Grab yourself a good quality brush and prepare to — Microjig, maker of the Gripper. Work safer. Work smarter. — You’ll probably want to protect most of your projects you make with a finish. But applying a wood finish doesn’t have to be complicated. Let’s look at the basics to make things even easier on you. Some projects may not require any finish at all. For example there’s no huge benefit to applying a finish to shop projects.
A storage or tool cabinets or tables or work benches. Of course if you have a lot of visitors to your shop and you’d like to show off a beautiful workspace, then by all means, spruce up your shop fixtures. I like to paint some of my shop cabinets because the bright colors just make me happy and brighten up my mood. Speaking of which, I believe paint is the strongest, most durable, most practical, easiest to apply, finish there is. If it’s long-term durability you want, go with paint. I mean really, we use paint on our houses for a reason, because they’re subjected to all kinds of harsh weather conditions. Plus the choice of colors is unlimited. But of course the main drawback to paint is that it hides the wood and from my own experience on this show, that tends to make some people cranky.
There are lots of great-looking examples of painted furniture, and it really shouldn’t be discounted as an option. But for this video I’m only going to focus on clear protective topcoat. There are two main reasons to apply finish to wood projects. First, wood finishes help to protect wood from scratches, moisture damage, spills, stains, and UV damage from sunlight. Secondly, a finish will make wood look great. It’s very rewarding to watch the color and grain pop as soon as you apply a finish. Plus a nicely finished piece is very tactile and it just feels nice no matter what type of finish you use. It’s important to sand your project first. I usually start with a 120 grit sandpaper and then move up to a 220 grit sandpaper and I stop there. There’s rarely any reason to sand to any finer grit because the smooth feel of your surfaces will come from the finish that you apply after sanding. Make sure you remove all of the sawdust from your project. Dust particles are the bane of a good finish. I like to vacuum off the surfaces then wipe them off with a tack cloth then with a clean lint-free cloth like an old t-shirt.
I wipe everything down with mineral spirits or paint Center and this will also highlight any dents that are in the wood or any dried glue you may have missed. Plus it gives you a quick preview of what the wood will look like once it’s finished. For lots more information on sanding watch this basic video over here. If you go to a home center or hardware store it’s easy to be overwhelmed with choices. There are a lot of ways you could finish wood. There are entire books on the subject of finishing. In this video I’m only going to discuss a few of the most common finishes that hobbyists might want to use. There are two main kinds of finish. First, a layered finish. One that sticks to the surface of the wood, kind of like paint does. This includes polyurethane, lacquer, and other varnishes. And secondly, an oil finish, one that penetrates into the grain of the wood such as linseed oil or tung oil.
In general, a layered finish will offer a lot more protection to the wood, but it can look a little artificial or in some cases kind of plastic-y. Oil finishes on the other hand, are kind of earthier. The wood looks great and more natural but they don’t offer nearly as much protection. Polyurethane is probably the most popular finish today. The biggest drawback is that it can be very time consuming to apply. To get a good finish you need to apply at least three coats which realistically might take three days. Applying any finish with a brush is different than painting.
The goal is to avoid swiping back and forth and creating streaks or leaving behind air bubbles. It’s a good idea to pour your finish into a separate container to use rather than straight out of the can. This will help prevent contaminating your main supply. I like to start by conditioning my brush and dipping it in mineral spirits and soaking the bristles. Dip the brush into the finish all the way up to the ferrule and let it soak up as much as it can. Lightly press the tip against the can to remove any excess that might drip. A good quality brush should hold quite a bit of finish. Start at one edge of the wood and try to apply the finish in one long stroke along the entire length of the board, pressing down more and more on the brush as you get to the end, letting it release the finish the entire way.
Fill the brush up again and apply more slightly overlapping the first stroke. Mostly avoid brushing back and forth as if you were painting a fence. Use long steady strokes trying to let the finish flow as evenly as possible brush slowly and don’t stop to take a break until the entire surface is completely covered. If you find that you’ve missed a spot, skip it. Just leave it for the next coat. If you try to dab in a patch it can make it look worse. Also it’s a good idea to start with the edges and vertical surfaces of a project, then finish up with the top surface. Check the back of the can to see how much time you need to let it dry between coats. It could be 5 hours or more for an oil-based polyurethane and less time for water-based. Dry times will also differ based on temperature and humidity. Once each coat is dry it should be lightly sanded with 320 grit sandpaper to remove any dust nibs and help smooth the surface.
But don’t drive yourself crazy trying to get every inch perfectly sanded. In my experience, polyurethane will adhere just fine to the previous layer even without sanding. But sanding will give the finish a smoother feel. And make sure you remove all of the sanding dust before applying the next coat. Pay extra special care to applying the final coat to avoid brush marks, runs, and streaks. And use a good quality brush. You can buy oil or water-based poly. Both provide excellent protection to wood and each has its own advantages and disadvantages. Water-based poly is a lot easier to use. It has less odor and cleanup is easy with just soap and water. To clean up oil-based poly, you’ll need mineral spirits. Water-based poly dries a lot faster than oil-based poly but you’ll need to apply more coats. Usually three coats is fine for oil, but water-based poly will need four or even more coats. But really the biggest difference in the two types is how they look on wood.
