We all know how essential finishing is to almost all woodworking projects, regardless of whether you are going to apply a coat of polish or not. Even so, many beginners in woodworking take this process lightly, at least the first time, and just as many professionals dislike this stage of a project more than any other.
Finishing has the power to destroy the hard work of days, weeks and months right at the moment when you thought it was over and you were home free.
In this post we will talk about the essential finishing supplies you should have in your woodworking shop to help ensure that your wood projects end up as impeccable as you have planned.
#1 A Dust Collection Unit and A Dedicated Space / Area / Room For Finishing
Okay, so the first one is a tool and the second one isn’t. But you can probably guess where we are going with this. When you put on that first coat of finish, the cleaner in the air, the better the results, especially if you are going to put on a second coat. You will have less sanding to do. Dust in the air sticks quickly to a freshly coated surface.
Its best if the dedicated area is a small separate room, but even a separate space within the main workshop can serve the purpose. If you cannot have a self-contained separate area for the finishing, you can try to keep a day aside finishing work, while running an air filter. Of course, the coat of finish will still need several hours to dry completely. Water based finished will dry faster than oil based ones.
Your options of cutting out the dust during finishing in your wood shop are:
- Don’t use dust raising tools like a table saw.
- Use a good dust collector with the tools, have good ventilation and air filter.
- Designate a separate room, albeit small, for finishing work.
Most woodworkers do not sweat a bit of dust on their coat of finish because blemished can be removed with sanding. That brings us to the next finishing supply you must have in your woodshop.
#2 High Grit 800 – 2000 For Sanding / Non Woven Abrasives / Scotch Pads.
Sanding of a wood project happens at all stages, including when preparing the surface for the polish or the stain. What is the maximum grit you use to smoothen that wood surface? Some woodworkers go up to 500 grit while doing the initial sanding and this is alright if you do not intend to apply a finish on your project.
But it’s probably safe to say that you if you intend to apply a stain then up to 200 grit is sufficient. Anything beyond that and you might be wasting your time, reason being that whatever imperfections remain after sanding with the 200 grit will get covered by the application of the finish.
Your first and subsequent coats of finish are what will require sanding with a fine grit up to 2000.
An important note here. Or a question, rather. Do you always leave your sanding and finishing as the last step, after the product is assembled? Many times sanding first and assembling later will make the job easier, especially when the fully assembled project has hard to reach places, which most of them do.
Applying several thin coats of finish is always better than applying one thick one. You will get a stronger and a more resilient finish as well as more sheen. A thinner coat will seep in better if you are using wood that has ‘open grain’.
So the way to do finishing is to apply a thin coat, let it dry, knock it down with a fine grit like 800 to 1500 and then apply the second coat. Repeat the process as required. You can put the final finishing touches with a 2000 grit.
These fine grit sanding pads of 800 to 2000 grit are the wet and dry kind that you will see prevalent in the automobile painting industry. The 2000 grit feels like it is completely smooth. But it has mild abrasive properties and is very effective in putting the final touches.
However, there is one issue with this kind of sanding pads. They tend to get loaded up with the residue finish pretty quickly specially if the first coat isn’t completely curated.
Depending on what kind of finish you have used, it can take up to 24 hours for the first coat of finish to dry completely. If the finish isn’t dry you sanding pad will probably start sticking to the surface with tiny strips coming off sticking to the wood surface. You will end up using a lot of paper and also messing up the finish. Which is why we would like to mention a better alternative.
Non Woven Abrasives / Scotch Pads
There is something called non-woven abrasives available in hardware shops. You will also find them labelled as Scotch pads. They come in different colours, red, green, green and white. The red one is the roughest, while grey and green are milder abrasives.
The white one is actually used For final buffing and polishing. It has a mild texture and gives very good results with polishing. It is also simple to use because you can move it in any direction on the surface. You don’t have to follow the grain or anything like that. You can move it to and fro or in soft circles and get a very good sheen and finish to the polish.
