When to finish before assembly
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Wood Magazine

When to finish before assembly

Most of us apply linear thinking to project building: Cut parts to size, fasten them together, and then apply finish. But good woodworkers don't always finish last. In some cases, it makes sense to apply finish before you glue parts together.

For example, in the assembly shown right, the spindles will be less than 1" apart after being joined to the rails. Brushing on the stain (and later, the topcoat) before glue-up gives you easy access to all sides of the spindles, as well as the full edges of the rails, and avoids uneven coloring from stain stuck in confined places. Painter's tape keeps finish off the tenons, preserving a clean surface for glue-up.


Stain when access is easy
Staining large cabinate
Enlarge Image
Staining a partial assembly
provides better access to its
interior. Painter's tape masks
glue surfaces for the face frame
added later.

Stain when access is easy

It often makes sense to finish partial assemblies, too. As shown at right, staining the cabinet carcase before attaching the back or face frame allows you to work from both the front and rear to reach all surfaces. Staining with those pieces omitted also reduces shadows that mask areas of uneven coverage and eliminates corners where three surfaces meet. Stain, especially a gel type, collects in those hard-to-reach areas, creating a blotch.


Keep the contrast
Glue bottle by boards being put together
Enlarge Image
Staining these shelves before
screwing them in place gives
easy access to all sides of them
and eliminates stain creeping
onto unstained parts.

Keep the contrast

Some projects may have parts with different shades of finish, or stained parts next to unstained parts. Staining before assembly ensures each piece gets only the proper color, right.


Prevent accidental reveals
Edges of boards
Enlarge Image
Overlapping rabbets let these
boards expand and contract.
Applying finish before placing
them prevents unstained edges
from showing as they move.

Prevent accidental reveals

It also pays to finish solid-wood pieces when expansion and contraction could reveal unfinished borders, such as with a raised panel in a frame-and-panel assembly, or the ship-lapped cabinet back shown right. With stain applied to the full width of their front faces, an unfinished edge will never show as the boards swell and shrink across their widths.



Wood Magazine