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Bob Flexner Blog

Flexner on Finishing: Alternative Paint Strippers

Safer Strippers are having a ‘green’ revival.

by Bob Flexner
Pages 58-60

From the April 2012 Issue, # 196

Methods for removing old paint and finish from furniture have gone through at least four distinct periods.

Before solvents became widely available, coatings were removed by scraping, often with glass used like we use scrapers, and sometimes by sanding, after sandpaper became available.

(Heat and caustics such as lye have never been a good idea for furniture because they can lift veneer and separate joints. Also, lye will turn most hardwoods black.)

Article: Read Bob Flexner’s article on refinishing from the August 2011 issue.
In our store:Flexner on Finishing” – 12 years of updated columns illustrated with beautiful full-color images.
To buy: Get Bob Flexner’s new book, “Wood Finishing 101.”

Flexner on Finishing: ‘Green’ Solvents

These environmentally friendly products are surprisingly effective.

By Bob Flexner
Pages: 60-62

From the February 2012 issue #195
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The three primary solvents we use in wood finishing are paint thinner (mineral spirits), lacquer thinner and denatured alcohol. Paint thinner thins and cleans up oils, oil stains and varnishes, including oil-based polyurethane. Lacquer thinner thins and cleans up lacquers and lacquer stains. Denatured alcohol dissolves, thins and cleans up shellac.

ARTICLES: We have many finishing articles available free online.
IN OUR STORE: “Flexner on Finishing” – 12 years of updated columns illustrated with beautiful full-color images.

Flexner on Finishing: French Polishing Myths

Linen and more.

By Bob Flexner
Pages: 60-62

From the December 2011 issue #194
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Three times in the last year, articles have appeared in major woodworking magazines instructing readers to use linen for the outer cloth in a French polishing pad. No explanation, just the instruction.
This brought back memories from 30 years ago of my running all over town searching unsuccessfully for linen because I had just read the same instruction: Linen is “best.”

TO BUY: Get Bob Flexner’s new comprehensive book, “Flexner on Finishing.”
IN OUR STORE: Get Bob Flexner’s latest book (perfect for those who are new to finishing): “Wood Finishing 101.”

Wiping Varnish

An excellent finish for first timers (and beyond).

By Bob Flexner
Pages: 50-55

From the November 2011 issue #193
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Wiping varnish is the finish I recommend you use if you are finishing for the first time. Wiping varnish is a term I coined in 1990 to categorize a large number of very popular fi nishes that are sold individually under many different names but are actually all the same –oil-based alkyd or polyurethane varnish thinned about half with mineral spirits (paint thinner). Collecting them into a category removes the mystique manufacturers attempt to create and it makes the finish easier to understand. It also allows us to discuss uniform application procedures that apply to all brands.

ARTICLE: What is wiping varnish, exactly? Let Bob tell you.
ARTICLES: For more finishing advice and techniques for all skill levels, visit the finishing section on our web site.
TO BUY: “Wood Finishing 101,” from which this piece is excerpted.

Flexner on Finishing: Odds & Ends

Four short (but crucial) finishing subjects.

By Bob Flexner
Pages: 58-60

From the October 2011 issue #192
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What follows are four concise – but important – finishing topics about which you’ve likely wondered.
1 – Metamerism
Most of us have experienced a situation where we finish a project in our shop or garage to the exact color we want, only to discover that the color isn’t right when we move the project into the house (or to a client’s location). The explanation is the phenomenon of “metamerism.” The lighting is different in the two locations.

ARTICLES: You’ll find many finishing articles free on our web site.
TO BUY: Get Bob Flexner’s new, comprehensive book, “Flexner on Finishing.”
TO BUY: If you don’t have any finishing experience, you need Bob’s latest book, “Wood Finishing 101.”

From the October 2011 issue #192
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Flexner on Finishing: Refinishing Furniture

Repair, strip and refinish to restore old pieces.