These non-woven abrasive pads do not have a grit number. It is their varying texture that declares their abrasive power. The green one is roughly equal and to a 800 grit paper.
One of the many advantages of these non-woven abrasives is that they are easy to use and Cost economical. They come at around three dollars each for a large sized pad and they can be cleaned and used Repeatedly. When the pad gets too loaded up, simply hit it against the table edge and dust it off.
Using these pads will take some getting used to because they will feel different. They can be deceiving to touch. You might feel that they are not As abrasive as they actually are. It’s a good idea to try them out on a piece of scrap wood, preferably with a coat of the finish you intend to use, to get familiar with their behaviour and the results to expect.
#3, 4, 5 & 6 Protective Glasses, Respirator / Masks, Gloves & Good Ventilation
Next up is some safety equipment. Among the safety and health norms to follow in a woodshop, breathing clean air is right up there. When people think about breathing clean air in a wood shop they automatically think off mask and respirators.
But when you are doing finishing work with chemical fumes involved, a good ventilation comes first. What ever finish you are using, they all give off toxic fumes. It’s the kind of stuff that you don’t want to be breathing for a long time, or even at all. So the first thing you want to do when you set up your finishing area or a separate room altogether is to complete it with a good ventilation system. This is nothing complicated and can be managed just as easily by putting in an exhaust fan in the wall a little high up. You do not want to put it on low height as that could mean stirring some dust which would then settle on your freshly finished surfaces.
Respirator Masks & Face Shields
The respirators can be thought of as a secondary protection after a good ventilation unless you doing some spraying work. If you are spraying your finish, respirators are an essential protection gear. But for longer jobs of finishing ensure good ventilation first.
Also, the air filter marks should be the respirator kind. The ones made out of cloth are cheaper but you do not seal off the air outside as effectively And you will end up breathing plenty of air from the sides of the mask.
The respirators come with replaceable cartridges that you need to change periodically and they also have ratings as what all stuff they can filter from the air you are breathing.
Another variation of a respirator is a full faced helmet with a see-through shield. A full faced shield helmet is a very good option for woodworkers who have a beard as they might find using a respirator mask uncomfortable and ineffective.
There are 2 kinds of respirator face shield available, motorised and non-motorise. The motorised ones are more expensive but can provide the maximum breathing comfort. Motorised face shields models with ventilation fans at the back of the helmet with a small battery pack clipped at your waist. These fans pull in filtered air and circulated it inside the helmet.
Read more about respirators and breathing protection in detail in this post, along with some great product recommendations.
The second piece of safety equipment that you should always use is a pair of work glasses. Just like you are expected to wear glasses while cutting wood, it is just as important to wear them while doing finishing work. The reason is that tiny droplets of the finish can come towards your eye whether you are using a brush or a spray. They can cause severe discomfort as well as injury. So wearing protective glasses is important at all times whenever doing wood finishing work.
These are inexpensive vinyl gloves that come is different sizes. They fit snugly over the hands and protect them from stains and spills. They are pretty tough and do not cut easily so offer some additional protection as well. The main is that they do not take away any sensation from the fingers. Your sense of touch remains intact which is important to avoid mishaps.
#7 Next up, Brushes.
Brushes are of two kinds, natural and synthetic. Natural brushes are made from animal hair. The first thing you should know about natural hair brushes is that these are good For an oil-based finish and not so much for water based ones. Water will make the natural animal hair bristles go limp after a while.
So you want to use natural bristle brushes for all your finishing work except when you are using a water-based finish in which case you should use a synthetic brush. The following are for short instructions for using a brush to get a good finish.
How to use a brush for finishing
- Use the right brush that is the right size and material.
