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Make Your Furniture Shine

Mar 14, 2008
There are two general types of finishes for furniture, classified according to whether they are transparent or opaque. The transparent finishes, designed to bring out the natural beauty of the wood are oil, water, and spirit stains, rubbed oil and wax finishes, shellacs, varnishes, and clear lacquer. The opaque coatings include paint and lacquer enamels.

The most vital step in the finishing of furniture is the preparation of the wood surfaces. The wood is the foundation of the finish, and whether the finish is opaque or transparent, what lies under it will affect its character and reflect the degree of skill and care bestowed upon it.

In all newly made furniture, whether a copy of an old piece or the latest modern design, the basic treatment is the same. The wood must be smooth and free from rough grain, and all dust carefully wiped off before any finish is applied. The first stage in finishing any piece is the smoothing of the surface, and for this operation steel scrapers, sandpaper, and steel wool may be used.


On certain woods, such as soft pines and cedar, it is sometimes advisable to smooth the surface after planing by scraping. The tool used is a flat piece of steel such as a piece, 5" x 2 1/2 ", cut from a hand saw blade. The edge must be perfectly straight, and filed to a slight bevel, say 30 degrees, and smoothed on an oilstone. Then a cutting edge is formed on it by rubbing a piece of hard steel along the edge so that a burr is formed on one or both edges. The scraper is used by holding it firmly with both hands, bowing it slightly outward in the center and pushing (and sometimes pulling) it along parallel to the grain of the wood.


The best type of sandpaper for fine cabinet work is the garnet paper, and the most useful grits are (in order of increasing coarseness) the 4/0, 3/0, 00, and 1/2. The 6/0, wet-or-dry paper, dipped in water, is often used for smoothing between finish coats. Sandpaper is always applied along the grain in a straight forward and back motion.

Working with Steel Wool

Pads of steel wool can be used to finish any wood surface, though flecks of metal are apt to become imbedded. It is, however, better reserved for smoothing after the application of filler or the first coating. The coarsest wool used for these purposes is the No. 1; and Nos. 0 and 00 are generally better for fine work. In all cases the steel wool is applied in the direction of the grain. If a coating of any kind has been applied it is necessary to use long, sweeping, light strokes so as not to generate appreciable heat in any one spot.


Of the three types of stain available, the oil stain is much the best in the hands of a novice. The water stains raise the grain, and both they and the spirit stains are quite difficult to apply without streaking.
The oil stain should be applied with a clean varnish brush, after testing the color on a piece of scrap wood of the kind used in the furniture. If a light finish is required, the stain can be wiped off after a minute or so. The longer it is left, the darker it will become, within limits. If the stain is too dark to begin with, it may be thinned with turpentine. Since end grain absorbs more stain it normally finishes darker. This can be checked by dampening it with clear turpentine before staining.

In staining horizontal grains it is usual to begin in the center and work toward the ends. For vertical grain, as in cabinet ends, start at the top and work down. Any recesses or inside angles should be done first, but do not let any part dry before completing the whole surface.

Once the furniture has been finished, you can enjoy the work you have created.
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