In my travels around the country demonstrating and training with HVLP spray systems (high volume, low pressure), I talk with a lot of woodworkers. Whenever I’m with a group, I’ll ask if they apply a finish other than a wipe on oil. I generally find that 30 percent do, half don’t and two, “Give it to my buddy who paints cars.”
This bothers me because I know a project isn’t finished until it’s “finished” – as a custom cabinetmaker for 30 years, I’ve never had a customer who thought the job was complete before it had finish added. Without finish, the project is not protected. It is unfinished.
I’m not talking about matching an 18th-century Chippendale finish of museum quality to period standards using original materials. I’m talking about simply using a stain and clear coat, a protective finish appropriate for the project.
The biggest misconception I hear is that applying the finish incorrectly can ruin a project. That’s simply not true. Depending on the finish you apply, there are a number of ways to remove that finish, some with and some without too much hassle. But that shouldn’t stand in your way of actually finishing the project. If a child were to worry about falling down every time they stood up, would they ever stand up? Another misconception I’ve heard is that you have to be a chemist to know everything there is to know about finishes. Not once in all my years dealing with customers, did any one of them ask what chemicals were in my finish. Customers never asked, and my cabinets didn’t care.
There are a few general descriptions about types of finishes that you need to know. (You can read more about finishes in Fundamentals of Fearless Finishing: Part III.) This helps you decide what type of finish you want to use. It then gets even easier because once you decide what type of finish you want to use, you have virtually eliminated three-quarters of all of the other finishes. Here is what makes finishing really simple: You’re going to pick a couple of finishes that work for you and use them the rest of your life – it’s human nature. There are not 4,000 different finishes available because we need that many. There are 4,000 finishes because there are so many different people finishing different projects and everyone has different needs and expectations. After you’ve found the ones that work best for you and you get the results you want, you’ll never change them unless you have to.