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Noob question: Finishing explained for beginners (Read 607 times)
 
Mark Putnam
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Noob question: Finishing explained for beginners
Apr 22nd, 2016 at 9:16am
 
Good morning. This is my first post on this forum. I have been a member of the Penturners.org forums, since I began by exclusively turning pens. I've now begun also turning bowls and slightly larger projects. And so my questions are growing beyond the pen-related.

I did post a similar question on the Penturners forum. If there are any joint members on this forum, I apologize for the duplication.

I am looking for a very fundamental, introductory explanation of finishing products and their uses. My understanding is that these fall in to two categories: oils (tung, BLO, walnut, etc.) and sealers/protectants (lacquer, poly, shellac, etc.). Further, my understanding is that the typical method is to apply the oil first, wait for them to dry in to the wood, then apply the sealer/protectant.

When I have asked this question before, it was suggested that I seek out a woodturning club or a professional, as this is too complicated a question to be answered via an Internet forum. If that is the case, and if no one can take the time to explain, that's fine. Just let me know. But I thought I'd try one additional Internet resource before trying to find a local person to ask the question of.

Thanks for any help you can offer.

-Mark
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Ed Weber
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Re: Noob question: Finishing explained for beginners
Reply #1 - Apr 22nd, 2016 at 10:07am
 
Mark, I'm sure others here can offer more advice but I'll try to give you some basics.
Finishes,
Sealers.
Typically applied first to "seal" the pores of the wood so a Top Coat can be applied without absorbing into the wood.
Penetrating oils
Used to protect (and beautify) by penetrating or absorbing deep into the wood pores. When fully cured a Top Coat can be applied  (many oils today are a combination of oils & polyurethane resins and don't require a Top Coat)
Top coats,
Most typically are shellac, polyurethane and lacquer.
These can be applied as a stand alone finish or more typically over a sealer, stain or oil to add protection and give you desired sheen (matte, satin, semi-gloss or gloss) to accentuate your finish.
That's very basic, if there is a more specific question you need answered, don't hesitate to ask.
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Mark Putnam
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Re: Noob question: Finishing explained for beginners
Reply #2 - Apr 22nd, 2016 at 10:22am
 
Ed Weber wrote on Apr 22nd, 2016 at 10:07am:
Mark, I'm sure others here can offer more advice but I'll try to give you some basics.
Finishes,
Sealers.
Typically applied first to "seal" the pores of the wood so a Top Coat can be applied without absorbing into the wood.
Penetrating oils
Used to protect (and beautify) by penetrating or absorbing deep into the wood pores. When fully cured a Top Coat can be applied  (many oils today are a combination of oils & polyurethane resins and don't require a Top Coat)
Top coats,
Most typically are shellac, polyurethane and lacquer.
These can be applied as a stand alone finish or more typically over a sealer, stain or oil to add protection and give you desired sheen (matte, satin, semi-gloss or gloss) to accentuate your finish.
That's very basic, if there is a more specific question you need answered, don't hesitate to ask.


Ed, that is extremely helpful and provides a great start for my understanding of these different finishing products. Thank you very much!

My understanding is that, typically, finishing consists of a penetrating oil followed by a top coat. And sealers are really only used for particularly porous or soft wood that needs to be "filled." Is all of that accurate? (I know every project is different. I'm not looking for a one-size-fits-all answer; just an introductory understanding of the very basic process.)

Again, thanks to everyone for their time and input.

-Mark
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Re: Noob question: Finishing explained for beginners
Reply #3 - Apr 22nd, 2016 at 10:23am
 
Mark

Yes, you have identified two major categories of finishes - oils that penetrate into the wood while leaving a tactile feeling of wood, and film finishes that cure to form a hard, protective layer over the surface.  But the choice is actually more complicated that that, and one could devote an entire lifetime to studying the differences in finishes.

Let's start with oils.  There are drying oils such as BLO, tung oil, walnut oil, and perhaps a few others.  There are also non-drying oils such as mineral oil - they enhance the appearance of the wood, but never fully cure and hence can be removed if utility items are washed.  There are also 'oil finishes' such as 'danish oil', 'antique oil', 'teak oil', etc that are a blend of drying oils and varnishes that both penetrate and leave a film finish.

The pure film finishes - varnish, shellac, lacquer, shellac, polyurethane, and the waterborne acrylic finishes don't penetrate as deeply into the wood, but they do leave a hard finish that some argue is more protective.  Pen turners and pepper mill makers  tend to prefer film finishes because their products are going to be handled a lot.   

But there are other differentiations between finishes that you need to understand.  One is the character of the finish - satin versus glossy.  Generally, the film finishes are capable of achieving either, but the penetrating finishes are usually considered to be on the satin side, and not able to take a super-glasslike gloss.

Another differentiation that is the subject of great debate is the relative food-safety of various finishes.  There are some who believe that all finishes are food safe once they have fully cured.  And there are others who believe that a finish that has been in the same time zone as a solvent can never be food safe.

