A smooth feel is critical when judging the quality of a finish. It’s natural for people to run their hand over a finish, feel dust nibs and say, “This is not a great finish.”
The problem is, there’s almost always a little dust that has settled on, and stuck to, the last coat of finish, even if you keep your finish area very clean. There will be less with fast-drying lacquer and shellac and more with slower-drying varnish, wiping varnish, oil and water-based finish.
You can always make the finish smooth by rubbing with fine sandpaper and rubbing compounds, but this is a lot of work. Unless you are aiming for the ultimate in smoothness, rubbing the surface with a folded brown paper bag is usually sufficient. A brown paper bag is abrasive enough to flatten the dust nibs but not so abrasive that it scratches the finish — as long as the finish is fully dry.
Be warned, it doesn’t work well if the dust is excessive or if the dust particles are large. You still need to keep your work area and the finish you’re using clean.
I learned this trick about 15 years ago when I was editing Professional Refinishing Magazine, a trade magazine targeted to furniture refinishers. (Unfortunately, the magazine no longer exists.)
A reader sent it in for the “Tips-and-Techniques” column. I put it aside because I really doubted it would work (probably what you’re thinking now). Several issues later, I came up short of tips, so I decided to give this one a try. It worked amazingly well. It doesn’t remove the small dust nibs, it just levels them so you don’t feel the tiny bumps anymore. But you can usually still see the dust if you catch it in the right light.