Woodworking is anything but a simple craft. Every technique, finish option, tool choice or species of wood has innumerable issues related to it. “Can I cut a rabbet with a spiral bit?” “Should I try waterbased poly over rosewood?” “What’s the best size of air compressor for both fastening and spraying finish? “How do I keep end grain on a walnut blank from tearing out when I turn it?
You get the picture. Start a project or try something new and the questions surface, no matter what.
Whether we like the process of finishing or not, no woodworking project is really complete without slathering on some protective finish. Years ago, I was a “poly” only kinda guy. Back in the 1980s, oil-based polyurethane is pretty what seemed to fill the hardware store shelf under the “Wood Finishes” sign. So, that’s what I used. It smelled bad and dried slowly, but once the finish finally hardened up, it was fairly tough. And I could count on its consistency and characteristics every time.
I’m glad to say that my finishing palate has expanded some since then. Continue reading
Here’s the deal: I’ve had a hardwood flooring project on my to-do list for a long time. It’s my shop floor, actually. A couple of years ago, I got a great deal on 900 square feet of hard maple “shorts.” Tongue and groove, beautiful stuff. My plan has been to lay it over the current flooring in my shop, which is plywood subfloor. Not that I mind plywood, but it gets banged up pretty easily and doesn’t look as nice as a hardwood floor. At $1 per square foot, it was a deal too good to pass up.
I just wrapped up a project made from almost five sheets of plywood. As you can imagine, that’s a lot of surface area to cover with finish. And, here in the North Country, we’re still in the “deep freeze,” so all of my shop windows and doors are closed up tight. Good ventilation was going to be a challenge during finishing. I also needed to complete the entire finishing process in the shop, which definitely isn’t a “clean room” situation. It’s dusty, especially with the furnace running. So, I knew I’d need a fast-drying finish, too. At least that would help cut down on the magnetic effect that wet finish seems to have on dust and grit.
It’s T-minus ten days till Christmas Eve. How are your gift projects coming along? If you’re planning to finish them with oil-based poly, you’ve still got time for it to dry. But, a week from now? No way.
Nothing says “I waited too long” more than a present that smells like wet varnish.
Now, I’m not advocating “eleventh-hour” finishing…but it can happen. So, if you need a contingency plan, let me suggest three wood finishes to turn to when time is running out. You’ll still come out the hero on Christmas morning.
Leave it to Norm Abram to come up with a better way to apply polyurethane. Have you seen him use a big binder clip and a piece of old tee-shirt? If that doesn’t show Yankee frugality, I don’t know what does. But, you know what, it’s an amazingly good applicator. In fact, it’s become my favorite way to apply poly (wiping it on is my next).
If you haven’t seen him use the clip method, here’s how it works: Cut a strip of cotton tee shirt about 3″ wide and maybe 10” to 12” long. There’s no absolute here…just cut an ample-sized piece. Colored or white both work fine, as long as the shirt is well worn. Fold the long ragged edges in, then fold the whole thing up on itself lengthwise several times to create a pad that’s about 2” x 2”. Clamp the open side of the pad into a 2” office binder clip. That’s it. You’ve got a bristle-less brush in about a minute flat.