Author Archives: Bruce Johnson

About Bruce Johnson

Author-craftsman Bruce Johnson has introduced millions of do-it-yourselfers, craftspeople and antique collectors to the world of wood finishing and antique restoration. As the official spokesperson for Minwax®, the leading manufacturer of wood finishing and wood care products, Bruce motivates people to take the initiative to beautify their surroundings. Through his many books, magazine articles and columns, as well as frequent appearances on national television talk shows, Johnson is recognized as an authority in the do-it-yourself community. Appearing on PBS, HGTV, The Discovery Channel, and currently hosting “DIY Woodworking” and “Build A Log Cabin”, on the DIY cable network, Johnson has brought the illustrious craft of wood finishing to the forefront of the American home.

An expert in wood refinishing, antique restoration, and home improvement, Bruce has published more than a dozen books on these topics, including Fifty Simple Ways To Save Your House, The Wood Finisher, The Weekend Refinisher, and The Official Identification and Price Guide to the Arts and Crafts Movement. For more than 20-years, he penned an antique refinishing advice column, “Knock on Wood,” which ran in dozens of antique/collectibles publications. Currently, he writes a column on Arts & Crafts for Style 1900 magazine.

A rare combination of craftsman and journalist, Johnson began his career as a high school English teacher, but left teaching to set up his “Knock on Wood Antique Repair & Restoration” shop. He spent the next 10 years as a full-time professional refinisher, but eventually returned to writing. Yet, Johnson says, he won’t ever be without a workbench and a couple of refinishing projects down in the basement.

Johnson is also the founder and director of the Arts and Crafts Conference and Antique Show held every February in Asheville, North Carolina, at the Grove Park Inn. The conference, which includes the largest Arts and Crafts antiques show, attracts more than 1500 Arts and Crafts collectors each year to its many seminars, tours, demonstrations and exhibits. Johnson is proud to have played a role in reviving interest in designers like Gustav Stickley, who founded the Arts and Crafts movement. His latest book, “Grove Park Inn Arts & Crafts Furniture,” was awarded the 2009 Thomas Wolfe Literary Award. These furnishings are treasured by such collectors as Steven Spielberg and Bruce Willis, among many others.

A Guide to Buying Wood at the Big Box Stores

In case you haven’t noticed, the old fashioned, family-owned lumberyards are nearly extinct. If you still have one in your area, feel fortunate. For most of us, the closest home improvement store is the only source for purchasing wood, which can be daunting for those new to DIY. Here are some tips to help you on your next visit.


What to Expect

Home improvement stores are not going to have a wide assortment of wood species, especially not high-grade hardwoods, such as cherry, walnut, maple or mahogany. For those woods, you will have to find a specialty woodworking store. At most big box stores you can expect to find pine, oak, poplar, birch and fir.


Come Prepared

Be sure to come knowing what type and quantity of wood you need. Bring a tape measure and a pair of gloves for handling the wood. And you better measure your vehicle to make sure it will all fit!

SizeSize of Boards

Wood has shrunk to the point where a 2” x 4” board is closer to 1.5” x 3.5” by the time it reaches the store. Bring your plans and measure each board before you buy it.

KnotGrades of Lumber

Regardless of the species, wood is priced according to flaws. Construction grade, sometimes called #3, will be loaded with knots, some with actual knot holes. For that reason, it is the cheapest, least attractive, and least prone to accept a stain and finish evenly. Wood with only a few tight knots is considered #2 grade (shown above). Slightly more expensive, it still does not absorb stain well around the knots, even after one or two coats of Minwax® Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner. Prime #1 grade is considered clear of flaws and is both the best and the most expensive, regardless of the type of wood.

PlywoodBeware of Plywood and Particleboard

Plywood (shown above) is composed of thin layers of wood glued together. It is primarily used for construction, but you can find oak, birch and other hardwood plywoods. They are expensive, do not stain as evenly as solid wood, and you have to cover the exposed edges with strips of wood or veneer to hide the layers.

ParticleParticleboard (shown above) is sawdust or shredded wood chips mixed with glue. It, too, is used for construction, although manufacturers of shelving and some furniture top it with a layer of veneer. Be aware that particleboard bends under weight, such as in bookcase shelves. It also cannot be stained, breaks under stress, doesn’t hold screws well and crumbles when wet.

PickyBe Picky

I was buying eight-foot lengths of 1”x6” tongue-and-groove cedar recently, and at $20 per board, I was not going to just take the top boards in the stack. And I was not going to feel guilty for picking out the best boards. In most cases the boards on top have already been rejected by someone ahead of you, so pull them out, put them aside, and dig down to find the best boards that no one else has picked over. Avoid those that are warped, twisted, badly stained, and cracked!

BUT — be polite and return your rejects to the pile.

And remember, you don’t have to finish all your boards, just the ones you want to last.

Until next time,


Be sure to check out Minwax’s new “Made With Love. Finished With Minwax.” campaign currently going on. The theme is ‘Find. Finish. Love.,’ celebrating the thrill of finding real wood pieces – sometimes in the least expected places – and the joy of making them into something we love.









Tips for Dealing with Dust


Ask any wood finisher and you will learn that dust is the enemy of a smooth finish. Eliminate dust and you eliminate the problem. So, how do you do that?

