5 Simple Steps to Achieving the Perfect Finish


5 Simple Steps to Achieving the Perfect Finish:
Five easy steps to finishing your woodturning projects.

Five easy steps to finishing your woodturning projects

We all know that no matter how much time is spent on creating a great turning, it can all be ruined by poorly prepared surfaces or a choice of finish that does not do what one wants it to do, or one that has been badly or incorrectly applied. Well, here are a few tips – yes, you might already know them, but a reminder is always helpful – that will help you get better finishes on your work.

1. Surface preparation is vital for success
Everyone is at different stages in their turning, and we all work with different woods. Skill level turning-wise and how woods take to cutting vary considerably. Don’t worry, do the best you can in turning, then select the coarsest grit grade necessary to remove the damage you have left after turning – be that uneven surface or grain tearout. Some turners brag about being able to start at 200, 300 grit or so. It is not a competition, don’t get sidetracked with what others do. No one knows what grit grade you started at, all people see is the end result. Be honest with yourself. If the damage is severe and you need to start at 100 grit or coarser, do so!  The first grit grade selected must remove the damage. Once the damage is removed, work sequentially through the grit grades – do not jump grades – the subsequent grits remove the scratches left from the previous grades, getting so fine that they cannot be seen.
With most of the timbers we use in turning, working down to 400 grit is fine for use with waxes, oils and lacquers as finishes. If, however, you are planning on painting a surface, 240 grit is often good enough so you provide a good key for the pain to lock onto. If you are working on very dense close grained timbers like ebony (Diospyros spp.), boxwood (Cornus florida), cocobolo (Dalbergia retusa) and such, you might
have to go down to 600 or finer still. If you do not get the sanding right, the blemishes and scratches that remain are highlighted  by the finishes applied – even more so when using dyes.
Oh, and I forgot to mention, remember when sanding to use at-source extraction, PPE and any other methods to minimise exposure to dust. Also, before you apply any finishes, remember to remove all dust from your work, make sure you have a dust-free atmosphere, and that there is no loose dust about that you can disturb around you when applying finishes. It can easily contaminate any finish you apply.

2. Selecting an appropriate finish
Simply, the finish selected must be right for the intended function of the product. If it is to be used for storing food or holding food items, the piece must have a finish that is suitable and safe for contact with food. If the item is to look pretty and be admired and on display, then the finish must look the way you, the maker, want it to look. Dyes, stains and colours of all kinds can be used to enhance the timber and various surface finishes, oils, waxes, lacquers and so on can be used to seal and enhance the piece further and provide a gloss, matte or satin look as required with varying degrees of durability.

3. Always try a finish out on waste wood
Experimentation is always key to good results. We might have an idea of what finish and look we want for our work, but in truth we are never quite sure whether what we think will happen is what will happen in real life. Experience counts for a lot, but it is not infallible especially when trying out something new look wise or a new finish.
Best practice – and it can save a lot of frustration and tears later on – is to apply the finish, colouring agents and decorative effects too if you like, on waste wood before you apply it to your turnings. You can then see what the look is really like, rather than just in your imagination, and make a truly informed decision as to whether that is what you want or whether it needs something else or doctoring in some way too. Always keep the sample boards for future reference too. 

4. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions
We all should, but how many do? Do we all follow the instructions when assembling a flat-pack piece of furniture? Just because we think we know or we have used something similar before or, have not experienced problems with similar items, we think everything else will work or can be used in the same way. Wrong! Drying times, mixing and application methods, thinning rates, darkening effects, coverage, health and safety implications – due to solvents and materials used in the product – vary considerably from product to product. 

5. Don’t rush things
It takes time to prepare work properly prior to applying finishes and allowing them to dry and cure properly. You rush things and all too easily mistakes happen and all your hard work comes to nothing.


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