Try a traditional hand-rubbing technique

A little effort makes a big difference on smaller projects

By Steve Maxwell

sand paper

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One reason I like small projects is that it’s practical to lavish extra effort when finishing them. That’s where traditional hand-rubbing comes in. It’s a process of applying a very fine abrasive action to wood surfaces that already have part or all of the final finish applied. Depending on your choice of a finishing process, different hand-rubbing techniques work best.

One of the easiest options involves rubbing down an oil finish with very fine wet/dry sandpaper as the oil goes on. My favourite oil for this work is polymerized tung oil.

Here’s what you do:

  • Apply a generous coat, keep it wet for five minutes, then rub all surfaces with 320-grit wet/dry silicon carbide paper.
  • Wipe off all excess oil, let it dry for 24 hours, then repeat the oiling and rubbing process with 400-grit paper.
  • The more rubbed coats you apply, the finer and shinier the surface becomes.
  • Use 600-grit paper for the smoothest final rub-down on the last coat.
  • Oil-based urethane can be hand-rubbed too, although the process doesn’t begin until at least four coats have been applied, sanding lightly between each one to remove raised grain.

Here’s what you do:

  • Start with a piece of 400-grit wet/dry paper, dip it in water, then rub the wood parallel with the grain.
  • Keep the wood wet while you rub, then dry it off immediately after you’re done.
  • The results will be smooth and attractive, making them ideal for elegant, smaller projects such as jewelry boxes.

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