First, recognize that dust is everywhere; on your project, around your workbench, on the floor, on the ceiling, even on your clothes. And, as soon as you brush on a sticky stain or finish, it acts like a magnet, pulling dust to it.

Second, pick your work space carefully. Working outdoors only trades wood dust for pollen, road dust and bugs. Working indoors is better, but you still want to avoid brushing a stain or finish beneath an active heating or air conditioning vent. Also, avoid areas with a strong natural breeze that brings dust indoors. If you rely on an open window for ventilation, put a screen on it to block out dust particles.



Third, a rag or a dry brush are not the best ways to eliminate sanding dust. A rag forces dust deeper into the pores of the wood, where it will come back out once you start applying your stain or finish.



A dry brush or, worse yet, an air compressor simply blows the dust up into the air, where it hovers before landing back onto your wet stain or finish.



Finally, the best way to control dust is to eliminate it with a vacuum. A soft bristle brush on the end of the hose will gently dislodge dust from the pores, joints and corners of your project while the vacuum draws it into the canister.


Even with vacuuming, however, you will still have some dust settle into your wet finish. To eliminate it, after your clear finish dries, sand it lightly with #220-grit sandpaper before applying your next coat. If needed, wet-sand your final coat with #400-grit dipped in mineral oil, which acts as a lubricant to prevent your sandpaper from leaving scratches.

Until next time.

The secret to a smooth finish is a smooth surface.


Be sure to check out Minwax’s new “Made With Love. Finished With Minwax.” campaign currently going on. The theme is ‘Find. Finish. Love.,’ celebrating the thrill of finding real wood pieces – sometimes in the least expected places – and the joy of making them into something we love.


Six Things Every Refinisher Needs

It doesn’t matter whether you’re getting ready to start a new project or you want to encourage someone to take up wood finishing and refinishing. Having these essential items on hand makes getting off to a good start a breeze.


A drop-cloth is critical for catching spills and splatters. The only mistake is getting one too small. I always start with no less than a 6’ x 9’. I find the all-plastic drop-cloths to be awkward to use, so I opt for the style with canvas on one side and plastic on the other.

GlovesSold in boxes of 100, disposable gloves are essential for protecting your skin against stains and finishes. Always have a box sitting on your workbench so you have no excuse for not putting them on.

SandpaperMost projects require more than one grit of sandpaper. Be sure to pick up an assortment pack with: #100 grit for rounding edges and removing deep scratches, #120 grit for smoothing the wood, #150 or #180 grit for final wood sanding and #220 grit for sanding between your first and second coat of finish.

Brushes In the same manner, most projects require more than one type of brush. A foam brush or an inexpensive bristle brush are fine for applying Minwax® Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner or any Minwax® stain, but you will want a higher quality bristle brush when it comes time to lay down a smooth coat of clear protective finish.

Cloths Kitchen paper towels are too thin and quickly fall part when used to apply a stain or finish, so pick up a roll or box of heavy-duty paper towels designed for use in your workshop.

FinishesMinwax® wood stains come in so many different colors that you should pick out the stain you want depending on each particular project. But since every stain needs to have a clear protective finish applied after it dries, go ahead and get a can of each of these to have on hand. For water-based stains, apply water-based Minwax® Polycrylic® Protective Finish. For oil-based stains, use oil-based Minwax® Fast-Drying Polyurethane.

Until next time,

“If you wait until you have enough time, it won’t ever get done.”


Be sure to check out Minwax’s new “Made With Love. Finished With Minwax.” campaign currently going on. The theme is ‘Find. Finish. Love.,’ celebrating the thrill of finding real wood pieces – sometimes in the least expected places – and the joy of making them into something we love.

A Workbench Transformation


I enjoy working on old furniture, which means I need wide workbenches. This maple workbench proved to be too narrow for many of my projects, so I moved it over to a storage room. But Leigh Ann decided it would be a perfect addition to her new potting shed, so we loaded it into our truck and brought it back home.

I knew this would be my best opportunity to give the maple workbench a quick makeover, removing the two woodworking vices that would only get in her way and refreshing its worn finish.


After washing off the dust and dirt, I lightly sanded the legs with #220-grit sandpaper. I then used the aerosol version of Minwax® Fast-Drying Polyurethane to replace lost finish around the feet and to strengthen the finish on the legs, shelf and drawer.


The top had some more serious issues, but Leigh Ann reminded me that she was going to be using it to re-pot plants, not fix dinner, so I opted not to give it a complete refinishing.


Instead, I cleaned it thoroughly, scuffed it lightly with #220-grit sandpaper and brushed on a coat of Minwax® Fast-Drying Polyurethane to protect the wood against dirt, water, trowels and flower pots.


When Leigh Ann came home, the workbench was ready for us to carry it across the yard and into her new potting shed. She will give the new finish overnight to completely dry, cure and harden, but we could already see that the narrow workbench is perfect for her 8’ x 12’ potting shed.

Until next time,

Refinish, recycle, repurpose.


Be sure to check out Minwax’s new “Made With Love. Finished With Minwax.” campaign currently going on. The theme is ‘Find. Finish. Love.,’ celebrating the thrill of finding real wood pieces – sometimes in the least expected places – and the joy of making them into something we love.