By Bob Flexner
Pages: 58-60

From the August 2011 issue #191
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Refinishing is a topic worthy of an entire book. In fact, restoring furniture includes all of woodworking and finishing because all skills may be called into play. In lieu of a book, here are some not-so-random thoughts.
ARTICLES: We have many finishing articles available on our web site, free.
ARTICLE: Furniture prior to World War II was constructed using hot hide glue. Read our recipe for “Liquid Hide Glue.”
TO BUY: Get Bob Flexner’s new book, “Flexner on Finishing.”

Flexner on Finishing: Lacquer Thinner

This solvent is unique.

By Bob Flexner
Pages: 58-60

From the June 2011 issue #190
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Lacquer thinner is the thinner used for all types of lacquer (not waterbased finishes, which are sometimes misrepresented as “lacquer”). These include the most common lacquer – nitrocellulose lacquer, colorless CABacrylic lacquer and the most durable lacquer – catalyzed lacquer.

Of all solvents used in wood finishing, lacquer thinner is by far the most unique because it is the only one made up of a half-dozen or so individual solvents. By varying the solvents used, manufacturers control the strength of the lacquer thinner and the speed of evaporation.

Articles: You’ll find many finishing articles online at our web site.
To buy: Get Bob Flexner’s new book, “Flexner on Finishing.”
Articles: To spray lacquer inside, you need a spray booth and exhaust system – here’s an affordable solution.

From the June 2011 issue #190
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Flexner on Finishing: Shellac: A Challenging Finish

This traditional finish can be tricky to apply.

By Bob Flexner
Pages: 58-60

From the April 2011 issue #189
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If you have read much in the woodworking press, you’ve surely encountered many articles, including mine, in which the writer uses and recommends shellac as a finish. This may persuade you to try shellac.

I certainly don’t want to discourage you because shellac is a great finish with a great history. But you need to be aware that shellac is a relatively difficult finish to use. The writers recommending shellac are usually advanced woodworkers who have learned to overcome the difficulties.

By pointing out some of the problems, I hope to increase your likelihood of success.

Articles: Many finishing articles are available on our web site, free.
To buy: Get Bob Flexner’s new book, “Flexner on Finishing.”
Web site: For more information on shellac and the many types available, visit shellac.net.

From the April 2011 issue #189
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Flexner on Finishing: Twenty Questions

Did I mention there would be a quiz?
By Bob Flexner
Pages: 60-61

From the June 2010 issue #183
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Here are 20 questions, together with the answers, based on my articles from Popular Woodworking. If you have been reading regularly, you should do well.

For more in-depth explanations, go to popularwoodworking.com/finishing, where you’ll find many of the articles, and you can find explanations in my book, “Understanding Wood Finishing.”

Articles: Visit the “Flexner on Finishing” archive.
To buy: Bob Flexner’s book, “Understanding Wood Finishing.” is available at Amazon.com.
Video: Wood Whisperer applies varnish.
Article: Read Bob Lang’s “An Authentic Art & Craft Finish.”

Flexner on Finishing: Staining Wood


A primer on coloring.
By Bob Flexner
Pages: 60-62

From the December 2010 issue # 187
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A wood stain is a colorant (pigment or dye) and a binder (some sort of finish) with a lot of thinner added so the excess stain is easy to wipe off. This leaves some color in or on the wood.

A stain can also be just dye and thinner with no binder added.

Pigment is ground earth or colored synthetic particles, so it requires a binder to glue it to the wood. Pigment settles to the bottom of the can and has to be stirred into suspension before use.

Dye is a colorant dissolved in a liquid, so dye penetrates along with the liquid and doesn’t need a binder. Coffee and tea are examples of weak dyes.

Article: Learn how to properly sand to prepare your wood for stain.
To buy: Bob’s new book, “Flexner on Finishing,” includes 12 years’ worth of updated finishing columns.
Web site: Read more of our finishing articles.

Flexner on Finishing: Wiping Varnish

A method of brushing onto a complex surface.
By Bob Flexner
Pages: 54-56

From the November 2010 issue # 186
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Wiping varnish might be the most popular hand-applied finish used by woodworkers. It’s popular because it’s just as easy to apply as oil finishes but much more moisture, scratch, heat and solvent resistant.

You can make wiping varnish yourself by thinning any oil-based alkyd or polyurethane varnish about half with mineral spirits (paint thinner), or you can buy it from a large number of manufacturers.

