Finishing Steps, and the Completed Table

For me, finishing is like sharpening. There’s a lot of ways to do it, and I often think it’s best to pick one or two and stick with them.  I think you’re likely to produce better results that way than trying to tailor your finish to each individual piece, rather than practicing one or two different ones.

In my case, I use three different finishes:

Oil only: 6-7 coats of hand-rubbed danish oil (which is actually an oil/varnish blend. I use Watco Danish Oil.

Buffed: one coat of oil, followed by a pass through the Beall Wood Buffer system. This isn’t a furniture finish, so it doesn’t really count. Only usable for small, fairly sturdy items.

Lacquer: This is my standard furniture finish. I believe it was described by the Danish master Tage Frid. It’s almost foolproof, durable, and easy to apply. The order is:

  • Sand to 220 grit
  • Danish oil: 1 heavy coat. Dry 24 hours. Scuff-sand with 220 grit.
  • Sanding sealer: 1 coat. You must use Lacquer-based sanding sealer. Dry 2 hours. Sand with 220 grit (remove the shine). Wipe very clean.
  • Lacquer: 1st coat. Dry 3 hours. Sand 320 grit (remove the shine). Wipe very clean.
  • Lacquer: 2nd coat. Dry 3 hours. Sand as above.
  • Lacquer: 3rd coat. Dry 3 hours. Sand as above.
  • Lacquer: 4th coat (optional). Dry 24 hours.
  • Lightly rub with 0000 steel wool, and buff with paste wax.

There’s not too much that can go wrong with it.  I don’t own a HVLP sprayer; I don’t do enough work to make it a reasonable investment.  Good ones aren’t cheap.  I use Deft Spray Lacquer, by the can. It works beautifully; it’s just not as cost-effective.  Even coverage with spray takes some practice. It’s important to keep the nozzle facing the work at the same angle as much as possible, moving back and forth at a consistent distance from the work.  It’s easy to catch yourself swinging your arm in an arc, which will cause both drips and runs in the center of the arc, and spotty coverage at the edges.

This finish takes three days to complete.  I have yet to have a major problem with it, and it’s about all I use on furniture at this point. It makes an even, clear, medium-gloss finish that’s pretty durable, and suitable for about any indoor furniture.

Of course, nothing ever goes quite as predicted.

Everything was fine until It was done – and I slid the drawer into place. Or rather, tried to.  I used figure-8 fasteners to attach the table top, to allow for expansion room for humidity changes.  If you don’t the table can literally tear itself apart. Whatever method you use to attach the top has to be able to shift slightly.

The figure-8 fasteners attach in small recesses in the sides and back of the top of the aprons in one hole, and to the top through their other hole.  The problem (completely unexpected, of course) was that the fasteners are about 1/8″ thick, and there wasn’t clearance below them to allow the drawer to close.  That one, I didn’t see coming.

The answer was to remove the top and the fasteners, flatten one end of them in a vise (they were stamped metal, not solid), and drill a slight recess in the top with a forstner bit.  Then, when attached to the top, there was enough clearance for the drawer.

I tapped the pegs into place on the stretcher, and it was finished. It looks very much like I had visualized in its new home.

This was an amazing project. In many ways, it was the most difficult thing I’ve ever attempted – the difficulty of the hand-cut joinery, my first real dovetails, the angles of the casework, the copper fills, and the hardness and unpredictable grain of the wood all combined to make it a real challenge. But almost four months after it started, I’m a happy camper.

Thanks to those of you that have followed along on this little odyssey.  Originally, I started this blog for this particular project, but it seems to have grown into more than that.  So I’m going to continue, with further projects as they come along. Next will probably be a couple of small band-sawn jewelry boxes for a friend of mine, and then I’m planning to start a Roubo workbench.   But right now, I have a lot of resharpening to do.

Stay tuned. Same Bat-time, same Bat-channel.

Ross Henton
Frisco, Texas
April 2010

3 comments on “Finishing Steps, and the Completed Table

  1. Steve Branam says:

    Very nice! That mesquite really is gorgeous stuff. I’ve just about completed laminating the legs for mine. I’ve gotten off on a tangent about sharpening lately, but should get back on it this weekend.

    • rhenton says:

      I was just reading that. Good tangent! I’ll have to try it.
      I’ll be interested to see how your table goes – I thought it was a pretty exacting project. I didn’t do laminated quartersawn legs for mine; it doesn’t really work with mesquite. But the hardness of the wood was a real challenge.
      I saw you also did a Roubo – I’m going to start one in the next couple of weeks.

  2. Brian says:

    Very inspirational! I got some mesquite that I’d like to make into cabinet faces, we call mesquite kiawe here in Hawaii.

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