Monday, July 1, 2013

Applying the finish

And now we are onto a very exciting step in this project (and in most others as well). Many people do not appreciate this step in woodworking, and that step is the finishing, which includes sanding and application of some sort of protective coat. This can be very exciting because once you apply that first coat of finish, you get a glimpse of what your project is going to look like when it is finished. Because I am using plywood, the surface is nearly ready to have a finish applied right away. I simply did a light sanding with 220 grit using the random orbit sander (ROS) to smooth out the surface, and remove and pencil marks. When dealing with solid wood, the sanding process is a bit more lengthy, usually beginning at 80 grit to remove milling marks ...etc.

After the light sanding, I gathered some necessary items for the finish, a brush, the finish itself (I am using a satin water-based polyurethane finish by Varathane) and a container, all shown below. Not shown are some other things such as masking tape and gloves.
Simple supplies needed for finishing
I use the container to pour a small amount of finish. This way, any contamination is limited only to this small amount, and not the entire can (this stuff isn't the cheapest). Next, I prepare the pieces for finishing. When I apply the finish, small droplets may drip down the edges of the piece, and then adhere the work piece to the bench, or make their way onto the other side. Neither of these events are desired, so I do two things. To deal with the first issue, I need a way to keep the work piece slightly elevated, so using double-sided tape. I attach a few pieces of cardboard to one side. The soft cardboard will not mar the surface, which is also a plus.
Cardboard to give the piece some lift.
To address the issue of droplets running onto the opposite surface, I used masking tape to tape of the areas I want to avoid getting finish on. Of course, I will be finishing both sides, but having droplets drying onto the surface will be noticeable in the end.
Masking tape to keep the spread of the varnish under control.
Finally, I gather all of the pieces together in a convenient location. Yes, that is our deep freezer underneath the pieces. It is conveniently located near my workbench as shown in the following photo. When you have limited space, any surface becomes fair game to set things upon.
Getting organized.
A conveniently located freezer.
So why am I using a water-based finish? I am no expert on finishes, in fact, this is the first one I've done in many years, so my reasoning is a result of a chat with a very helpful employee at the store where I purchased the Varathane. Water-based finishes have nearly zero odour, and when dry, leave a crystal clear coat, whereas an oil-based finish stinks and will develop a yellow hue over time. This is not to say water-based is better, it simply fit the bill for the look I was going for. I have read in many forums that oil-based finishes are much easier to apply. Sometime in the future, I hope to experiment with different finishes.

Another fact about water-based finishes is that they easily become bubbly. Thus, I cannot shake the can, or stir very vigorously. It also means that it is not a good idea to wipe it on with a cloth or roller. So as shown below, I give the varnish a gentle stir, and start brushing it on.
Stir gently and apply with brush.
Going back to my statement about all surfaces finding some use in the shop, I really had to be creative in finding places to set these pieces while they dried. Below are some places I found:

Both shelves of my workbench,
A pallet I found at work,
And the table saw. Wait what? Where did THAT tool come from? That is an adventure for another time!
Here's one more photo for your enjoyment:
Can you find all of the pieces?
Using a test piece (in this case an extra drawer), I figured out the process I wanted to use. I tried diluting the varnish with water to about 1:3 water:varnish hopefully allowing me to wipe it one. This worked out all right, but since each coat went on so thin, I needed somewhere around 6-8 coats. I used this method with many of the pieces, but towards the end, after developing my technique, I found that three coats with the brush worked just as well (and actually ended up with a slightly thicker overall coat).

To do the final finishing, I used 600 grit sandpaper on the ROS and then finished with steel wool (#0000, the finest available) which gave the piece a nice satin finish. I found out near the end, that I should have started with 400 grit, followed by 600, but in the end all pieces ended up looking quite nice. With the conclusion of this step, the closet organizer can finally be assembled. I will talk about the steps leading to this next post.

Once again, thanks for your continued interest in my various activities involving wood!

1 comment:

  1. It has been a while since I looked. You must have been talking about me when you mentioned not liking the finishing part :) Your stuff looks much nicer than mine does. (remember the boat you helped build)