Avoiding Dust Nibs

Most of us don’t have the luxury of a separate finishing room. Instead, we apply finish in the same space where we rip, rout, and sand. So it’s no wonder devilish dust nibs haunt our fresh finishes. When the going gets rough, use these strategies to smooth things over.

Work cleanly

It’s easier to clean up dust as you go than to remove it after it builds up on everything. For starters, use a dust-collection system to snag sawdust at the tool source before it spreads throughout the shop. Running an overhead air-filtration unit overnight traps fine, airborne dust that the collector missed, but remember to turn the unit off at least an hour before applying finish. Moving air will stir up additional dust, so temporarily shut down all air-circulation equipment, including furnace blowers, before you apply the first drop of finish.

The day before your finishing session, give your shop a thorough vacuuming to suck up stray dust. Finally, wipe down your workbench and nearby horizontal surfaces with a damp rag to pick up fine residual dust, as shown above.

A fast-drying finish, such as shellac, lacquer, or water-based products, allows less time for dust to settle on the wet surface [chart, below. Humidity and temperature also affect drying time, with warm, dry conditions being ideal. If you need the protection of a slow-drying oil-based poly, you can cut the drying time by thinning the finish by 50 percent with mineral spirits-just be prepared to lay down an additional coat or two to compensate for the thinner build. Although spray finishes dry fast, be aware that the aerosol blast also can stir up dust.


Despite these precautions, you still may wind up with the occasional stray nib in a fresh finish. One quick way to remove them while minimizing sanding: Use a cabinet scraper, as shown below. Then, lightly sand between coats with 400-grit sandpaper. Wipe with a damp rag to remove the sanding dust and apply the topcoat. After the topcoat dries thoroughly, buff it as shown below.

Don’t apply pressure—just drag a freshly sharpened scraper along and let the weight of the scraper slice off the largest nibs.

Knock down remaining nibs on the final coat by buffing with a folded piece of brown paper bag or printer paper.

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