After the article “Finishing Formulas” ran in the April 2007 issue of Popular Woodworking magazine, I’ve received many questions from woodworkers that don’t have the ability to spray on a finish. Another came in just the other day. They all state they’re ready to finish their latest project, and can these same spray finishing techniques can be accomplished using a brush.
Most often I answer by saying they should use this opportunity to convince their better half, or maybe just convince themselves, they need to invest in a High Volume Low Pressure (HVLP) spray system. There are a number of good units that are reasonably priced. As often as I push forth that idea, they counter with “That isn’t going to happen.” So, in truth, without the sales job, the simple answer is, “yes.” With a little time and effort, and a good brush, you can achieve the results you’d get with a spray gun and turbine.
What’s a good brush? A good brush is not made of foam. Foam brushes are all right for applying some stains, but when applying a topcoat, a quality brush will give you a quality finish. Conversely, a fifty-cent brush will achieve a fifty-cent finish.
If you plan to finish a small project such as the Simple Shaker Shelves from our “I Can Do That” column in the same issue, you’ll be able to open the stain and/or finish and begin immediately. This type of project is small compared to a high chest of drawers and generally does not have the additional components that the chest would have. There is no concern about the finish materials drying too quickly, or having lap marks from stain, or thick edges in a topcoat.
For staining, the same holds true with a larger project. Because the stain is going to run everywhere (that’s why I stain the interior of my projects) and you need to get the color even, work quickly and slop the stain on the piece. Make sure to load it on heavy. I like to see the stain drip from the project. Then I know I’m getting the piece saturated and covered.
But, if you plan on adding your topcoat to that high chest or a large project with a brush and elbow grease, I would suggest you go after it by using your head. By that I mean you should think about the process. Divide the project into segments and work those segments one at a time. For the most part, large pieces are segmented. There is a natural dividing point that allows you to work on one portion of the project without fear of fussing with another area.
If you examine the high chest of drawers, of course the drawers are individual units. But most often the case is in two sections and both of the upper and lower sections have four sides. All of a sudden the majority of your finishing project, the case, is split into 16 segments. Applying finish to those areas one at a time reduces the task into manageable parts. As you work keep runs and drips off the areas not being coated or if necessary tape-off any areas to keep them free of finish until you’re ready to get there.
Take a look at a section from the article (click the PDF listed below). It lists a number of pieces from my books and what the finishes consist of, including the stain, topcoats and any steps in between. Look at the projects and find the natural dividing segments that you would use to apply the finish.
With a little planning on your part and a good quality brush, you can achieve a finish that’s as smooth and clean as you would get using a HVLP sprayer.