Finishing Sculpted Furniture
Stages 1 & 2
"Basically, there are two types of finishes for furniture: penetrating oils, such as Danish oil, and film finishes, such as lacquer and varnish," Victor notes. "Oils give wood a rich glow. But they don't protect it. Film finishes protect, but do little for the wood's natural beauty."
Victor, though, discovered a two-stage finish a few years ago made by General Finishes (General Finishes Corp., P.O. Box 51567, New Berlin, WI 53151, 414/786-6050) that has some of the advantages of both types. "I call the finish a compromise because the first coat has the good look of oil, and the top coat -- although not film -- has body. So the finish not only has a deep luster, but it's relatively tough," he comments.
Called Sealacell, the first coat is a clear penetrating sealer of tung oil, the woodworker explains. "Like a Danish oil, it cures so slowly that essentially it doesn't cure. I apply this first coat, thinned about 25 percent with paint thinner, with 220-grit wet-dry paper and actually sand the piece with the grain, with the oil as a lubricant. Then I wipe it off clean and give it another sanding with the finish. After wiping that off, I let the oil dry, then go directly to the top coats."
For Victor's second stage, the top coat, he wipes on Arm-R-Seal, also made by General Finishes. "It's an oil-and-urethane mixture that gives the wood a satin finish," he says.
Between top-coat applications, put on with a cloth, Victor rubs down the surface with 0000 steel wool. "There's no easy way to get around this aspect if you want a beautiful finish," he notes. "I put on six, seven, even eight finish coats, all rubbed after application. This finish is almost like applying a hand cream. You strengthen the wood fiber from the inside out as opposed to putting a film over the top." Once he's applied the finish, he lets it dry for eight hours.
The California woodworker admits not following to the letter the manufacturer's label instructions on application. "Many people don't even bother to read the directions on the label. When I find a new finish, I do because they're a place to start," says Victor. "For instance, if the directions say 'apply two coats' assume that you'll need more. Those are just the words of some copywriter wanting to make it seem easy. And two coats will give you some success. But as you can see, I've developed an intensive application process-for a reason."
Victor's reasoning tells him that the burnishing he does with steel wool on the top coats makes the wood ultra smooth because it has a quite different cutting action. "Sandpaper cuts and digs, opening up the wood fibers. Steel wool rubs them closed. I'm literally compressing the surface. And the number of coats I put on depends on the porosity of the wood species I'm using. Some woods fill up with finish faster."
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