Secret Finish Fix

I learned many year ago that there are going to be problems when finishing. The simple saying that the difference between a woodworker and a great woodworker is that a great woodworker knows how to fix their problems is every bit as true when it comes to finish work. Learning a great finish fix is key to making your project look its best. The more weapons you have in your arsenal, the better your projects will look.

An early lesson for me dealt with glue spots. You’re better to find and fix them as you’re doing the last sanding before finish, as you’re applying dye or after you’ve applied your first layer of topcoat.

Obviously, we would all choose to discover and fix spots (and I’m talking about more than simply glue spots) as we’re wrapping up our sanding or scraping work. If you see a problem during dye application, depending on the dye being used, which is why I recommend and use water-based products, you can pause, sand away the problem spot then continue without damaging your application. If, however, you discover a problem after your dye has dried, do not attempt to fix it before a sealer coat, be it lacquer sanding sealer, shellac or something else.

When Problems Occur

Some of the most common problems, in fact, do not appear until later in the finishing process, particularly as we’re sanding or smoothing a topcoat. The looking glass I’m working on is a case in point. Smoothing the shellac build up with #0000 steel wool is no problem when working on the cresting or apron. But when working to smooth the surfaces of the frame itself, I burrowed right through to raw wood. (You can see that in the opening photo.)

Here’s how I go about fixing this problem. Dip a cotton swab into the dye used on your project, but before rubbing the tip over your problem area, dip the wet swab tip into your dye powder – the same powder used to mix your applied dye color. What you then have in hand is a concentrated load of dye. Only then do I coat the rub-through. Allow the bulked-up dye solution to sit for a few seconds before wiping away any excess.

You may wonder why or how this works. It does so because the dye can only soak into the exposed raw wood; dye cannot penetrate through your top coat, which is why I mentioned above that fixing any problems discovered after the dye is dry should be postponed until you have a sealer in place. Additionally, the edge is now not as sharp as it was at the beginning. That allows your finish to flow over the arris, so later sanding does not create a similar problem. (That’s why I always suggest that sharp edges be knocked down before finishing.

— Glen D. Huey

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