Woodtek Wide Belt Sander

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Woodtek 959-802 12-24-in. open-end, wide-belt sander $1,140.

RBI Model #900-1440 38-in. closed-end sander $3,750, (800) 487-2623.

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Two new double-drum sanders were not available for our test, the Grizzly 24-in. #G1066Z, $1,600 and the Woodtek 25-in. 109-352, $1,200.

If you're looking for both faster and better results from a sander, a wide-belt machine may be the right fit for you. With the single exception of the Woodtek open-end sander included in our chart, they start at about $3,100. Wide-belt sanders use a single sleeve of sandpaper rather than a continuous roll. That makes paper changing a bit faster, as shown at left. Wide-belt sanders also require at least 30-amp service and a 230-volt circuit.

Many wide-belt sanders leave a less-visible scratch pattern than any drum sander. Their heads oscillate back and forth, so you don't get rows of straight-line scratches. The belt is pressed to the wood by a large, flat platen rather than by a round drum, .so you won't get random dips. (The Woodtek model doesn't have either feature, however.) A/V

RBI Model #900-1440 38-in. closed-end sander $3,750, (800) 487-2623.

We reviewed sanders that were priced under $2,200, but there are many more expensive models available. For $2,500 to $10,000, you can get closed-end or double-drum machines with more powerful motors and wider capacity. These machines allow you to process work faster than most of the sanders we tested, but the results may not be much different. By and large, these sanders require 30-amp service and a 230-volt circuit.

Woodtek 959-802 12-24-in. open-end, wide-belt sander $1,140.

By Tim Johnson

By Tim Johnson

Oil it, spray it, shellac it, or glaze it. This is how to make cherry look great

Cherry is gorgeous wood, but as you've probably discovered, it can be nasty to finish. Cherry boards come in all different colors, the sapwood and heartwood don't match, it can look really blotchy and it darkens as it ages.

Take advantage of my 28 years of experience with cherry. Here's everything I've learned about choosing lumber, getting rich color, a uniform appearance, and making a new cherry piece look 100 years old.

Color Varies from Board to Board

To make finishing easier, choose boards that look the same. Some suppliers sell boards from the same tree together, to ensure a good match. Usually, though, you'll be on your own.

If you plan to use solid cherry along with cherry plywood, stand the solid stock against the veneer in good, natural light, so you can compare the colors. Wetting the surfaces with mineral spirits is another way to get a true indication of color.

If you can't find enough boards of the same color for your entire project, group similar ones together for the various parts. Everyone will see that single off-colored board in the top, but no one will notice if one side of a cabinet is a slightly different color than the other.

Cherry Darkens Over Time

Cherry's color deepens from a pale pinkish-tan to a deep red-brown as a result of its exposure to air and light. The color change is so rapid at first that within hours, a partially covered board can develop a shadow line that can be hard to sand out. It's important to keep freshly planed boards either completely covered or completely exposed.

After the first couple of weeks, darkening becomes more gradual. Most finishes will slow cherry's color change, especially ones with UV blockers (check the label), but they don't stop it. At first, linseed and tung oil finishes give cherry a deeper, richer appearance than film-forming finishes like shellac, lacquer and polyurethane (pages 54 and 55). But after a year or so, they'll all look pretty much the same.

If you want to give cherry a dark color right away, don't use oil stain. It colors cherry's pores and makes it look unnatural. Colored glazes or finishes using chemical reactions work best (pages 56 through 58).

Sapwood and Heartwood

The difference between cherry's white sapwood and rosy-tan heartwood becomes more distinct over time. The heartwood darkens, but the sapwood doesn't. The best way to deal with sapwood is to cut it off, but it can be finished to blend with the heartwood (see Sidebar, page 57).

Thirsty Spots and Curly Figure

Most cherry boards contain extra-absorbent spots and pockets of curly figure that are more distracting than spectacular. With both "problems," finishing results in a mottled appearance. To some, this is part of cherry's inherent beauty; to others, it just looks blotchy. Before you choose a finish, check your boards for mottling by wiping them with mineral spirits.

Choosing a Finish

There are two types of finishes for sealing and protecting wood: Those that dry to a hard film and those that don't.

Film-forming finishes can be applied by wiping, brushing or spraying. Each layer you apply builds the thickness of the film. Finishes made from drying oils soak into the wood's pores, but don't harden enough to form a surface film. They have to be wiped, because you can't leave any on the surface. On cherry, drying oil finishes emphasize a mottled appearance. Film-forming finishes, like shellac, lacquer and polyurethane, minimize it. Poly-urethane disguises mottling and curly figure the best, but it gives cherry less depth than shellac or lacquer.

OIL FINISH GIVES CHERRY A RICH TONE, because of its amber color, but the results are unpredictable. Cherry often absorbs oil unevenly, and parts that absorb a lot of oil look darker.The result is a mottled appearance.You'll either see this as part of cherry's appealing character or as unattractive blotches.

OIL FINISH GIVES CHERRY A RICH TONE, because of its amber color, but the results are unpredictable. Cherry often absorbs oil unevenly, and parts that absorb a lot of oil look darker.The result is a mottled appearance.You'll either see this as part of cherry's appealing character or as unattractive blotches.

Tung oil and boiled linseed oil soak into the wood, lodging in even the tiniest pores. This makes cherry's super-absorbent spots and curly figure stand out. The deep-amber color of these oils amplifies the effect. If you like mottled cherry, use a drying oil finish.

Wipe-ons are the most worry-free finishes to apply. They're dust-free and you don't have to contend with drips, sags, or brush marks. Wiping can be tedious work, though, and you'll have to safely dispose of oil-soaked rags.

Brush, pour or rub the oil on the wood, according the manufacturer's directions. These finishes are usually rather thick, but heating them makes them less syrupy and easier to apply (photo at right). Wipe all excess oil from the surface. After the first coat is completely dry, smooth the surface with very fine sandpaper or steel wool and apply a second coat. Once the wood has a uniform sheen, additional coats aren't necessary.

Most wipe-on finishes are blends of oil and varnish, so they're actually film-forming finishes. These blends also contain solvents to make them easy to apply and driers to make them dry quickly. Wear gloves, a respirator and maintain adequate ventilation.

Pure drying-oil finishes contain only tung oil or linseed oil. They have no added driers or solvents, so they're safer to use, but they dry very slowly.

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