Just Finishing

A Versatile Wipe-On Finish

Adjust the sheen by the number of coats you put on by Frank Klausz, guest columnist

For the small shop, nothing beats a wipe-on finish for appearance and ease of application. You can get a professional looking finish by just wiping on several coats with a cloth—no need for expensive spray equipment or fancy brushes. And, since each coat forms a dry "skin" in about an hour or two, you don't have to worry too much about dust settling into the finish.

Another thing I like about wipe-on finishes is that there's no mixing and no fuss—you use them straight from the can. And you can achieve different levels of sheen from the same product—from low luster to high gloss—by simply adding more coats.

The drawback to many wipe-on finishes is that they don't wear as well as harder films such as lacquers and conversion finishes. On hard-wearing surfaces such as kitchen tables you may need to replenish worn areas every few years. But the fix is easy: Just clean the surface and sand it lightly, then wipe on one or two coats to restore the original appearance.

My favorite wipe-on finish is Waterlox "Transparent." (See photo, right.) In some states it's sold with the label, "Marine Sealer." Made from a partially cooked blend of phenolic resin, tung oil and solvent, Waterlox is technically a wiping varnish. Wiping varnishes are thinner than regular varnishes, and they dry faster. Here I'll tell you how I use Waterlox to create different finishes for different projects.

Preparing the Surface

As with any finish that doesn't build in heavy coats, it's important to prepare the surface properly. Any scratches or blemishes in the wood are easily seen once the finish goes on.

I use a hand plane and a scraper to smooth the surface and to remove any machine marks or small imperfections such as tearout. (For more on planes and scrapers, see my article in AW #48.) An orbital sander will also do the job.

After the surface is smooth, sand it lightly by hand in the direction of the grain with 220-grit paper. To keep the surface as flat as possible, I back up the sandpaper with a sanding block. (For more on sanding blocks, see AW #56.)

The last thing to do before wiping on your first coat is to thoroughly clean the surface. You can use a vacuum or compressed air, but I usually wipe the wood with a clean cloth.

Applying the Finish

The beauty of this type of finish is that the more coats you apply, the more pro- Different names, same finish. Sold under different tcction and gloss you will prcxiuct names in different states, Waterlox build on the wood. Two to Transparent and Waterlox Marine Sealer are three coats yield a low identical formulations. sheen; four to six, a satin sheen; and ten or more, a _

high gloss. My method of applying the finish is the same regardless of how many coats I'm putting on.

Begin by pouring some of the finish into a small can—cat-food tins work great. If you're working on flat surfaces, fold a clean cotton rag into a small ball, then dip it into the can until it is about half saturated with varnish. If the finish drips from the rag, you've got too much. For intricate surfaces such as carvcd areas, use a China-bristle brush instead. Choose a brush with short (I - to 1 '/2-in.) bristles, and just dip the ends of the bristles into the finish.

Now, simply wipe or brush your varnish onto the wood. It doesn't matter how or in what direction you apply the finish, but it's important to cover the entire surface. Use the brush to dab into the areas where the rag won't go.

As you apply the finish, look for dry spots where it has already been sucked into the pores, and wipe a little more finish on these areas. The idea at this point is to put as much varnish into the wood as the pores will accept. However, don't linger: the entire process should only take a few minutes. If you take any longer, the varnish will become tacky and you'll end up smearing the surface. Practice will show you what I mean. Once the surface is fully covered, go back over it with the cloth or brush in the direction of the grain to even the finish.

Place the work in a dust-free area to dry for at least 24 hours. If you don't have a dust-free area, you can construct a "roof' over the workpiccc from cardboard or plywood to keep airborne dust off the tacky finish.

Caution: Rags soaked in Waterlox are flammable and can spontaneously combust. Dispose of used rags in an airtight container or in a bucket of water.

Low-Sheen Finish

For a low-sheen or "Danish" finish I apply two more coats in a similar way. Before the second coat, lightly sand the

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