Wood Finishing

By Tom Kirkman

Here's a question from Volume 5 - Issue #1 issue of RodMaker magazine:

RodMaker Magazine

After your recent articles on turning reel seat inserts I have started doing just that. I am getting pretty good result but my wood finishing skills are obviously not very good. I use the Birchwood Casey Tru-Oil since I have heard so many people say good things about it, but cannot get the glass-like sheen and shine I see on other's work. I still seem to have sanding swirls and open grain in my finished pieces. Any tips for this budding insert maker? Rodney, Flagstaff, AZ

Certainly. First off, I know many people like to do all their sanding and finishing right on the lathe. It's quick and easy and the lathe does most of the work. But no matter how progressive your sanding sequence is, and no matter how fine the grades of paper you work through, you will always have concentric sanding lines in the finished piece if you do it that way. You may have to hold the piece in a certain light, or at a certain angle, but those sanding lines will be in there. Ask any top notch wood turner and he'll tell you the same thing.

Those concentric sanding lines bother me, too. So I do things the hard way. First, with a sharp cutting tool and decent technique, not much sanding should be required. Once I have the insert turned, I remove it from the lathe and sand with the grain. I normally have a nice surface finish and thus can start with 400 grit on a sanding block (always back your paper with a sanding block or you will round over the edges of the insert to a very noticeable degree). It shouldn't take much sanding if you are starting with a good surface. If not, you may have to start with something more like 320 grit and progress to the 400. Sand lightly, but thoroughly. That will take care of your concentric sanding marks - there won't be any, in any direction, if you sand with the grain.

Next, you are going to have to do some more hand work. Between applications of the Tru-Oil (A wiping varnish which is an outstanding finish for seat inserts) you want to let it dry for several hours and then again sand with the grain using 400 to 600 grit paper until you are pretty much down to the bare wood again.

Why put the finish on if you're just going to sand it off again you ask? Well, unless you are working with an extremely tight grained wood, you have open pores and grain lines that you need to fill and raise to the rest of the wood's surface. I know the manufacturer recommends hitting the piece with some steel wool in between applications, but that will never level the surface to the degree you need if you really want that mirror sheen.

Continue the process - apply finish, let dry, sand to the work surface, dust off and repeat - until the surface is perfectly level. You will know when this happens as you will no longer have little shiny "specks" or "lines". Once the surface of the insert is perfectly smooth and level, give it another application of the Tru-Oil and let dry. Then lightly give it the steel wool treatment and apply one more app of the Tru-Oil. But the way, I have gotten my results with the Tru-Oil by applying it to a piece of cheesecloth and "wiping" on the wood in the direction of the grain. A couple of quick passes with the wetted cloth will do it.

I know this is more work than the quick finishing on the lathe, and many lathe finished pieces look pretty darn good. But if you will take the time to carefully sand and finish in this manner you will get stunning results that you will not get with any other external finishing means. ~ Tom Kirkman

Publishers note:

If you have any tips or techniques, send them along! Help out your fellow rodmakers! ~ Publisher, FAOL

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