“Which finish should I use?”
It’s a common question at Cook Woods and that’s understandable! You’ve spent countless hours perfecting your project, and now you’re ready for the final finish. But what should you use? While we don’t specialize in finishing, there are many resources and tips that I’ve found that delve deeper into the topic.
The first resource that I enjoyed was a simple “how to” video put out by Fine Woodworking. I particularly liked this video because it’s simple and to the point and gives you a great place to start. It focuses mostly on what our customers use: finishes that you can brush or wipe on. You’re given instruction on what finish works well for what types of projects as well as details about how much protection each type of finish will offer. My favorite tip was as simple as “try it!”. Save your off cuts from the project and apply different choices of finishes on test boards to see what works well and what look you prefer. They also recommend layering certain finishes, such as applying a paste wax at the end of a project to give it extra luster, protection, and smoothness to the touch.
There are a number of free e-books that offer great advice on finishing!
A helpful one I found was a free download by Popular Woodworking. Visit the link, sign up for their email, and within a few clicks you have a downloadable guide that includes pictures and step by step instructions to finishing anything from domestic to exotic hardwoods. They discuss sanding techniques, application, pore filling, as well as the differences between various finishes that are offered on the market. I found this to be a very educational resource that digs deeper than the video by Fine Woodworking for those looking to gain more tips.
“Have you ever had a project that was coming along nicely up until the finishing step? You apply the polyurethane to the wood, and wait for it to dry. And wait. And wait.” Eric Meier. He wrote an article for The Wood Database, where he particularly addresses finishing exotic and tropical woods. Due to chemical reactions, oil based finishes can react poorly with some exotic woods that are more oily. Because of this, he advised using shellac on certain wood species.
Westfarthing Woodworks is a site to help new woodworkers make better projects. In it, there is a free .pdf that offers a “10 Step Guide to Wood Finishing”. I liked the fact that author, Brian Forbes, broke the steps down. I appreciated the flexibility this allowed me in choosing to read more about certain topics while passing over those I’d already grasped . He shared details about surface prep., sanding between coats, curing, residue removal, as well as the need for polishing to obtain a high gloss finish and much more. Since he’s an instrument maker, I appreciated his expertise, since instruments require a particularly sleek finish.
There are endless videos on youtube about wood finishing. Most of them include a lot of the tips mentioned above, but I thought it was difficult to narrow down my search. I discovered that I was more likely to find what I was looking for when searching for specific hardwoods. For example, when I typed “wood finishing” into youtube, I got a huge selection of videos; however, when I typed in “finishing ebony” I got a much more targeted result. Use these tools to your advantage in your quest for finishing knowledge!
I learned a great deal in writing this article! Am I an expert? Unfortunately not (and am not likely to be anytime soon) since I work with raw wood rather than finished projects! However, as an owner at Cook Woods, I highly value educational resources for woodworkers who frequent our website. Furthermore, exotic woods are extremely beautiful and it’s important to showcase that splendor. They deserve the TLC of a well-applied finish. I’d like to know if you’ve found any other good resources for finishing? Will you share them on our blog, so the whole Cook Woods community can benefit?
By Catherine Cook
Co-Owner of Cook Woods
Fine Woodworking Video:
Popular Woodworking e-book
Article from The Wood Database
10 Step Guide to Wood Finishing