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A good finish is as important to a furniture project as its construction. You’d be surprised how much trouble that statement has gotten me into over the last few years, but it happens to be true.  The first reaction I get to it is, “Not every project needs a finish,” and that’s also absolutely true — however, that particular statement is often the battle cry of the lazy.

Before anyone works up too much righteous indignation, let me point out that you don’t have to go any further than pictures of my own home shop to prove I don’t stain everything.  Of course you don’t apply finish in places where it doesn’t matter, like out in the shop, or if you’re going for the “old country kitchen” look.  But there’s only so much Ma and Pa Kettle to go around — most other projects wind up looking and performing better with some sort of finish, like stain, paint, or poly.

Take reader Beano_t, for instance:  His treasure chest looked good before, but after finishing it looks great. Most projects are this way.  It doesn’t have to be incredibly fancy, and you don’t have to mix your own colors to stain properly either.  If you take the time to investigate, you’ll find plenty of stains and sealers out there that can provide a beautiful top coat — there are enough choices to suit anyone’s take on good-looking.

From Tung oil to gel stains, if you take just a little time and care, your project goes from nice to something people fight over when you’re done.  Don’t buy into the hype of “naked furniture is better.”  Naked furniture isn’t done yet — that’s why they call it naked.  Even if you’re not into the whole finish thing and you think wood looks better natural, a bit of oil or a coat of some kind of sealer will protect that fresh-grained look a lot longer than nothing.

I’m not speaking from on high as some sort of stain wizard either.  I’m actually not very good at it, and I hate taking the extra time to lay on coats of anything. The only reason I bother is that Danish oil and a few coats of poly followed by wax makes my rather ordinary projects look like I bought them from a store — and that’s a huge jump from what they look like beforehand.

To sum up that whole rant:  It’s often a good idea to finish out your furniture projects.  It’s a giant pain in the backside, but you get out what you put in.

Many thanks to Beano_t for the beautiful Treasure Chest pics.

Toolmonger Photo Pool [Flickr]


6 Responses to Editorial: Finish What You Started

  1. Gary says:

    Anyone that says you don’t have to finish furniture must think it’s either for the shop or that it’s going to sit in a sealed in glass box.

    Surface prep before the finish and not applying it too heavily helps immensely.

  2. nigel says:

    looking to stain some pine to the same colour as mahogany.
    What should I use. Normaly I use oil and wax but hoped to get the same tone at least to match another piece.

  3. beano_t says:

    I would say, on a soft wood like pine to use a pre-sain conditioner like I did on this project or you you may not get as EVEN of a finsh with pine. Other than that try taking a spare piece of pine and treat/stain until you get the right color you like. then apply to your project. Always better to test it out first.

    that being said depending on the wood you are trying to match i have always had good luck with a good minwax pre-conditioner, stain, and several layers of polyurethane.(sanding in between) keeping in mind your finish on your matching piece.

  4. Gary says:

    nigel, you might also take a look at general finishes – seal a cell is the wood conditioner and, they have a lot of stain colors and their poly is very good

  5. Jereme Green says:

    Wow that is a awsome box I love the craftsmanship that was put in it

  6. diluded000 says:

    nigel – You might try a gel stain. Pine will get blotches where it accepts stain differently in strange places. As suggested, the pre-stain conditioners are good, or a wash coat of watered down glue, or a couple of thin coats of shellac, all lightly sanded, will keep the stains from soaking differently in different places and help reduce blotching. The gel stain is just thicker, so you can wipe it off before it soaks too deep. I’ve tried all these, and they work pretty well. Another way is to just bombard the crap out of it with a heavy mix of really dark powdered stain. So dark that the top layer of wood is almost layered with dye pigments. I did that for some stairs made out of 2x12s, then coated them with a couple thick coats of poly, and they held up for years.

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