When it comes to finishing pens, bowls, and many other small turnings, you won't find any easier way than applying the finish while the project spins on the lathe.
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Liquid Finish

When it comes to finishing pens, bowls, and many other small turnings, you won't find any easier way than applying the finish while the project spins on the lathe. Here are two finishes made just for that.

Finish with a French accent A liquid finish variously referred to as French finish, turner's finish, or padding lacquer gives turned work a rich, satin luster. A variation on the true French polish process, this technique dates far back into history.

You can buy a ready-to-use finish such as French Polish (available from Craft Supplies USA, 800/551-8876) or make your own. For a home-brew finish, mix equal parts of shellac, denatured alcohol, and boiled linseed oil.

If you make your own shellac from flakes (shown in the photo above), mix 2 pounds of flakes into a gallon of denatured alcohol for a two-pound cut. (Or mix 14 pound into a pint for a smaller quantity.) Shellac and turner's finish work best when fresh, so mix small amounts.

Whichever formulation you use, application is straightforward. After sanding the turning to at least 220-grit, clean off all dust. Then fold clean, soft cotton fabric into a pad several layers thick and about 3x5".

Dampen the pad with the finish. Then, with the lathe running at about 2000 rpm, press the dampened pad against the bottom of the workpiece, as shown left. Lay the pad on your fingertips and grip it with your thumb, keeping your fingers and thumb pointing in the direction of lathe rotation. You want the pad to be able to pull free from your hand if it catches on the turning.

Press the pad against the work with moderate pressure, and move it from side to side for even coverage. Heat generated by friction dries the finish almost instantly, so you can assess your results as you go. Build up several light applications to achieve the best results.


Solid Finish

A quick, solid finish We like turner's finish for decorative bowls, plates, vases, and other vessels. For small turnings, like pens, pencils, and similar projects, though, we prefer HUT Wood Finish (available from HUT Products for Wood, 800/547-5461, or Craft Supplies USA). This proprietary blend of waxes and polishing compounds comes in stick form, making application neat and virtually foolproof.

HUT offers three varieties—HUT Wood Finish, a satin finish for general lathe work; Perfect Pen Polish, a satin finish formulated for pens; and high-gloss Perfect Pen Polish. You apply all three the same way.

Run the lathe at 2500 rpm or faster (or the highest speed that's safe for the size of your workpiece). Then, starting at one end of the turning, press the stick of finish against the surface, as shown in the photo at below. Move it slowly toward the other end, covering the surface evenly. Apply the stick to the lower portion of the turning, where it's rotating away from you.


Next, rub a cloth pad or crumpled-up paper towel hard against the rotating object to burnish the finish, as shown below. The heat of friction melts the finish into the surface, and the pad picks up the excess. As with the French polish, hold the pad in such a way that it will pull free of your hand instantly if it snags on the turning. After burnishing, buff the rotating turning with a clean pad.