Savvy finishing solutions

Sometimes it's the little things that make the difference. Give these shop tips a turn in your shop.

  • Solution to stuck lids is in the bag

    Screw-top cans keep oil finishes fresh, but removing the cap is usually a struggle after the can sits for awhile. I avoid this problem by laying a plastic shopping bag over the can spout before I screw on the lid. After I tighten the lid, I trim away the excess plastic. The lid screws on tightly over the two layers of thin plastic and twists off easily later.
    —John W. Bennett, Shelton, Wash.

  • Hang 'em high and let 'em dry

    During a recent remodeling project, I had 22 pieces of 8'-long molding to clear-finish. Instead of laying them out on sawhorses to dry, which has previously left me with dust nibs in the poly-urethane finish, I decided to hang it up for the day (the molding, that is).

    I started by making a drying rack from a 34 x3" strip of scrapwood about 4' long. Using my tablesaw, I cut a 14 " groove 18 " deep along the length of the rack, as shown in the drawing above. I then set my tablesaw blade for a 114 "-deep cut and cut kerfs spaced every inch along the rack. Finally, I screwed the drying rack to a ceiling joist in my shop.

    Before applying finish to the molding, I tacked a 3d box nail into the end of each piece. I then brushed on the finish and hung the molding strips on the drying rack. (The shank of the nail fits into the kerf on the drying rack, and the groove holds the nailhead to keep the molding from sliding out.)

    Hanging the molding while it dries leaves no horizontal surfaces to catch dust, and I ended up with very few nibs in the finish. As a big bonus, all of that molding took up little space in my shop while it dried.
    —Dan Theisen, Racine, Wis.

  • A neat way to fill nail dimples

    After I milled some custom oak molding, then stained and finished it to match the existing woodwork, I wanted to avoid the inevitable blemishes from wood filler used to hide countersunk finish nails.

    My solution: Place a small piece of masking tape at each point you want to nail. Drive and countersink nails through the tape, then apply wood filler. When you peel off the tape, you'll find a perfectly round spot, with no dulling of the surrounding area. This technique works anytime you need to nail prefinished wood.
    —James Vasi, Williamsville, N.Y.

  • No oxygen blocker? Make your own

    To keep finishes and paints from skinning over in the container, you need to create some kind of bar-rier between the oxygen in the can and the finish. You can buy inert gas products to form an invisible barrier, but what if you don't have any on hand? Here's a quick and inexpensive solution.

    In the bottom of a clean half-gallon container, put a teaspoon of baking soda, then pour in a 14 cup of vinegar. Swirl the mixture. The bubbling reaction creates carbon dioxide--an inert gas about 1fi times the density of air. (Those measurements yield about 2 quarts of carbon dioxide.)

    As the reaction slows, quickly pour the gaseous contents of the container (not the sludgy remnants) into your can of finish and reseal the can. The carbon dioxide replaces the air in the can, providing a protective barrier over the finish.
    —Kevin Matocha, Troy, N.Y.

  • Finish your project bottomless

    When I build drawers or cabinets with plywood bottoms, I finish the drawer bottoms and case backs separately before assembly. Whether spraying or brushing finish, I have better access to all sides of the workpiece, and never have to worry about finish collecting in three-sided corners.
    —Don Eisenhardt

  • Put your legs up on stilts

    When finishing the legs of chairs or tables, I like to have a little "stilt" under each leg to keep the finish from sticking the project to my workbench. Pushpins from an office-supply store fill the bill. They're easy to install and remove, and they stay in place when I need to move the project.
    —William Clark, Douglas, Mich.

  • Scrap strips form a finish line

    At the conclusion of nearly every project, I end up with strips of stock ripped from the edges of workpieces. I drive 4d finish nails spaced at 4 to 5" intervals through these scraps, place them points-up on my finishing table, and use them to support a project while I apply finish. For large panels, I'll sometimes tape these strips to the top of a pair of sawhorses as shown in the drawing above.
    —Robert Reed, Roaming Shores, Ohio

  • Good to the finish

    Here's an age-old problem for many woodworkers: applying finish to all sides of a project in one session. My solution: the portable finishing rack shown above. Building the rack is pretty straightforward; just make sure you align the holes in the bottom and top pieces of perforated hardboard. Insert the sharpened dowels where they best support your project. If you break or dull the fine points, you can touch them up again with a quick trip to the pencil sharpener.
    —David Luttrell, Xenia, Ohio

  • Drink cup takes a dip for a fine finish

    I finish many of my projects with spray lacquer and buy the stuff by the gallon. It's no fun trying to fill a spray-gun pot from a full can, so I made a dipper from an old convenience-store drink cup.

    I cut the cup so it resembles a ladle as shown above. If you cut it so it leaves you about 13 to 12 cup of capacity, that's plenty. Now, I use the ladle to scoop lacquer out of the can and pour it through a strainer into my spray-gun pot. And, if I want to thin the lacquer, say 50/50, I add an equal amount of thinner, again using the ladle, this time as a measuring cup.
    —Jerry Vance, Lubbock, Texas

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