In Finishing, Shop Blog

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When it comes to finishing, I’m first to admit I can be a bit chicken. I do work hard at finishing, but I generally stick with what I know. And I avoid wetsanding the finish at all costs. I tried several times to get wetsanding right, but I always had problems getting a consistent sheen on the entire project without cutting through the topcoat.

But I really want that nice smooth and tactile feel you get with quality finishing work. My workarounds to get that are pretty involved. And that’s why I decided it was time to buck up and get a wee bit brave this weekend as I finished the prototype project for Issue 5, a Shaker cabinet reproduction.

About five years ago, John Wilson gave me one of his tips that he uses for getting a nice finish on his Shaker boxes: rubbing them with a brown paper bag. I never tried it myself, but I filed away the idea. Last week, finishing expert Bob Flexner made the same recommendation and commented that the paper bag merely rounded over the nibs in the topcoat and really didn’t cut the finish like sandpaper did. In other words, it was pretty chicken-compliant.

So this morning I headed down to the shop with a paper bag from the liquor store and gave it a try on the underside of one of the interior shelves I has topcoated with lacquer the day before. After about five or six strokes I ran my fingers over the surface and is was quite smooth. So I tried it on the top surface of the shelf. Same thing. And I looked at it in a reflected light and could see no scratches or real change in the sheen. Braver and braver, I tried it on the beaded backboards, the backside of the door and then took a deep breath. I did the case sides, the face frame and the rest of the show surfaces.

I’m sold.

After “bagging” about half the cabinet I noticed that the nibs from the finish were abrading the bag a bit, but this didn’t seem to change the way the bag worked. I did get some of the white powder from the lacquer that you get from sanding, but I couldn’t discern any change in the look of the finish , just the feel.

– Christopher Schwarz

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Showing 2 comments
  • Chris Schwarz


    Several of the professional finishers/refinishers I know swear that a drink after work helps them displace the finishing toxins in their bodies.

    Who am I to argue?


  • bill kasper

    this, of course, gives one reason to head (back) down to the liquor store…

    thanks, chris. and for "woodworking", which i have all four issues of and eagerly await the fifth.

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Mass-produced holdfasts we tested, front to back: Jorgensen #1708, Veritas, Woodcraft, Jorgensen #1716.