I was busy in the shop this past weekend putting the wraps to a blanket chest that’s part of our August 2009 issue. I’m building the chests (that’s plural as in two blanket chests) out of walnut. When this issue hits your mailbox or when you pick it up at a newsstand, you’ll find something secret in the article. Yes there is a secret compartment in the chests and if you’re a study of antique blanket chests , particularly Pennsylvania blanket chests , you more than likely know the location of the compartment. While this makes for additional work, it’s always fun to have secret compartments in your projects as most woodworkers get jazzed about them.
While I worked through the project, I turned my attention to finishing. On walnut, I generally like to apply a coat of boiled linseed oil to the piece and wet sand with #400-grit wet/dry silicon carbide sandpaper. The action brings up slurry that acts as grain filler. This time, however, I decided to forgo the oil and move directly to amber shellac.
I sprayed two coats of amber shellac to warm the walnut, then I sanded the piece smooth. The color was good, but older walnut has a red cast about it, so I wanted to darken the color and get that red hue involved. To do this, I added a number of drops of reddish brown Transtint aniline dye to my shellac. Another coat not only registered the reddish cast, but it also removed some of the warming effect as well. Happy with the look, I moved to my favorite part of finishing, pre-catalyzed lacquer , dull-rubbed effect lacquer eliminates having to rubout the shiny shellac by hand. One coat and the chests look dull and flat and that’s a good thing. It keeps any imperfections from glaring in reflected light.
Everything was moving along great until I reached the hardware stage. It was then that I remembered why I like to stain furniture with aniline dye, or add a coat of boiled linseed oil if I choose not to stain. Here’s why. As with most mass-manufactured furniture, my finish was all lying on top of the wood. Any small scratch, such as the one I added when I hit a still-spinning drill bit, cuts through the finish and shows a distinctive unstained wood below. In other words, scratches stand out.
If I had coated the pieces with oil prior to my shellac, any light scratches would appear dark due to the oil penetrating the wood. I just need to build an extra 48 hours of oil drying time into any project that doesn’t call for aniline dye.
At the time I reached the decision on the exact finish I would use, I was working on the mouldings. One thing that hacks me when I’m building furniture is small amounts of glue that squeeze out from mouldings. Glue in those areas is extremely difficult to remove successfully. I know many of you are reading this thinking that you simply wipe the glue with a damp rag. Well I don’t agree with that philosophy. I’ve done just that a number of times only to find smeared glue areas when I stain , the water dilutes the glue, then spreads the mixture without actually removing the mess.
I prefer to install my moulding with small channels or recesses that capture excess glue. After the mouldings are made and cut to fit, I make a pass over the table saw blade to create a recess (See the photo above). Then with appropriate amounts of glue spread on the mouldings, any squeeze-out is caught in the trough and no glue peeks out from behind. Problem solved.
I’m always looking for finishing tips that make the job easier. One of my favorites is to use a permanent marker to mask blemishes. Back in the day when we sold Windsor chairs at furniture shows, we would inevitably get a small nick on our black painted chairs. A quick touch with a marker and the scratch would disappear. What tips can you add?
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