You’re hesitant. You have invested a number of hours in designing and crafting that one-of-a-kind piece of furniture in cherry and there it sits in your workshop, awaiting the finish. You know how important it is to get this final step just right, but so far your finishes have kept your pieces from being everything they deserve to be. Runs, lacking in depth, too glossy, brush marks, fumes permeating the shop; all those and more will be a thing of the past when you use my simple cherry finish.
Don’t fret over this crucial last phase of the build. This simple cherry finish will make your hard work shine through.
Varnish (including polyurethane) by itself is a great finish. It produces a clear finish with a lot of depth; has superior water, abrasion, solvent and heat resistance, and it has good rubbing and polishing qualities. However, it can be finicky to apply if you’re not adept at brushwork, and it’s notorious for becoming embedded with dust – because it dries slowly.
An alternative, which might give you the best of both worlds, are shop-made blended finishes. The results they produce can be very satisfying. Basically, there are two types of these finishes – wiping varnish and oil/varnish blends.
According to Bob Flexner’s “Understanding Wood Finishing”, French polishing refers to a technique for applying shellac, not a finish in and of itself. Essentially you apply a very large number of thin coats of shellac using a pad, a wee bit of oil, and a lot of elbow grease. There’s no need to get too caught up in the ‘right’ way of doing it. Like anything in life, with ample practice your French polished pieces will look better and better, and you’ll work out a sequence of steps that suit you best.
Do keep in mind that while a French polished surface has a high water vapour resistance, it has relatively low abrasion resistance. So it’s best used for pieces that won’t get a lot of heavy use, or be subject to water or alcohol spills.
In the last article I described shellac as an easy to use finish: easy to apply, easy to clean up, and easy to repair. In this article we look at an elegant nature of shellac: French polishing.
We tell you everything you need to know about sandpaper – but were afraid to ask.
It’s easy to think that surfaces prepared on jointers and planers are ready for finishing, particularly when working with wood that has a straight grain and a fine, even texture.
But no – surfaces may look and feel quite smooth, though closer inspection almost always reveals the presence of minute grooves, or ripple marks, on the wood’s surface. There are also likely to be areas of tearout. While the marks may be very small, they need to be removed in order to ensure a first-class finish.
Don’t think that machines equipped with segmented (aka helical or spiral) cutterheads do any better – they also produce ripple marks that you will want to remove. The principle here is that machinery (including routers and shapers) are used to dimension your stock, not to prepare surfaces for finishing.