, the workpiece is not tight against the table, the dado will be too shallow, which can be remedied. A radial arm saw, on the other hand, has the workpiece between the table and the blade. If the workpiece isn’t uniformly tight against the table, the cut will be too deep – a lot harder to fix.” – Warren Besore

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