Unfortunately, these manufacturers create confusion with their labeling. Most use uninformative names with the intention of making you think you’re buying something unique. The variety of names used also puts up barriers to the treatment of this fi nish as a category, similar to lacquer or water-based fi nish, with application instructions that apply to all brands.

I’ve written about wiping varnish a number of times because I believe it’s the best finish for most of those woodworkers who just want a fi nish that’s easy and foolproof, it and produces great results.

Article: Read more about Bob’s method for cleaning and storing your brushes.
To buy: Bob’s new book, “Flexner on Finishing,” is available at shopwoodworking.com.
Web site: Read more finishing articles.
Article: Read Bob’s story on applying gel varnish.

Flexner of Finishing: Optimize a Spray Gun

A simple test reveals ideal pressure for atomization.
By Bob Flexner
Pages: 54-56

From the October 2010 issue # 185
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Spray guns can run off a compressor or a turbine. With turbines the air pressure is established by the number of “stages,” usually two, three or four. Each stage corresponds to about 2 pounds per square inch (PSI). This seems ineffectively low, but it’s made up for by a huge volume of air, giving rise to the name – High-Volume Low-Pressure (HVLP).

With compressors you have an infinite range of pressures you can use, and it is up to you to set this pressure so your spray gun is optimized for the best possible atomization. If you use too little pressure, you won’t get the best atomization; you’ll get orange peel. If you set the pressure too high, you’ll waste fi nish or stain because of excessive bounce-back.

Articles: Browse through the many stories available on our “Finishing” page.
To buy: Bob’s new book, “Flexner on Finishing” (Popular Woodworking Books), is now available through our online store. The book is an indexed collection of Bob’s updated and revised columns from the last 10+years.

Filling Pores for an Elegant Look

Two methods to create a mirror-flat surface.
By Bob Flexner
Page: 54

From the August 2010 issue #184
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Very few woodworkers or refinishers fill the pores of wood anymore. The process is not well understood and it’s perceived to be difficult. So if the wood has large open pores, the pitting is usually allowed to show.

This open pored, “natural wood” look has even become quite popular and is often promoted in the woodworking literature.

But for some, the natural-wood look creates a less-than-elegant appearance. This is surely the view of companies that mass-produce high-end furniture and most people who buy this furniture. For at least 150 years, in fact, most better-quality, factory-produced furniture has had its pores filled to create a “mirror-flat” appearance.

Better-quality furniture in the past was made largely from mahogany, walnut or quarter- or rift-sawn oak. It’s these and other woods with similar pore structures that look better with their pores filled (in contrast to plain-sawn oak, for example, which is difficult to get flat because of the wide segments of deep grain.)

If you use these woods to make furniture or you restore old furniture and you want the wood to look its most elegant, you need to know how to fill pores.

Articles: Visit the ‘Flexner on Finishing” archive.
In our store: Publisher Steve Shanesy’s new DVD, “The Ten Commandments of Finishing,” is now available.
To buy: Bob’s first book, “Understanding Wood Finishing, ” is available through Amazon.com.
In our store: Bob’s new book, “Flexner on Finishing,” will be available in mid-August –pre-order now!

Flexner on Finishing: Finishing Overview

Understand the basics.
By Bob Flexner
Page: 56-57

From the February 2011 issue #188
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A wood finish is a clear, transparent coating applied to wood to protect it from moisture and to make it look richer and deeper. This differs from paint, which is a wood finish loaded with enough pigment to hide the wood. And it differs from a stain, which is a wood finish and a colorant (pigment or dye) with a lot of thinner added so the excess stain is easy to wipe off. The remainder just colors the wood; it doesn’t hide the wood.

Unfortunately, the term “finish” also refers to the entire built-up coating, which could consist of stain, several coats of finish (a “coat” is one application layer) and maybe some coloring steps – for example, glazing or toning – in between these coats. For some reason, we have only one word to refer to both the clear coating used, and to all the steps used.

Usually, the context makes clear to which is being referred.

To Buy: Get Bob Flexner’s new book, “Flexner on Finishing.”
Article: Read “The Basics of Wiping Varnish.”

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