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From the Editor's Desk

Finely Finished

WE CALL OURSELVES WOODWORKERS because we're good at working wood. But sometimes the other details can prove a little more challenging; that's probably why I hear so many "Oops" stories from woodworkers about finishing. It often involves a project that took many hours to build. The builder wants the finish to be special—and decides that it might be a good time to try out a new finish. So try he does and that's when I get the S.O.S. phone call or e-maii.

One of my most memorable calls came from a very sincere fellow who started out with a simple question about how to remove stain from wood. I queried him: What kind of stain? How fresh? Since it was oil-based and only a couple days old, I suggested rubbing it with mineral spirits or lacquer thinner. But I cautioned him that it's tough to remove most stains and that if he really wanted to get down to bare wood he might have to sand it away. Even that's no guarantee.

After a bit more conversation he somewhat sheepishly admitted that he'd used a combination stain-varnish product and it had turned out blotchy. I told him that's a common problem with that type of finish. He also admitted he should've practiced first. Then I asked about the type of wood.

"Mahogany," he replied.

"Ouch," I thought.

The project? A restored antique wooden boat.

"Double ouch!" I thought.

I had probably asked enough questions, but my curiosity was piqued, so I asked, "How much of the boat did you finish?" His response was a triple ouch! Yes, he'd finished the entire boat. I never heard from him again, but he seemed like the persistent type, so I suspect he managed to rescue the finish and his boat.

As a teenager, one of my first jobs was helping my dad stain and varnish the trim work in new homes. I got pretty good at wiping the stain on and off without getting much on the walls or the floors, but it took me a long time to match my dad's speed with the varnish brush. He was a good teacher, I learned a lot, and I still enjoy finishing. But as the story of the boat guy illustrates, perhaps the single most important thing to remember about finishing is printed right on the can: Test on a scrap board or in an inconspicuous location. Remember that, and you'll greatly improve your chances at being able to claim that your project is finely finished.

Happy woodworking and finishing,

[email protected]

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