May 12, 2014

Tips for Wood Finishing and Staining

I have to tell you, my LEAST favorite part about building furniture is finishing it.  You have this beautiful, raw wood piece you've worked hard on, and the ability to majorly screw it up.  I've learned from a few projects that taking your time in the finishing is key to a good piece.  Which requires patience, which I don't have.... I'm working on it.

I started with a day of wood fill and sanding.  Here's my Tip #1- don't plan to stain in the same session you sand.  I've found when I do this I'm anxious to get moving with the staining, and I don't take the time to sand as well as I should.  Instead, I plan on an entire session of sanding, and come back to the piece the next day to stain.  For this piece I spent nearly 2 full hours filling and sanding, and it was totally worth it.


Wood fill goes in all of your nail holes, as well as the joints where 2 pieces of wood come together and leave a little gap.



I sanded every little surface until the wood felt like silk under my fingertips.  The kiddos were sleeping, it was a warm spring day, the radio was on... it was actually pretty cathartic.  I paid close attention to the seams were 2 pieces of wood united.


And gave a soft edge to my grid pieces on the back.


In the end it was beautiful, and I was still afraid to stain it, so I walked away and returned to finish it the next day.  Of course I found more areas to sand on day 2, but that only took about 15 minutes, and then I was ready to stain it.



Here's my Tip #2- use a soft bristled brush on a vacuum to completely remove all the excess sawdust from the piece.  Microfiber cloths work okay, but still leave dust behind.  The soft brush on a vacuum is a game changer. 

After the piece was clean I used a prestain to make sure the stain adheres evenly.  Tip #3 - never skip the prestain with soft woods like pine, maple and birch.  You'll always regret it.  It goes on quickly and easily like water.  You can see the inside of the square on the bottom right and the seat don't have prestain yet in the picture below, but the rest of the piece does.



Tip #4- Test your stain on a scrap of your wood to get the exact color sample.  I couldn't decide between Jacobean and Dark Walnut, so I tried each on the same piece.  I was leaning toward Jaccobean on the left:



Tip #5- Don't just test your wood piece, let it dry to confirm you still like the color when it's fully dry.  Once dry I realized that I liked the warmth of Dark Walnut much better. 


Tip #6- Don't skimp on the tools and materials.  Could you stain with your bare hand and rags?  Sure- but it would be a mess.  Invest the couple of bucks on a package of gloves and lint free wiping cloths and save yourself the hassle.


I started with what I thought would be the hard part, the inside of the cubbies.  Using a foam brush I stained the top, the back, the slides and finally the bottom, in that order, for each of the 3 cubbies.  I kept a good eye on time and after about 20 minutes of letting an area sit with stain I went back to wipe off any access stain with my clean cloth.


It took me about an hour and a half to finish the first coat, and I wasn't thrilled with what I saw.


Even with my prestain the first coat was pretty blotchy, but I remained calm and put a second coat on the next evening. (Day 3)


Which was better, but I needed a third coat the next day. (Day 4)


It's hard to tell in these late night garage photos, but the piece definitely needed a forth coat on Day 5.


Finally after four coats and 6 total hours of stain application, I had the perfect color.



But even worse than staining comes the next part- the poly.  I hate poly because it has the ability to totally ruin the look of your piece, but if done right you don't even notice it at all.  Which means you spend a whole lot of time for little-to-no visual result.  But it's definitely worth it to keep your piece nice for the long haul.   I spent another 4 days and 6 total hours applying 4 coats of waterbased poly.  I actually used the leftover can of my floor finish that I used on our new wood stairs project.  I love this stuff- it's odor free, goes on smooth and crystal clear.  I'm hoping the high traffic formula will keep this piece looking great after years of wet boots and jackets. 




Tip #7- Between coats of poly I rubbed the entire piece with #0000 steel wool until it was silky smooth again, and used my vacuum brush to remove all the dust.  I never "lightly sand" as some instructions say, as it has the risk of ruining your finish. I find with steel wool you get all the smoothing, with a lot less risk.  After the 4th and final coat was dry, I could finally apply my coat hooks.



It was a dark night out in the garage though, so here's what it really looks like, up at the cabin in all it's glory:



I found the wire basket at the Container Store, and I love it!  Not only is it the perfect size, but it has the rustic look I'm going for.  The plan is to use the basket for flip flops and toddler shoes, while the other open cubbies can hold other full size adult shoes to get them up and out of the entry way.  The felt pillow is from Target.



I am so happy with how this piece turned out.  I took my time and agonized over every detail, and I think it really paid off.  I'm hoping this piece stands as an heirloom in our family cabin for generations to come.  When I get a little sappy, I imagine my grand kids some day taking off their shoes on the bench that grandma built.  That's how I want this cabin to feel, warm and full of stories and memories.  And that's the best part of remodeling this place ourselves- we're making memories every weekend. 

1 comment:

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