What you need to know about wood finishes

Master that last crucial step in furniture building with this complete guide

By Adrian Jones

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Required tools

1. Tack rags: a commercially prepared rag made of cheesecloth with a varnish-like substance to collect dust. Don’t use with water-based products: the oily residue will interfere with adhesion.

2. 320-, 400- and 600-grit wet/dry sandpaper: use to level a finish and remove dust nibs, either between coats or after the final coat.

3. & 4. Pumice and rottenstone: crushed lava rock (pumice), used with a lubricant, will lower the sheen of a finish. Crushed limestone (rottenstone) will increase the sheen.

5. Rags: any absorbent material will do; old T-shirts work well.

6. & 7. Paste finishing wax: apply over any finish to increase lustre and smoothness. Apply sparingly through a cotton rag and buff off excess.

8. Stir sticks: use the paint-store variety or make your own from lumber scraps. Always stir up the solids at the bottom of the can, especially with varnish.

9. Foam roller: distributes wipe-on/wipe-off finishes quickly, such as Danish oil or straight oils. Roll the finish on, but wipe off excess with a rag. Doesn’t work well with varnish or water-based products (it leaves bubbles in the finish).

10. Synthetic-bristle brush: the only recommended brush for water-based finishes. Buy a good-quality one with longer bristles in the centre (chisel tip) and “split” ends

11. Natural-bristle brush: a must-have for oil-based varnish, such as polyurethane or spar varnish. Usually made from Chinese hog hair.

12. Foam brush: some prefer this to a traditional brush. Can be used with water- or oil-based products, but not with lacquer or shellac (it will dissolve).

13. Finishing pad: make your own with T-shirt cotton. Has no seams or corners, leaving an exceptionally smooth surface. Great for wiping varnish.

14. Brush/roller spinner: spins thinner out of brushes and paint rollers just prior to use or in cleaning. Spin in an empty paint can.

15. & 16. #0000 steel wool and synthetic steel wool: use to smooth out imperfections or lower the sheen after the final coat. Use super-fine synthetic pads for water-based products and regular steel wool on everything else.

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