In Finishing, Shop Blog

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It’s lunchtime, but as I gaze into the fridge the only thing that looks good to me is a beer. I reach for the yogurt, but I almost change direction and grab the bottle of Fat Tire on the shelf above my milky bacterial fermentation.

Now before you start to worry that I’m in need of an intervention, hear me out. This craving for beer is what happens every time I spray lacquer. The first time I felt this urge more than 10 years ago I dismissed it as my brain telling me to take a victory lap because I’d finished a big project.

Now I think it’s something else. Perhaps my body is trying to replace one toxin with another. Perhaps something in lacquer or the thinner unlocks some alcoholic alter-ego. Believe me, I’m careful around finishing materials and their solvents. I wear a cartridge respirator the entire time I’m working. I wear gloves as I mix the lacquer and thinner. I spray outside on a breezy day.

But no matter what precautions I take, the result is always the same: Beer, beer, beer.

This morning I sprayed the finish coats of lacquer on the Gustav Stickley 802 sideboard that has been languishing in my shop as I’ve gallivanted through Maine and Las Vegas these last few weeks. My original plan to finish the sideboard was to use the suntan finish we developed for cherry in Woodworking Magazine Issue No. 5.

But I didn’t use that finish on the cherry dining table I built in 2005, so that gave me a bit of pause. In 10 years, I’d like these two pieces to look the same color in the same room. So I simply shot the sideboard with clear lacquer, which is the finish on the dining table. Three coats in two hours. God I love spray finishing.

Here’s a little tip for you the next time you’re at the hardware store: Pick up one of the 3M #180-grit sanding sponges. For the last couple years I’ve been using that between coats of lacquer and have decided that it is the bee’s knees. It levels lacquer quickly and brings up the white powdery look you want before shooting the next coat. Plus, the sponges last much longer than the lubricated sandpaper we use at work. When the sponges get a little clogged after a few months, just rinse them out with water and you’ll get some more life out of them.

So far, the sideboard looks pretty good. I like to let the lacquer level and cure for a day and then I rub it out with a plain brown paper bag to remove any dust nibs and give the finish a silky feel. So now I’m going to go down and see if we have any plain paper bags in the pantry.

If we don’t, I’m going to go to the liquor store and kill two needs with one purchase.

– Christopher Schwarz

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Showing 12 comments
  • Chris K.


    Where can I find out more on this sideboard? It looks very nice soo far and the Mrs, would love me to make her one. I would like to keep her from so please help me out!



    PS as for the martini’s through the straw, its not doing anything to the alcohol. Its just you drink more through the straw then sipping it.

  • Christopher Schwarz


    Great question. I think it really sped things up at the construction phase and simplified a lot of the layout chores.

    What you do have to remember is it is just as strong as mortise-and-tenon, so all the rules about sizing tenons apply. It’s tempting at time to use fewer dominoes than you should because everything fits so nice and tight. Resist that urge.

    When gluing the front rail I should have used three dominoes in each joint instead of two. When I was planing the assembled carcase, one joint failed. My fault entirely. So I took it apart and added another domino to the joint. Then it was totally solid.

    I still an wildly enthusiastic about the machine. I like it far more than my biscuit joiner. I just need to remember it has limits.


  • Steve Spear

    Hi Chris,

    How did the Festool Domino work out on this project?


  • Christopher Schwarz


    OK, I insist that all of the readers try the above experiment (at home) and report back.

    I’m on it. In the name of science, of course.


  • david herzig

    Re: the desire for a beer after spraying. It is more than a village myth that in the old days when painters used solvent based paints, painters often became confirmed alcoholics. Solvents in the mouth and nose are very readily absorbed and go directly into the brain circulation before passing through the liver for detoxification. As an experiment try drinking a martini through a straw, where the vacuum of sucking on the straw vaporizes the alcohol which puts you up there sooner.

  • Christopher Schwarz


    I was just drinking Schlafly Expedition Ale last night — one of my favorites. I went for a tour (and brunch) at Schlafly in June. Great food. Great beer. I haven’t been to the Tap Room yet.

    Next time I’m in St. Louis I’ll drop you a line. And I’d like to meet your spouse as well. Most spouses like me better in person….


  • Ethan


    Fat Tire isn’t bad, but my favorite New Belgium is the 1554. If you haven’t yet tried it, you definitely should!

    And the next time you’re in St. Louis, let me know! I’ll take you to some of the local microbreweries. The Schlafly brewery has a great beer selection and their food is top notch, too. If we hit it on the right night, you can sometimes catch an Irish Session or two at the Tap Room (owned by Schlafly, but a different location than the brewery – also has great food).

    Oh, by the way, my wife says she’d love to speak with you, as well… (Don’t worry; I’ve made sure she doesn’t know about It’s best if they don’t get too organized.)

  • Christopher Schwarz


    I count that as a gloat. Gloater!


  • Mike

    Gosh..the west actually has something the east likes? Fat Tire, eh?

    Common as mud here. Cannot walk into a mini-mart at a gas station without seeing the stuff. Tis my wife’s favorite beer. Me? Don’t overly like beer.

    Now, a well made G&T…

    Take care, Mike

  • Swanz

    Sure, blame it on the lacquer, hehehe. I always blame it on a hard day’s work.

  • Christopher Schwarz


    Honest: Spray lacquer is the easiest topcoat finish to apply. It’s forgiving almost to a fault. It just stinks that the thinner is so nasty to the personhood.

    On the Fat Tire: I brought it home from a June trip to St. Louis, the eastern edge of the Fat Tire kingdom. My father lives in Arkansas and can buy 12-packs of it for $10 on sale. That is the only thing that has ever made me want to move back home.


  • dave brown

    Nice advice on the finishing. I just bought an HVLP gun but so far I’ve only used it for latex paint. I need to work up the nerve and use some lacquer.

    BTW, nice gloat on the Fat Tire — I know you didn’t pick that up at your liquor store. Did you bring that back w/ you from Vegas?

    have a good one!

    PS: Got my Woodworking Mag in the mail this week — thanks!

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