In many ways, finishing on the lathe is easier than finishing in the flat,
because the motor turns the work for you. Besides, most turned projects get gentle treatment and do not require very durable finishes, so you can choose your finish based on appearance and ease of application rather than toughness. But the bottom line is that any type of finish that can be applied to furniture can go on turned objects too.
It is not unusual to see fancy or beautiful wood used for turnings, and you want a finish that brings out the best in the wood while going on easily and drying fast. The two most common ones are oil and wax, both of which apply easily with a rag right on the spinning work. Sand the work very fine (400 or above), dip a rag or fine scotchbrite pad into some boiled linseed oil, and press it onto the spinning work. For an even finer look, rub the wet oil into the wood using 600 grit wet/dry paper or simply use a handful of shavings. As the pressure from your hand creates friction, the resulting heat will help cure the oil faster. Oil will add depth and warmth to the wood. As people handle the piece over the years, they will constantly renew the finish by adding a bit of sebaceous oil (oil from our skin) to it as well.
You can apply wax the same way, by rubbing it on with an abrasive pad or sanding it in, then buffing it with a rough cloth. However, you might find that wax leaves the end grain feeling rough or knobby. Instead, try this: First flood the raw wood with Zinsser Bulls Eye SealCoat and wipe off any excess immediately. The SealCoat will absorb more into the end grain, sealing it so that it behaves more like the flat grain areas. Let it dry for about 2 hours, then lightly sand with 400 grit paper or finer. This will quickly remove the “fur” from any grain that was raised by the alcohol in the SealCoat. When it is smooth, apply your wax on a pad or rag and buff it as usual. You will notice that the wax lays out more evenly on this lightly sealed wood than on raw wood.
One final trick for pen makers: For a fast, tough gloss finish, get the slowest drying cyanoacrylate glue (super glue) you can find (some are 60 second cure). Working with two rags on the spinning lathe, wipe on a thin coat of cyanoacrylate and immediately follow it with a thin coat of boiled linseed oil. The glue will react with the oil and cause it to immediately cure into a very hard, glossy film. Sand lightly between coats and add as many as you like, using the two rag method. With a bit of practice, you can apply 4 coats, fully cured, in as many minutes.modest donation to this finishing blog can keep it going to help others. Thanks!