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Wipe out project tool marks

When staining and finishing, nobody likes surprises. But snipe, chatter marks, and more can show up to mar your finest craftsmanship. Following these simple precautions, you can remove the goofs before they pose a problem.

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The tool-mark legacy

The tool-mark legacy

It happens to the best of us, but by following a few simple precautions, you can remove the goofs before they pose a problem. Begin with sound machining, assembly, and prep practices, relying on the handy Tool-Mark Problem Solver for specific fixes.

Tool marks leave an uneven surface on the wood, change its color, and alter the way it absorbs a stain or finish. Once a stain or finish goes on, most tool marks are pretty much there to stay, unless you sand back down to bare wood. The ultimate strategy for eliminating tool marks is prevention, with final touch-ups serving as backup.

An ounce of prevention

Preventing tool marks starts by using only sharp and clean bits, blades, and other cutters on your machines, and running these at the proper speed. Align your tablesaw fence parallel to the blade. Also, mill all pieces of stock slightly oversize, observing how well the wood machines, and adjusting feed rates and direction to get the best cut. Finally, "sneak up" on the final cut, taking off just a small amount of material. Doing this will clean up existing tool marks without creating new ones.

Sanding smarts

Many believe power-sanding cures a world of ills, and it can. But it also can cause its own set of tool-mark problems. Take care here or you'll risk the hard work you spent building the project.

First, wipe down all the surfaces you plan to sand with a tack rag to remove sawdust and other debris that can make scratches when they are picked up by the sander. Then, move up through the sandpaper grits in small steps from coarse to fine and let the sander do the work, wiping down the piece between each grit change.

Next, use a soft cloth to apply mineral spirits to all the areas you sanded. The "mineral spirits rubdown," shown at right, offers three benefits -- it gives you an idea what the wood will look like under a clear finish, shows up glue stains you may have missed, and highlights any remaining tool marks, including notoriously hard-to-see sanding swirls. Note the spots that need more work and go back to them after the mineral spirits dries. This trick also can be used prior to assembly or during dry-fitting to find problems that would be difficult to repair after assembly.

Continued on page 2:  Reaching the finish line


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