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Let’s say your table saw’s guard is painted black. And you’ve figured out that if you put a piece of wood under it in a certain way, that usually it comes out cut like you intended. But sometimes not. After all, you can’t see what’s going on under that guard.

This sounds ridiculous, I know. But that’s basically what many woodworkers do when they apply finish to their projects. They don’t know how a finish works or why it works (or doesn’t). In fact, finishing is still considered by many of us to be a “black art,” with secret formulas and the like.

And finish manufacturers only perpetuate this problem because they have so many confusing names for the same product.

Lucky for us, there is Bob Flexner, our long-time finishing columnist.

Flexner started his career as a woodworker, but at some point he became so flummoxed by finishing that he decided to figure out the chemistry. And what he found is that finishing is actually straightforward once you look behind the curtain. Why is it so confusing? Well….

1. Some magazine writers don’t understand finishing and continually repeat idiotic myths. (Such as that oil “feeds” a finish. Or that you have to finish both sides of your work to prevent warping. That the inside of a cabinet has to be finished. And on and on.)

2. Manufacturers don’t dispel the myths either and tend to feed them with misleading labels and marketing campaigns.

And that is why we hired Flexner as a contributing editor to our magazine more than a decade ago , an honor we have bestowed on very few people.

Flexner has changed the way that hundreds of thousands of people finish their projects. Through his regular column, “Flexner on Finishing,” he has busted myth after myth. He has taken manufacturers (and even other writers) to task.

For me, he has made finishing simple to understand and simpler to do with confidence.

So I am pleased to announce that we are releasing Flexner’s best columns in a hardbound 224-page edition called “Flexner on Finishing” that will come out in September. You can pre-order it now for $19.99, which saves you $5 off the cover price.

Flexner updated all of his columns, and we redesigned all them for the book (pity our Senior Art Director Linda Watts). But the result will be worth it. Even if you own Flexner’s landmark book “Understanding Wood Finishing” you’ll find this volume a good companion. Flexner dives deeper into topics relevant to woodworkers , giving you a clearer picture of what happens when the finish hits the board.

I recommend this book without reservation (which is something my company can’t pay me to do). I have immense respect for Flexner, his intellectual rigor and his integrity as a woodworking journalist. And if you pick up this new book, I know you’ll agree with me.

It’s available for pre-order from our store. Click here to order.

– Christopher Schwarz

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Showing 8 comments
  • Jerry England

    I took a week long class two years ago at Marc Adams School of Woodworking in Franklin IN. Bob Flexnor was the instructor and to say he knows finishing is an understatement. I own all his books and was very fortunate to be able to spend a week in his class. He lives and breathes finishing and I can think of no one who can cut through the voodoo of this subject better.

  • james

    Yup, finishing is a big deal & like hardware, often not given the attention it deserves. Flexner is a hero of mine because he took on the Antiques Roadshow where some "experts" had elevated "original surface" to a fetish and forced them to back down. Below is the reply from Peter Cook to the letter that Bob Flexner wrote.

  • Joseph Sullivan


    I have Flexner’s first book and find it excellent. I look forward this this one.

    Your opening paragraphs on wood finishing really hit the nail. For some reason, many otherwise good craftsmen really understand finishing. They do things that make otherwise well-made furniture scream AMATEUR, or that do not make fine pieces look nearly as good as they could. Not only that, they often just don’t want to learn, preferring home brew mixes of this and that.

    A good friend of mine is a widely published finisher who also often does the seminar and show circuit. He and I have talked about this. He said he repeatedly has the experience of people coming up to ask him how to finish a certain something, only to have them smile at the answer and say, Well, that’s not how we do it — we make a mix of etc etc.

    It’s weird.


  • Christopher Schwarz
  • Christopher Schwarz


    Both books are great. You can go a long way with "Flexner on Finishing." If you want to go deeper on topics such as decks, refinishing and the like, then the first book is very handy.

    Hope this helps.

  • Dan Oelke

    I was just explaining to my son last night that he really needs to finish both sides of some boards. Maybe I was wrong – I think I’ll have to get the book just for that reason.

    Can anyone explain as to why finishing both sides won’t help reduce warping?

    My son is just starting to finish about 600 board feet of car siding to do the inside of a fish house. Only finishing one side will cut the amount of work down significantly. (and save dad some $ on finish)

  • Sheppo

    I have Flexner’s first book, and it is great.

  • I have just bought Flexner on Finishing but I don’t have his first book-must I have it or does the current book cover it?

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