Monthly Archives: February 2014

Bubbles and Dust Beware!

Earlier this year I made a few of these small Arts and Crafts tables from some reclaimed wood. At the time I only had a chance to brush on one coat of finish, which I did rather quickly. As a result, it felt a little rough to the touch, so today Leigh Ann and I went back and took care of the dust and bubbles that had made it feel so rough. It’s pretty easy to do, so take a quick look below.

Bubbles in our finish come from one of two places: air lurking inside the wood or from your brush. You can’t prevent air from escaping from the wood into your wet finish, but you can eliminate bubbles caused by your brush. First, don’t use foam brushes, as they contain air. Second, don’t work up a lather by brushing too vigorously.

Like bubbles, dust can also come from the wood. A dry cloth won’t remove all of it, so Leigh Ann used a bristle brush attachment on a vacuum to completely remove the dust from the pores of the wood.

Dust in the air is harder to control, but if you (1.) avoid working under active heating and cooling vents, (2.) don’t work outdoors, and (3.) don’t stir up dust in your work area, you can minimize how many particles land in your wet finish.

Even so, my first coat ended up with a few dried bubbles and a little dust, so Leigh Ann gave our table a light sanding with #220-grit sandpaper, then vacuumed off the dust.

She then brushed on a second coat of Minwax® Polycrylic® Protective Finish, brushing gently and smoothing out the finish with a few final, long smooth passes.

Her second coat dried without any bubbles and just a few specs of dust, so all it took to smooth it out completely was a lubricating oil, such as lemon oil, baby oil, or mineral oil, and any of these: fine steel wool, a fine synthetic pad, or #400-grit or finer sandpaper, your choice dipped in the oil to prevent it from leaving any scratches. Afterwards, just wipe away all of the oil.

Leigh Ann has always been a do-it-yourselfer, but never a professional finisher, and she would be the first to say how easy it was to get a finish that feels just like that of a professional.

Until next time,

Thanks for stopping by!





Tips For One-Step Polyshades


When Leigh Ann and I first met, my house was 90% office and 10% home. Each time I took on a new project, I took over the dining room table or the coffee table. Well, she politely (but firmly) suggested that I build a separate office over our two-car garage, which I did. And when it came time to stain and finish the three unfinished pine doors, I went looking for a way to save myself some time. If you’d like to see what I did, just click below.

Typically, I use the traditional two-step method:  apply my stain, wiping off the excess liquid before it dries, then the next day apply a clear finish. Before staining any softwoods I always add a third step to the beginning of the process by first brushing on Minwax® Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner to reduce any blotchiness.

But by the time I got to my doors, I was running out of steam, so I decided they were perfect candidates for Minwax® PolyShades®, a combination stain and finish in one can.

Years ago, on one of my first PolyShades® projects, I learned that foam brushes make sloppy applicators, as they apply an uneven coat and leave behind a trail of bubbles.

Instead, I use a quality natural bristle brush and just dip half an inch of the bristles into the can.

I then brushed on a thin coat of PolyShades®. On this sample I experimented with Antique Walnut, (I ended up choosing Pecan for my pine doors) lightly smoothing out my brush strokes with a long, uninterrupted pass on the final stroke.

And here’s another tip I learned: PolyShades® will always work best on flat surfaces, simply because carvings, spindles, and corners naturally pull excess liquid out of your brush. My rule: the more intricate the project, the more apt I am to fall back on the two-step method.

As you can see, the Pecan Minwax® PolyShades® added just the right amount of color and plenty of protective polyurethane finish. Six years later they are still looking new, and Leigh Ann is happy to not have to live where I work!

Until next time,

Thanks for stopping by!






Creating a Contemporary Finish

When it comes to furniture, I’m a traditionalist. Give me any shade of brown and I’m happy. But I recognize that not everyone feels the same, including Alex, my office assistant, who prefers to mix traditional with contemporary. So, when she asked for help turning a piece of unfinished furniture into something more contemporary, I was up for the challenge. Want to see what we came up with?

