Saturday, January 23, 2010

Step Five: Finishing the Wood

So this is where all of the work from the last three months will pay off.  Seeing gleaming finished boards ready to install is a wonderful thing.  I will write an after post once things are installed, but first, Step Five: how we finished the wood.

When I left off, we had sanded the boards down to 220 grit sand paper.  The first thing we did to prep them for finish is to wipe the dust off the boards.  A tack cloth works best for this, though ours keeps running off, so I just use a clean, lint free cloth.

After wiping down the boards, I put on a thin coat of shellac.  This keeps the boards from taking the stain unevenly.  Once this is dry, I stain.

The woodwork in our house is pine, according to Kevin, and was originally stained very dark to look more sophisticated.  We are keeping to the original spirit by staining the boards, though we are going a lot lighter than the original.  The stain we are using is Minwax's Vermont Maple.  Kevin held up a bottle of genuine maple syrup to a board, and it does have an uncanny resemblance.

Anyway, I digress. I use a cloth and put on a liberal amount of stain to all sides of the board that will be public.  I then wait 1-2 minutes and use another cloth to wipe off excess stain.  If the boards are small enough, I put stain on one, then another, then wipe off the first and then the second.  If it's too long a board, I just wait about half a song (listening to music is a pretty good way to time it), then wipe it off.

Up until now, we've been finishing everything (a spare bedroom and the three restored main floor windows) with shellac.  I like shellac, and I understand it is the historically accurate finish, however, I think I need a higher skill level to use it.  It dries incredibly fast, which makes it rather hard to apply.  Kevin and I thought long and hard about whether we wanted to keep going with the shellac, or switch to something else. The trim is going to see a lot of abuse and use, so something strong was essential.  Shellac has a tendency to get water spotting and reacts poorly to alcohol. Also, I am not happy at all with how it's held up on the window sills we've restored just last year.

After reading a lot of advice from Fine Homebuilding magazine's online archive,  we decided to switch to a oil-poly blend they recommended:

So far we are really happy with this product.  It is a wipe-on finish and has a three hour dry time, which makes it easy to apply.  I put on a third coat today.  The plan now is to install everything with three coats, then apply a fourth coat to the installed boards after filling nail holes.  Here is what the finished boards look like:

Pretty, huh?


Omar said...

I also have pine woodwork and fear the blotchy issue. I've refinished, stained, poly'd one obscure area in the house and encountered some blotchiness. I want to research the best way to go about this before tackling the "money" areas. I've heard wood conditioner is also used before the stain.. I wonder if it produces the same effect? I've been lurking for a while and have enjoyed your wood finishing series. Thanks :)

bungled said...


We have used wood conditioner too and were happy with the results. We used shellac this time because it is what a lot of pros use (and because we have some laying around). Check out Fine Woodworking magazine. I think you have to pay a little for an online subscription, but they really dig deep into the technical aspects of wood.

Thanks for reading!