1. Introduction

     "What is the finish?" This is the question most often asked when a woodturner looks at another's work. Everyone wants to know about "finishing", and a discussion on finishing is more popular than any other single subject for a demonstration. Yet, finishing is given the least attention in published articles, videos, or books on turning wood. All too often the presentation avoids the question with a brief instruction to, "apply your favorite finish." The beginning woodturner becomes even more confused when they go to The Home Depot, only to find 600-feet of shelf space filled with products that are made to put a "finish" on wood.
     Finishing wood isn't difficult. This series of articles is written to answer a few of the many questions on finishing, and assist those who do not yet have a "favorite finish." I am neither a finishing expert nor a chemist. However, I have used many different finishing products and techniques in sufficient quantity, and for enough years, that I have developed some knowledge of their application and durability. I present this information as, "What works for me". These are my "favorite finishes". Do I use them all? Yes, depending on the shape of the piece, how it will be used, the wood, my mood at the time, and sometimes it is a matter of which is the closest on the shelf.

1. Why A Finish?
     The "finish" is the final step. Our work isn't complete until it has a "finish" to protect its surface, enhance its grain, slow the seasonal changes in moisture content, and impart the feeling and visual quality of "completeness". There are many techniques and products to accomplish these ends. Some of these finishes are easier to apply than others, none of them are quick, but all of them will provide a protective coating on the surface of a piece of wood. During the next installments of this series, we will discuss most of them.

2. What A Finish Cannot Do
    No matter how long we search or how many products we buy, there are three (3) things that a finish will never do:

  • The finish will not cover our turning mistakes, torn grain, tool marks, or sanding scratches. In fact, most finishes will accent them and make them all the more obvious.
  • The finish will not stop the natural aging process that makes all wood change color with the passing of time and exposure to air and sunlight. We can slow this natural process with various UV inhibitors, and for a short period of time we will have the illusion that we have stopped it. But, these inhibitors will loose their effectiveness, and over the years the wood will still turn dark. Someone once said, "Concentrate on form, not color or grain, because all wood eventually turns black and the form is all you have left."
  • There is nothing that we can put on a piece of wood that will make it something that it is not - waterproof. We cannot give it the properties of glass, ceramic, or plastic.
3. Recommended Reading
We can learn much about finishing from the popular woodworking press because the techniques for furniture can be adapted to our turnings. The books on finishing by Michael Dresdner and Jeff Jewitt are excellent references. They are both available from Taunton Press (Fine Woodworking Magazine) or most of the woodworking mail-order catalogs. I have included their ISBN so they can be obtained from other booksellers.

Great Wood Finishes, by Jeff Jewitt
ISBN: 1-56158-390-1, PROD. # 070521

The New Wood Finishing Book, by Michael Dresdner
ISBN: 1-56158-299-9, PROD. # 070429

    My personal preference is towards the book by Jeff Jewitt. He works as a furniture refinisher and uses and describes finishing techniques and products that are more familiar to the woodturner. Dresdner is an advocate of shellac, and his book excels in its discussion of shellac. Either would be an excellent reference for the woodturner who wants to learn more about the finishing products that we use.
    "Fine Woodworking" had at least one article on some aspect of finishing in every issue since early 2000. These articles, by Dresdner, Jewitt, Minick, and others, have covered a wide range of subjects from bees-wax to varnishes and thinners. All would be recommended reading for the woodturner who wants to learn more about finishing.



© 2002 - 2009 by Russ Fairfield. All rights reserved. No parts of this publication may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the written permission of the author.