The piece she picked for her house is this unfinished end table or plant stand, made of alder, a durable, fast-growing hardwood.

Even though it looks smooth, I have learned that we need to give any piece of unfinished furniture a light sanding with #180-grit sandpaper to remove scratches, round sharp edges, and open up the pores to accept your stain and finish.

When I asked Alex what color or colors she wanted, she was clear: a steel-gray stain on the legs and skirt, while keeping the top and this lower shelf completely natural for a sharp contrast, typical of many contemporary styles.

To make the staining easier, I suggested that she remove the shelf from the legs, which only required a screwdriver and two minutes of time.

Quick Tip:  The best way to predict how the wood will respond is to test your stains on the underside.

She selected Minwax® Water Based Wood Stain in “Slate” and applied it with a synthetic bristle brush. The combination of the open pores of the alder and the fast drying water based stain meant she only had to wait about three minutes before wiping off the excess stain.

Quick Tip:  Always wipe the excess stain off going in the direction of the grain to insure you won’t have any unsightly streaks left by your cloth.

To keep the top and the lower shelf as light as possible, Alex chose the aerosol version of Minwax® Polycrylic® Protective Finish, selecting the gloss sheen for a contemporary look.

Since her stain was water based, Alex could also use the water based Polycrylic over the legs and skirt, giving the entire piece a uniform sheen.

Quick Tip: To clean the tip, turn the can upside down and depress the nozzle until only a clear stream of propellent emerges.

A high gloss finish over two contrasting colors — neither of them brown! — and you’ve got the making of a contemporary piece of furniture, all at a fraction of the price you would pay in a furniture store!

Now that’s something I can identify with!

Until next time,

Thanks for stopping by!


PS – Be sure to check out the Minwax® Facebook page for even more tips and techniques!




My Five Worst Mistakes

I was preparing to give a talk last month when the moderator introduced me as a woodworking and wood finishing “expert.” In thinking about what qualifies me, or anyone for that matter, as an expert, I’ve decided it only means I’ve been around long enough to have made nearly every possible staining and finishing mistake. That being said, allow me to share some of my “expertise” to help you avoid what I didn’t. Just take a look here.

Mistake #1            Working when it’s too cold, too hot, or too humid.

All stains and finishes depend on evaporation to dry, but when the temperature is below 65 degrees or above 90 degrees, or the humidity level is above 50%, then the evaporation process is either too slow or too fast, causing your finish to either not dry or dry too quickly, turning white — like my deck!

Mistake #2            Not wiping off my stain.

Stains are designed to dry in the wood, not on the wood. Anytime I have let my stain harden on top of the wood, it turned sticky and uneven, and rubbed off easily. The solution:  wipe off any stain the wood does not absorb.

Mistake #3            Using an old can of finish.

If you have to break or peal off a layer of dried finish inside your can, it’s beyond its prime. Once the drying agents start to react to the oxygen trapped inside the can, they don’t stop. As a result, the old finish you apply may never completely dry. Best bet: buy only the amount of finish you need for each project. Start fresh!

Mistake #4            Applying too much finish.

Just as plywood gets its strength from layers of thin wood, so does a finish. Applying too much finish only results in runs, drips, or a thick layer that never completely dries or hardens. Thin coats dry faster, look better, and provide more durability. Thin is better!

Mistake #5            Dry is not the same as cured.

Finishes dry quickly in the right environment, but the curing process, where they reach their maximum hardness and durability, takes longer. Don’t be impatient — like me! Give your furniture projects a couple of days and your floors a week before you subject them to any stress — or they may scratch easily!

Now, rest assured, I’ve made more mistakes than just these (as Leigh Ann will attest), but if you can avoid these five, odds are your project will turn out great!

Until next time,

Thanks for stopping by!