Times are a’changin…

Dear readers,

I’ve been answering your finishing questions both professionally for pay and pro bono for hobby woodworkers since 1980 in magazines, chat rooms, message boards, websites and for the past decade, on this website turned blog. The time has come to move on.

After I post this last batch of questions, I will no longer be adding content to this site; nor will I be answering your questions on a daily basis.

What can you do if you have a finishing problem? First, peruse this blog’s archives; chances are your question has been covered here. If not, try www.woodanswers.com , at site at which I fielded over 8,000 finishing questions over a five year period. It’s almost certain to have the information you need.

You might also want to read my books. Two in particular are, in my opinion, very helpful, especially as a pair. They are The New Wood Finishing Book and its natural companion, Wood Finishing Fixes. Both are available at the Books and Videos section of this website.

Finally, if you are really in a pinch, you can write to me, but I won’t be doing any more free answers. You will be expected to pay my regular consultation rates. If you need a quote in advance, send the question and ask for a quote.

This does not mean I won’t be writing. Starting almost immediately I will be writing a blog for my other website, www.rainydayukes.com It will take readers through my daily tasks building ukuleles by hand, using sustainable, local wood and “green” building methods. Hopefully, it will be an entertaining read; you can follow along during the birth of a ukulele, and even get first shot at buying it once it is done.

Michael Dresdner
“You can’t stay sad while playing a uke.”

Hand applied sunburst

Q: How do you recreate the look of the old style hand applied sunburst used on Gibson mandolins from the 1920s and 1930s?
A: The somewhat rough look of the inside ring of the sunburst comes from the old style hand applied sunburst as opposed to one that is sprayed on. It’s a moderately difficult technique that I described in an article I wrote back in the early 1980s in Vintage Guitar Bulletin. It involves working dye from the outside in onto a surface already fully wet with the solvent of the dye, to prevent it from grabbing too much.
For example, with water soluble dye, you start with a fairly weak dye mixture and a top fully wet with water. You work with two rags; one wet with solvent and the other with dye, and apply and wipe successively, creeping up on the color as you go.
Once the inside color is where you want it, remix the dye to a stronger concentration of the same color and do the same thing, this time staying closer to the outside edge. The first dye blends into the undyed center, the second blends part way into the first dye, and so on. Do as many color gradations as you like and need.
It takes some practice, and is one of those things that is hard to describe. It’s easier to learn if you actually get to see someone do it, which is why I have thus far avoided posting about it.

Spot on

Q: Can no-sand floor renewal finish systems fill in worn spots on a baked on factory finish?
A: Yes, they are made to go over any finish. However, the problem with worn spots is that they may or may not look the same. Many, but not all, finishes, both commercial and industrial, add amber to the wood. The refinishing kits are typically waterbased and do not add any color to wood. Thus, the bare spots may come out a slightly different color than those areas with original finish. It all depends on whether the original finish was slightly amber or water clear.

Don’t make me blush

Q: I need to finish a reproduction 17th Century Chester County Spice box. How much trouble will I have if I take the box into the unheated garage long enough to spray shellac with an HVLP and, then take it right back into the house? Will I end up with blushing?
A: Not likely. However, if you do, simply spray it again and the blush will go away. The truth is that you probably will have no problems whatsoever.

Play musty for me

Q: My old desk has a kind of musty smell. Can this be improved by treating the wood?
A: Musty smells can come from mildew or accumulations of dust and dirt. Clean the desk, including the interior areas, and kill any mildew with laundry bleach. If you want, you can seal the exposed wood areas, such as the unfinished drawer sides and cabinet interiors, with a coat of shellac, and that will nicely block any smells.


Q: I purchased a 70s-era desk with an oak veneer. Much of the desk is constructed of heavy fiberboard. I’m worried about the formaldehyde and other chemicals off gassing. Is there a way to seal the exposed fiberboard?
A: If it is from the 70s, anything that was going to off-gas has long ago done so, but to answer your question, any film forming finish will seal in formaldehyde. That includes shellac, lacquer, oil varnish, and both oil and waterbased polyurethane.

Gaps away

Q: My floor looks good but there are some small gaps between the floor boards. It is an oak herringbone floor with a polyurethane finish. What is the absolute best product to use to fill the existing gaps?
A: In my opinion, it is trowel filler or pore filler, depending on the size of the gaps, but those are meant to go on before the finish, or at least before the last coats of finish. There are several good brands out there, but my favorite is Timbermate, which works as either a trowel filler (thicker) or can be reduced with water to work as a thinner pore filler. Again, that is a filler that is easy to use, but must have finish put over it.

Wax on, wax off

Q: I have waxed oak floors. They are extremely dull. I used liquid cleaner with dark pigment but that only seems to last a few weeks before they dull up. Is there a better product?
A: Commercial cleaners remove wax. Thus, if the shine from your floors comes from wax, using a wax removing cleaner on it will indeed dull it. The way to rejuvenate waxed floors is simply to wax them again. A good application of paste wax will add back what wax was removed during cleaning, and buffing the wax will bring up some shine. When it gets dull again, wax and buff again.

Jewelry finish

Q: What would be the best non toxic finish I could use on jewelry made from wood?
A: I’m not sure what you mean by non-toxic, as that is a term used typically for things we ingest.
If you mean that the finish itself is edible or drinkable in its liquid form, that would include raw linseed oil (but not boiled linseed oil), mineral oil, which is a wood treatment but not a finish, shellac cut into pure ethanol, which is potable but intoxicating, and any plant or animal wax, such as beeswax, with no solvent added to it. None of the above would make particularly good finishes for jewelry, for a variety of reasons.
Of course, pretty much any finish is non-toxic once it cures, since most are simply inert plastics once they dry, and we don’t generally have the ability to digest plastic. Eat it and it will pass right through you.
If, on the other hand, you mean non-reactive, meaning finishes that typically do not cause allergic reactions on the average person’s skin, that varies tremendously with the individual and what he or she is allergic to. Still, except for nut oils near people with nut allergies, I don’t know offhand of any finish that causes skin irritation, but admittedly, there are people allergic to darn near everything out there.
Personally, I would go with an oil based varnish or oil based polyurethane. They are durable, are not affected by skin oils, acids, bases or heat, and will not react or soften in contact with perfumes, skin creams or nail polish remover.

HVLP; which one?

Q: I’m looking into buying an HVLP turbine system that will spray oil based and waterbased finishes, including latex paint. Many folks seem to be very happy with the Fuji Q4 Gold; then there’s the Earlex HV6900.
A: The Fuji system is excellent, though if I had to name my current favorite, money no object, it would be 3M’s Accuspray system, in part because it is compact and portable, and in part because of its excellent gun and PPS delivery system. On the other hand, for the money, Earlex certainly is the best system for the least cash, and will probably do all you want it to do.