I tend to prefer oil-based polyurethane because it gives the wood a warmer somewhat amber look that most people find very pleasing. Water-based poly is really clear sometimes people complain that it looks like a plastic coating on wood. Finally, there’s a third option called wipe-on poly which is just regular polyurethane that the manufacturer has thinned down with mineral spirits. You can actually just make your own if you like. It’s easy to apply, just pour some on a rag and wipe it on the wood. Wipe-on poly finish can look really great and sometimes even better than a brushed on finish. Of course you’ll probably need to add more coats of it for good results. If you’ve watched my show for any length of time you know that my favorite finish to use is a lacquer. It looks great and it dries incredibly fast.
With lacquer you can finish an entire project in just a few hours. Even faster for small projects. Almost all wood furniture that you might buy at a store is finished with lacquer. In industrial and professional production environments it’s always sprayed on with an HVLP sprayer. You can learn more about HVLP spraying here. Luckily there are two easier options available for hobbyists and weekened woodworkers. The first is brushing lacquer. Apply it using the exact same brushing procedure I described for polyurethane. The only change in technique is to brush a little faster and definitely, definitely don’t brush back and forth. Lacquer dries so quickly that it can gum up if you overwork it. Again, if you miss a spot don’t try to fix it, just get it in the next coat. If you can set up a backlight so that you can look across the surface as you apply the finish that helps out a lot.
The best part about lacquer is that you don’t need to sand it between coats. Rather than sitting on top of each other, each coat fuses into the one beneath it and this combination of fast drying and not having to sand allows you to build up lots of coats of lacquer in a very short time. You’ll need lacquer thinner to clean your brushes but I don’t clean the brushes thoroughly between coats. I like to just wrap the brush in a paper towel or rag moistened with lacquer thinner and just put it in a plastic bag.
I like to lightly sand the surface before applying the final coat of lacquer this will knock down any little dust nibs or drips and make the top coat very smooth. Without question, lacquer from a spray can is my go-to finish. It’s easy to apply, just spray it on in a back-and-forth motion being careful not to get too close or too slow where it can develop drips or runs. For small projects spray lacquer is an absolutely fantastic finish. You don’t need any brushes or lacquer thinner. To learn more about my technique for getting a great spray lacquer finish, watch this video over here. After the lacquer has fully cured say 24 hours or so, I like to smooth out the topcoat. To me this is what separates a good finish from a great finish. One that is very tactile and feels smooth without any dust nibs or other imperfections.
I almost always use gloss lacquer to get an easy satin finish. From that I lightly sand the surface with Faurot steel wool or a gray synthetic scrubbing pad. If you want you can actually rub that finish to a super high-gloss finish using finer and finer sandpaper and pumice. But that’s a topic for another video. I usually limit it to just that one smoothing because I like the look and feel of a satin finish. Of course you can buy satin lacquer but you’ll still need to rub down that final coat if you want it to have that great tactile feel. Gloss lacquer is just more versatile. Lacquer can be more expensive than other finishes, especially the spray cans. Secondly, lacquer has a very strong order that can be really harmful to breathe so use a respirator rated for organic vapors and solvent filtering. Lastly, some people complain about the look of lacquered finishes saying they look too artificial. I don’t share that opinion at all and I love the look of lacquered pieces. When you want a beautiful finish that looks absolutely gorgeous and really shows off the wood, an oil finish is a great option, plus it’s really the easiest finish to apply.
But like I mentioned earlier, an oil finish doesn’t offer much protection to wood it would not be a good choice say for a dining table or a desk that’s subjected to a lot of use. But an oil finish can be a good option for decorative pieces say picture frames or jewelry boxes. Oil finishes are arguably the most natural looking, close to the wood, earthy way to finish wood. There are basically two types of oil finishes Tung oil and Linseed oil. They both penetrate into the wood unlike lacquer or polyurethane that builds up on top of the wood. Applying either one is easy you just pour some on a rag or directly on the wood surface and wipe it in.
Let it sit for five to ten minutes then wipe it off. If I’m using Linseed oil I’d like to let it dry a couple of hours and then lightly sand the surface and apply a second coat. I’ve never seen any benefit to applying any more coats than two. Let it dry overnight and you’re good to go. Tung oil on the other hand can take days. Use the same wipe on wipe off procedure as a linseed oil but let it dry 24 hours before sanding it and applying the next coat.
Usually you’ll need to apply four or five coats. The benefit to Tung oil is that it offers more water resistance than linseed oil so it might be a good choice for say an end table that doesn’t get a whole lot of use. But if water resistance is your main concern why bother with an oil finish at all? Just use poly or lacquer. A third alternative that I consider an oil finish is Danish oil and it it’s actually a blend of polyurethane and Tung or linseed oil. I think it tries to be the best of both worlds in for the most part it does a pretty good job. But as you might expect it doesn’t look quite as natural as a pure oil finish and it doesn’t offer the protection of a layered finish.
In fact, a lot of people apply a coat of straight polyurethane on top of the Danish oil for added protection. For the most part finishing doesn’t have to be a real chore and for small projects you can’t go wrong with the simplicity of spray lacquer. Well there are lots of other types of finishes such as shellac and finishing wax and there are tons of different techniques for finishing wood. I hope this video has been helpful and is enough to get you started. Please be sure to subscribe to Woodworking for Mere Mortals and share this video if you found it useful. Thanks for watching everybody! I’ll see you next time. .