Another factor is who well the finish can be renewed or repaired.  The solvent in shellac (denatured alcohol) dissolves cured shellac, so it is every easy to renew a shallac finish by reapplying shellac.  Some of hte oils are similar - if the surface appears dry, you can always apply another coat.  But lacquer, poly, and especially the waterborne acrylic finishes required that you scuff the old finish with an abrasive before refinishing.

And then there's the matter of wax.  Some argue that wax isn't a finish, just a surface enhancement.  On the other hand, wax does act a bit like a penetrating finish, and can be very attractive.  Wax can be renewed easily - just apply another coat and buff.  But if wax has been used over some other finish, it must be removed before that other finish can be renewed.

And that introduces the notion of combinations of finishes.  Oil and wax, wax over oil, oil over shellac, and the friction polishes (usually combinations of shellac or lacquer with either oil or wax).

In my opinion, the bottom line is that you are the maker, and you get to use whatever finish produces the effect you are trying to create.  One of the things I enjoy most about woodurning is the opportunity to experiment with different finishes and finishing techniques.
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« Last Edit: Apr 22nd, 2016 at 10:33am by Louie Powell »  

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Re: Noob question: Finishing explained for beginners
Reply #4 - Apr 22nd, 2016 at 11:33am
 
Mark Putnam wrote on Apr 22nd, 2016 at 10:22am:
My understanding is that, typically, finishing consists of a penetrating oil followed by a top coat. And sealers are really only used for particularly porous or soft wood that needs to be "filled." Is all of that accurate?


You don't need a penetrating oil, you can put a Top Coat directly onto bare wood.
Sealers are in more of the category of surface preparation before you get to your aesthetic finish.
You don't need to use a sealer. Mainly it's used to seal the pores and provide a barrier so that the next layer (what ever you choose) doesn't penetrate un-evenly.
As Louie points out, you can do what ever you want. Just try to use a little common sense and know what you're working with. And unless you're absolutely positive, test on a scrap piece first.

As far as wax is concerned,
If it's the only product you use on your piece, then it's a finish.
If it's applied over something else, then it's only a surface enhancement.


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« Last Edit: Apr 22nd, 2016 at 11:37am by Ed Weber »  
 
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Mark Putnam
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Re: Noob question: Finishing explained for beginners
Reply #5 - Apr 22nd, 2016 at 12:27pm
 
This is all extremely helpful. Thank you very much. If you have any recommended methods or applications, I'd welcome them. But with this basic understanding I at least now know how to start experimenting. Very helpful.
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Re: Noob question: Finishing explained for beginners
Reply #6 - Apr 22nd, 2016 at 4:07pm
 
My oil applications are on the lathe spinning about as slow as she'll go, applied with a piece pf paper towel, letting it soak in until it won't take any more, then spun faster and wiped till dry.
Let it sit a couple of hours, and do it again.
Repeat until it looks like I want.
Then it sits on a shelf for a couple of weeks to cure, then buffed and waxed.
Some guys spray lacquer, or poly.
Some guys add many, many coats of wipe on poly.
Some guys do a bit of everything, depending on the piece.
The dye work other folks do is simply amazing.
Turning the wood is just the start, and in most cases the quickest process.
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Re: Noob question: Finishing explained for beginners
Reply #7 - Apr 22nd, 2016 at 4:41pm
 
Excellent information. How about Marks question about application? Especially about the film finishes. I get brush marks so I started spraying - can't get an even gloss finish - too much, it runs. Too little, it looks "weak".
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Re: Noob question: Finishing explained for beginners
Reply #8 - Apr 22nd, 2016 at 10:44pm
 
Patience is important when it comes to finishing.
Glenn Roberts wrote on Apr 22nd, 2016 at 4:41pm:
Too little, it looks "weak".

Many weak can build over time to beautiful finish.  Too much too quick can be disastrous.   When first starting out go for "lots of little".  Over time you will learn  how to speed the process up.  But always remember better too err on the side light coats building up.
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Re: Noob question: Finishing explained for beginners
Reply #9 - Apr 23rd, 2016 at 9:07am
 
As Len said, multiple thin coats usually works well.
If you use this method, it give you a chance to inspect and sand (if necessary) in between coats.
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Re: Noob question: Finishing explained for beginners
Reply #10 - Apr 23rd, 2016 at 7:48pm
 
Mark

First suggestion is to look for a turning group in your area.  Great way to discuss in person and see demonstrations.

Some people like to try and use many different finishes.  More expensive to have multiple products on your shelf, harder to develop expertise with a number of different products, but each has some advantages and disadvantages.

My approach, I want to use one finish for as much as possible.  I make a wiping varnish by thinning Pratt & Lambert 38 alkyd varnish with an equal amount of traditional mineral spirits (not the "green" cloudy version).  Watco Danish Oil is a commercial product that has mineral spirits, linseed oil, and some type of varnish - don't have to mix your own, but the linseed oil component means the best shine possible is about a satin.  You can finish off the lathe so it can be used for more turning.
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