Chris Schwarz's Blog

Losing my Neanderthal Union Card

Grab your torch and pitchfork, people.

Though I am a big fan of handwork, traditional construction methods and old stuff in general, I am a slave to modern spray finishing methods.

I first learned how to apply finish with a brush and a rag. And I was never entirely happy with the results. Then, when I was hired at Popular Woodworking, I was introduced to the Binks 2000 spray system and the magazine’s awesome spray booth.

I was instantly hooked.

I love spray lacquer and everything you can do with it, such as toning. But mostly I love how fast it is (I can apply three coats in an hour) and how it is almost foolproof, which is a word I hardly every use when discussing finishing.

We had to give up our beloved spray booth when we moved our corporate offices several years ago. I needed a pre-catalyzed hug that day. So I learned the ins and outs of HVLP systems and started spraying at home.

During the last 15 years I’ve become a fairly good hand finisher, especially with wiping varnish and oil/varnish blends. And I use that skill during the winter. But when it’s even a little warm, I’ll spray.

Like today! I needed to paint this table based on a piece at the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts and broke out the HVLP system. I applied three coats in about two hours. And no brushmarks.

(Note that I try to use water-base finishes whenever I can. When I spray solvent-based stuff, I wear a respirator and gloves. That stuff is nasty. So hold your comments; I’m spraying milk paint in the video.)

If you are interested in spray finishing, check out Bob Flexner’s “Understanding Wood Finishing, Revised Edition.” Also, “Flexner on Finishing” has a lot of good spray finishing information in it. And if you don’t want to spray, then definitely check out “Finishing 101” – the best basic finishing book I’ve encountered (it’s also by Flexner.)

Now that you know my dirty secret, it’s time to fess up about my other vices. Next week, I’m going to torture helpless animals, smoke unfiltered cigarettes and eat a pound of chicken-fried bacon. While wearing a skirt.

— Christopher Schwarz

You can download the music to this video here from the Free Music Archive.

21 thoughts on “Losing my Neanderthal Union Card

  1. aschaffter

    I noticed the shadows were really getting long at the end of the video. There is a real danger spraying or doing any type of finishing outside late in the day in the Fall. As the Sun gets lower, temps start to plummet, air can’t hold as much moisture and painted surfaces attract the moisture and actually get damp.

    I was painting a small homebuilt two seat aircraft outside one Fall. I was using DuPont IMRON, a rather expensive urethane automotive and aircraft paint. When I was done, I had a beautiful, high gloss, wet look finish I was going for. But, due to the dropping temps and humidity, it quickly turned to an orange peel finish!!

  2. Alfred Poor

    Great video — an inspiration! And thanks for pointing us to the Free Music Archive; that’s a great resource. I do have one question about the music track you used, however. It appears to be licensed under an “Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License.” I don’t see any of the required attribution information on the video (or in your column), and it would seem to me that this is a commercial application. Did you make some separate arrangement to use this music in your video?

    Alfred Poor

  3. B Jackson

    Out of curiosity:
    1. Were milk paint or any kind of finish wiped on rather than brushed on during the 17th / 18th / 19th centuries? I too have had trouble with brush marks until I started using rags to apply thinned shellac or varnish to my projects with some nice results. Side benefits: no need for sprayers or masks.
    2. Rather than sandpaper, I use a card scraper between coats, again with good results. What did craftspeople of old use?

    1. The Patriot Woodworker

      I would venture to say milk paints and shellac. I love the ease of spray finishing to. One caveat, and a very small one at that, sometimes brush marks are kind of, well, neat to see in a piece, just one more sliver of proof, and indicator of hand made, completely.
      Chris do you thin out your water base before spray and how much?

  4. St.J

    The earplugs hanging infront of your dovetail saw show just how far from the true path you have fallen.
    Bit and brace making a ghastly din?
    Smoothing plane screaming?
    Or was the whole thing built with CNC and the pretty tools are for show?
    Notice we only ever see three walls of this workshop. What’s on the fourth wall Chris?
    Next from Lost Art Press: Rediscovering SketchUp 6: A guide for the arcane draftsperson.

    Love the blog :)
    St.J

  5. Christopher Fitch

    One question: Do you find that you have a dust/finish quality issue when spraying outside? In other words, do you end up with a higher number of finish flaws?

  6. David Keller

    Chris – No doubt, solvent-based finishes do require a respirator. But also realize that most water-based finishes do as well, including traditional milk paint. The reason for this is that the solvent carrier in the finish is rarely the part that does the harm to your lungs – it’s the finish itself.

    In the case of traditional milk paint, it’s made of casein (the milk part), a pigment, and calcined lime. Lime is an alkaline substance that will definitely burn your lungs and sinuses, and you don’t want to inhale any significant amount of it. Not only is the primary burn problematic, if you inhale enough of it, the fluid loss from the burned tissue can cause a case of chemical pneumonia and a potentially fatal alergic reaction.

    Use a respirator – they’re $20 at the local BORG, and it’s a lot cheaper than a trip to the hospital.

  7. samson141

    Is there a disconnect between this post and the previous one? You emulate the original to a fault when it comes to the joinery, but you finish the piece in a manner completely unknown to the original maker. Is the sprayed paint indistinguishable from brushed on? A split top is a desirable attribute in a strict reproduction but a brush mark is not? Weird.

  8. xMike

    Och, Laddie,

    It’s no called a “skirt” unless you are want’n a wee thumb poked in yer eye. It’s a Kilt, and ye need a Sporran wi it to avoid any friendly misunderstandins.

    If ye ha no sporran a’ present, a dead possum will do heer ‘n Kentucky.

    Keep up the good work, laddie. Some o yer work is entertainin.

  9. Bill Lattanzio

    My power to hand tool woodworking ratio went from 70/30 to 30/70 in the past 6 months. That is not a knock on power tools. I believe that you should use the tool that will make your work nicer. I need to rip a board, out comes the table saw, I need to put a nice chamfer on a piece with subtle variances, I’m using my block plane. If your finish looks better with a sprayer, that’s what you use.
    Chris made a great point last week in response to a comment on his moulding plane blog. A reader had mentioned that he would like to see Chris try to use the moulding plane on curly maple. The reply was in paraphrase “use the tool that best suits your job” I’ll leave my feelings on woodworking snobs out of it, but that response, in a nutshell, sums up my feelings on woodworking.

  10. Steve_OH

    Judging from the vehicles on the deck in the background, you’re actually spraying in your neighbor’s yard.

    Or else you really need to have a talk with your kids.

    -Steve

    1. sapfmgateway

      Chris needs to stop saying things like “chicken fried bacon” in his blogs…it make is really hard to think or even care about woodworking or anything else. Forget about spray finishes, tell me more about the CFB. No I mean seriously…

  11. chm8v

    Is that classic milk paint mixed from a powder or something out of a can? If powder, did you filter it or anything like that? I’ve always wanted to try spraying it, but it’s so chunky/foamy when I mix it, I’ve hesitated to put it in my gun.

  12. Jamie Bacon

    Great looking piece. Can’t wait for the book if this is the type of stuff that’s in there. I won’t judge your non-neander finishing technique if you’ll put a warning label on any videos involving you in a skirt. Not a big fan of hairy gams.

    Glad to see you’re staying so active in your blogging since your career change. You’re always a good read.

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