I read a lot of Bob Flexner on the topic of finishing wood furniture. I don’t really enjoy finishing wood as much as Bob does, but maybe that’s why I have gotten so interested in learning more. What am I doing wrong that has made it less enjoyable for me in the past? How can I improve my understanding of the skills? One thing that Bob usually emphasizes in his articles on how to finish wood is that you should always try to “start with your finish,” which means test a few finishes for each project before you jump into the final piece.
Last night I went to a regional cedar sawmill and picked up a load of Northern White for my Adirondack chair project. Since I have about 6 months before I need to deliver the finished pieces to their recipients, I figure this is a perfect opportunity to test several finish options beforehand. I can even leave the test pieces outside in the elements and see how they fare.
Here are the wood finish options I’m considering:
1) Primer and paint. I don’t actually need to test this one, since I know how it will look and I know (from reading Bob) that it is a very effective outdoor finish.
2) No finish. This will be a very easy one to test. I’ll cut a sample piece and plane 4 sides to expose the unfinished surfaces. Cedar is supposed to be pretty good on its own. We’ll see how it goes!
3) Thompson water seal. A blog reader suggested this one. I know it is easy to find at the home center, so I figure I’ll give it a shot.
4) Natural oils from the woodworking specialty store. Again, this was a reader suggestion. It will be interesting to compare the specialty product to the home center product.
5) Polyurethane. I have used this in the past, so it will be easy to apply. What I don’t know is how it looks on cedar and how it will fare outside.
6) Wiping varnish, sometimes mislabeled as Tung oil. I know this works nicely on indoor projects. We’ll see how it compares to poly for the outdoors.
I will probably experiment with a stain or two in combination with some of the above finishes. Bob recommends using a “sealer coat” under your stain on soft woods like cedar. A sealer coat is simply a single coat of your chosen finish, applied to the bare wood. After applying the sealer coat and letting it dry, sand it smooth and apply the stain. Then proceed with your finish coats.