Finishing tips and tricks

WOOD magazine readers come up with the cleverest ideas to ease their finishing woes.

  • Shop-made scraper won't mar refinishing job

    Using a steel putty knife to scrape off stripper-softened paint or other finishes can scar the furniture you're trying to refinish. Make a scraper like the one shown at right from 34 " pine or some other softwood. Cut the tool to shape with your scrollsaw or bandsaw, then taper it to an edge by sanding. Round over the handle edges for comfort. The wooden scraper won't nick the wood you're stripping, and the corners won't dig in as you lift off the old finish.
    —Sam Stucki, St. George, Utah

  • Chains take pains from drying parts

    When you have a lot of large parts to finish—such as shelves—spreading them out for drying can take up a lot of space. In a small shop, you may not have that space. Chains and ceiling hooks can make drying racks that hold a lot of parts in a small area. Screw the hooks into ceiling joists about 12" from the wall (or other distance, as appropriate). Space the hooks as the parts require and hang a 7-8' length of chain from each. Light-duty chain, such as the twisted-link variety, will suffice for most projects. On each part to be finished, center a screw or nail at each end. Hang the parts horizontally between the chains, placing the screws or nails into the chain links as shown in the illustration above.

    Using this same idea, you can hang parts vertically, too. Place a screw eye in one end of each part. Then, loop the chain between two ceiling hooks and hang the parts from S-hooks on the chain as shown below right.
    —Richard Trowbridge, Akron, Ohio

  • Hand-rubbed look is in the bag

    You could spend a lot of money on oil and pumice to get a hand-rubbed look on a varnish finish. But a brown paper bag will do a nice job as well.

    Cut out a section of a paper bag and wad it up a few times to soften the surface. Then, fold it into a flat pad that fits your hand comfortably and rub your finish with it. The paper will knock down small dust nibs to create a matte finish.
    —Alan Bakke, Forrest Lake, Minn.

  • Bed of staples takes the torture out of finishing

    Whether you spray or use a brush, finishing the bottom of a bowl, vase, or other small project always proves difficult. By elevating the project on this grid of staples as shown right, you can rotate it easily and apply the finish to the bottom edge without the project sticking to the surface it's resting on.

    Start by placing a piece of 14 "-thick cardboard on top of a piece of foam rubber. Now, take a staple gun and drive several rows of 12 "-long staples through the cardboard and into the foam. When you turn over the cardboard and peel off the foam rubber, you'll have a convenient, reusable bed of staples on which to place bowls, turned objects, and other small projects for finishing.
    —A.V. Joyce, Stittsville, Ont.

  • Coffee cans make great second hands

    To finish both sides of a project at one sitting, I support it on empty coffee cans fitted with sheet-metal screws that protrude from the bottoms as shown above Simply poke holes in the can bottom, then drive the screws through the holes from the inside of the coffee can. After coating one side of the project, I turn it over and rest it on the screw points to complete the job. Although the screw marks seldom show, coating the "best" side last ensures a mark-free job.
    —Frank J. Bober, Pine City, N.Y.

  • Clear up clouded vision

    To clean paint overspray off of plastic eyeglass lenses, spray them with WD-40, then wet a fingertip with more spray and rub it into the paint spatters. Let the WD-40 soak for a few minutes, then rinse it off with warm, soapy water.
    —Charles Hand, Indianapolis, Ind.

  • Soften bristles with dish detergent

    It seems like even the most careful cleaning of a paintbrush in solvent still results in a stiff, hard-to-use brush after it dries. To keep your brushes as soft and springy as they were when new, try the following:

    First, clean your brush in mineral spirits or the appropriate solvent. Then, wash the brush thoroughly with warm tap water and dishwashing detergent. The water and detergent remove minute traces of finish and solvent that otherwise will dry on the bristles and cause them to stiffen.
    —Jeff Isom, Waterloo, Neb.

  • Triangular cutoffs make handy staining stands

    After I stained one side of a paneled door, I was looking for a way to hold it so I could stain the other side. Because I had mitered the corners of the door frame, I had some triangular cutoffs in my scrap bin that were just what I needed.

    The triangular scraps support the piece being stained only on their "peaks." Drilling holes in the cutoffs and inserting a dowel helps keep the blocks from tipping over. You can adjust this simple jig for a project of any width by sliding the blocks along the dowel. For larger pieces, simply use a longer piece of dowel.
    —Norman Crowfoot, Tucson, Ariz.

  • Use a dowel rod and coat hanger for one-step painting

    Painting one side of a small wooden wheel, waiting for it to dry, then painting the other side takes a lot of time and often leaves you with overlapping paint streaks. To make things easier, use this holder to paint both sides of the wheel at the same time, then dry the finished wheels on a wire coat hanger.

    Start by driving a brad through a dowel rod that fits into the axle of the wheel. Bend the point of the brad up parallel with the length of the dowel. Next, cut one end of a coat hanger and form a loop as shown above. Paint one side of the wheel, then pick it up by inserting the dowel rod into the axle hole. With the wheel balanced on the brad, paint the other side and transfer the finished wheel to the coat hanger using the dowel rod. When you're done painting, insert the bottom of the coat hanger into the loop so the wheels don't fall off. Then, hang them up to dry.
    — David Burr, Rockville, Md.

  • Paint-can cover protects the rim from drips

    Nothing ruins a can of paint or varnish faster than having the liquid dry up inside the rim. How do you keep this area clean and still have a surface to wipe your brush on? Make yourself a paint-can protector from a piece of scrap 1' material. Start with a jigsaw and cut out a circle an inch smaller than the inside diameter of the can rim. Then, take a router and cut a rabbet around that circle that fits the outside diameter of the can. The depth of the rabbet should equal about half the thickness of the board.

    When you open the can, slip the protector over the top. The rabbet should fit snugly over the paint can, and the smaller-diameter circle will cover up the rim and give you an improved surface against which you can wipe the brush.
    —Loyal Downing, Des Moines, Iowa

Tip of the Day

How to safely make mortise plugs using your tablesaw

Here’s a simple and safe way to form small plugs for the square mortises. This method keeps your... read more