- Always dip the brush only up to half or 3/4th of an inch. There are 2 reasons for this. It is easier for you to clean the brush properly and completely without really mussing up the bristles. You will also catch less air bubbles in the coat you are applying to the wood. The wood finishes tend to catch air. The more you open it up to air, the more air they will trap. Air bubble are pesky and you will have to take off a lot more when you are sanding that coat to get them out.
- Brush towards one side. Do not use a to and fro stroke. This will give you an even finish and you will avoid streaks. But, once again, the main reason for doing this is to avoid catching air bubbles. You will not avoid catching any air, but you will drastically reduce the air bubbles.
Cleaning the brushes
A regular non-expensive brush can literally last you for years when used and stored properly. Most of the brushes become unusable because they do not get cleaned properly after use. Here are a few tips to get that done.
- Use the same solvent that you used to thin your finish to clean the brush.
- After you have cleaned it with the solvent, take the next step which many people do not. Rinse of the solvent as well with warm water and soap in a sink. Do not get rough with the brush. But gently part the bristles and get everything out. Remember, whatever dries up in the brush is probably going to stay there. You best chance of cleaning the brush is right after you have used it.
- After washing, let it dry flat, keep it in a Ziploc and store it. If you do this every time even a regular non-expensive brush will last you for many years.
#9 Artist’s Brushes.
The final addition to your brushes is a set of artists brushes. You know what they look like varying in width from 1 inch to a pin point. These are very handy for missed spots, impossible to reach corners and crevices and some spot fixing jobs. There may not be many times when you need these but when you do, there is no substitute for them. So they are an inexpensive addition to your finishing arsenal costing about 5 dollars for a set of 5 brushes.
The next essential supplies is solvents.
#9 Right solvents for your finish
Solvents for your finish serve many functions. They are not only important to clean up the spills, the brushes and stains, but many times, thinning the finish is in your best interests.
We mentioned before that it is better to apply multiple things coats of finish rather than one thick one. Multiple coats of finish are more resilient to wear and tear. Thinning your finish allows the finish to seep into open pores of the grain of the wood, specially woods like Oak that have this open pore nature. It results in a smoother surface, a nice base for further coats and you can come closer to achieving that smooth, mirror-like finish.
Of course, in order to apply multiple coats of the finish you need to thin it down first and for that you need a solvent.
A solvent is a chemical that dissolves and mixes with the finish, reduces it’s consistency, makes it thinner, without changing its inherent properties like color, gloss, strength et cetera. Different solvents are used for thinning out different finishes.
We are talking about the solvent based finishes. There are water based finishes also that are not that toxic, or give off fumes. They were not the preferred choice of woodworker because the solvent based ones gave better results. However, the water based wood finishes have been getting better and better over the years and if you haven't tried one recently, maybe you should. Water based wood finishes are much less hassle, environment friendly and less toxic to work with provided you are happy with the result you get.
Polyurethane wood finish mixes the best with mineral spirits.
Use a shellac thinner for shellac based finishes. Mineral spirits don’t work that well with shellac based wood finishes. If you are trying to clean up the spills and stains, you will get there eventually, but it will be a lot more work than just using a shellac thinner.
Use de-naturted alcohol if you want to buy polish flakes and mix your own finish and color. In fact this is how I remember most of the wood polishes being made when I was a kid and there was any wood work happening in the house. This process takes time and needs you to know formulas and mixing ratios to get the color and look you want. If you are experimenting with creating your own polish, it’s a good idea to note down the ratios you are mixing so that you know how to replicate the results.
#10 & 11 Bottle Jars And Filter Paper
A simple addition to your supplies cabinet but an important one. The bottle jars can not only be used to mix different fluids but also to take out small portions of your finish, while sealing and shutting your larger cans to preserve them better.
The filters of course come in handy whenever particulate matter is suspect in your finish. Use them and avoid hours of sanding work. Filter paper are inexpensive and disposable items. They are specially handy if you are making your own wood finish. You must absolutely remove any and all raisin from the finish if you hope to get a smooth finish.