Flexner on Finishing: Finishing in One Day (Or Less)

The key to a quick finish is the finish you choose.

By Bob Flexner
Page 64-66

Finishing is seldom the most enjoyable part of woodworking, so many woodworkers want to get it over with in a day – or even an afternoon. Many manufacturers encourage this with their directions, which often produce less than optimal results because they push the process too fast.

Nevertheless, there are ways to accomplish the entire finishing process (after the sanding) within a day or less. Here’s how.

The Need for Two Coats
To begin with, it’s important to emphasize that you can’t get good results with just one coat of finish. A minimum of two are necessary, including sanding the first coat after it has dried, to develop the full sheen (degree of shine).

The first coat of finish soaks in, raises the grain of the wood a little (a lot with water-based finishes) and locks the raised grain in place upon drying. The surface not only feels rough, it appears duller than it is supposed to because the finish film is too thin and the raised grain breaks up the light reflection.

You need to sand this first coat smooth and apply a second to achieve the desired sheen. Use a sandpaper  grit that achieves smoothness efficiently without cutting deeper than necessary. In most cases, #220, #320 or #400 grit.

So the biggest consideration involved in getting all your finishing done in a day or less is the drying time of the finish you’re using. There has to be enough time for the first coat to dry so you can sand and apply the second coat.

Oil & Varnish
With the exception of gel varnish, the slow dry time of oils and varnishes (including polyurethane varnish and wiping varnish) pretty well eliminates them as possibilities. You’d have to apply the first coat very early in the day to allow enough drying time so you could sand and apply the second coat late. And you’d have to be working in a warm location. (That speeds drying.)

Gel varnish dries faster than other varnishes, so there’s usually time to apply two coats in a day. But two coats of gel varnish aren’t enough to develop the full sheen because what remains after wiping off the excess is too thin.

A problem with all of these finishes is that they continue to put off a fairly strong odor for several days after they are dry to the touch, so even though you may call the project complete after just one day, you’d probably want to wait a few days to put it into use.

 

Article: Read Bob Flexner’s article on paint strippers from the April 2012 issue.
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From the June 2012 issue #197.
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