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Finishing Tips
Making Your Own Tack Cloths
Soak a diaper or piece of cheesecloth in turpentine and wring out until it's still fairly damp. Brush on stripes of varnish, roll up the cloth and wring out again. Repeat this process until you achieve the degree of stickiness you desire.
Keeping Shop Dust Off Freshly Finished Projects
Use a large cardboard box. First, seal all box folds and openings with clear or masking tape. Then, cut a hinged "door" in one side of the box. Place small projects inside the box and close the door to allow them to dry in a dust-free environment.
Quick-drying grain-raiser
Use common household rubbing alcohol instead of water to raise the grain of wood prior to final sanding. It does the job quite nicely and dries a lot faster than water so you'll make more progress in less time.
Flattening the shine of over-glossy paints
Add a small amount of talcum powder to the paint. Conduct some tests on scrap wood to determine the ideal amount for your application.
Storing paint brushes properly
Before storing, clean brushes thoroughly with the appropriate solvent. Then, spin the handle back-and-forth between your hands (inside a trash can, box or similar receptacle to contain potential splattering) to remove as much moisture as possible. Wrap the bristles carefully in newspaper to protect them.
Making your own dark pine stain
Separate a "plug" of (dark-colored) chewing tobacco and soak it overnight in a pint of common household ammonia. Strain it through a stocking (or pantyhose) to remove any particles before applying it to your project. Multiple coats may be required to attain the color you want. Be sure to allow a minimum of 3 hours' drying time between coats. Cover with shellac, varnish or polyurethane.
Record that finish!
If possible, ALWAYS make a small label, describing the materials (stains, topcoats, etc.) used to finish a project and attach it in an inconspicuous place on every job. If the project's small and a location can't be found for the label, keep a "log" of the finishes for all your projects. That way, if you ever have to repair a scratch or other blemish, you'll know what you used originally and should be able to match everything up nicely.
Paintbrushes from clotheslines?
Yep! Just cut ordinary cotton clothesline into short lengths and use them for staining and similar jobs. Then, just throw them away when you're done!
Removing "runs" from finishes.
It happens every time. Just when you think you've completed a project, you look at it and find a big, ugly run in your finish. What to do? First, allow the finish to dry completely before trying to do anything. Then, use a single-edged razor blade to scrape the run off, flush with the surrounding surface. Re-finish and rub out the area with pumice stone and linseed oil.
How to avoid blotchy finishes
There are two primary causes of blotchy finishes. The first is skipping from coarse directly to fine grit sanding, without an intermediate step. This practice leaves deep cuts in the wood surface that absorb stains and finishes unevenly.

The second is using abrasive materials that have become dull and create a build-up of heat when sanding. This is especially true of power sanding operations, as you might expect. This heat causes the lignin in the wood's cell walls to flow, creating burnt or burnished areas that absorb finishes unevenly. Aluminum oxide abrasives are notorious for this. Try switching to garnet abrasives which are self-sharpening, and that means more efficient cutting with less heat build-up.

Recycling mineral spirits
Most pigments and other contaminants that may be suspended in used mineral spirits will eventually settle to the bottom of the container, if left to set undisturbed in a cool location for 14 to 21 days. Then, just pour off the spirits and dispose of the settlings properly.
Extending the lift of tack cloths
Store them in baby food jars or zipper-style sandwich or freezer bags to keep them from drying out.
Minimizing Evaporation and/or gelling of stored varnishes and oil finishes
Add marbles or ball bearings to the can to raise the level of material close to the top of the can.
Making your own stains from artist's oils
When mixed with turpentine or paint thinner, burnt umber produces oak or walnut-like brown tones -- raw sienna produces oak or maple-like golden tones -- and burnt sienna gives the reddish tones of early American furniture or mahogany. When you're satisfied with the color, mix in some boiled linseed oil.
Preventing paint build-up in the can lid groove
Use an awl or small nail to punch a series of small holes in the bottom edge of the can lid groove. Be sure they're at the very bottom of the groove. Any finish that gets into this groove should drain back into the can.
Simple strainer for paints, stains and similar liquids
Use a 1-pound coffee can with a replaceable plastic lid. Cut a large diameter hole in the center of the plastic lid. Stretch a piece of cheesecloth (or pantyhose) over the top of the can, then place the lid over this material to hold it in position. Pour your liquid through the hole in the lid and over the cheesecloth (or pantyhose), into the can.
Removing light-colored glue lines from dark wood
Dip the tip of a scratch awl into ordinary household iodine and draw its point along the line to darken the glue. This technique works very well with mahogany, walnut and similar dark woods.
Emergency Stain For Dark Woods
When you need a small amount of dark colored stain to repair a blemish in walnut, mahogany or other dark-colored wood, try ordinary household iodine.
Particle-free wood finish smoother
Try using a small piece of ordinary air-conditioner/furnace filter material. It's great for smoothing the surfaces of intricate joints and moldings without leaving particles like steel wool. This material is very inexpensive...and can often be found in different grades of abrasiveness, if you just look.
Removing fumes from the shop
If you're working with lacquers or other finishing materials that are noxious or potentially explosive, it's always a good idea to place a fan outside the door of the shop and open a window or door near the opposite side. Aim the fan into the shop to create a Positive pressure that will force the fumes out the opposing door or window without the danger of creating sparks which could ignite the fumes. When doing this, be sure the project you're working on is NOT in the direct line between the "air-in" and "air-out" portals, as this could deposit dust on your project.
Particle-free smoother for wood finishes
Conventional abrasives and steel wools can, at times leave small abrasive particles or steel fibers in critical wood finishes during the smoothing process. When smoothing a finish that must be free of these particles, try using ScotchBrite pads, instead.
Workpiece holder
To hold your workpiece off the bench surface during finishing and drying, try driving 4-penny finishing nails through small, 2" square by 1/4" to 1/2" thick blocks of wood until their heads are flush with the surface. Then, turn them over on your benchtop and use them as "feet" to support your projects, suspended above your bench surface during finishing.
Chamfer
- A slight angular edge that is formed on a piece of stock for decorative purposes or to eliminate sharp corners. Chamfers are similar to bevels but are less pronounced and do not go all the way from one surface to another.
The best time for finishing your projects
The early morning hours are the best, because all the floating dust from the previous day has had plenty of time to settle and the air is usually more "still".
Keeping stains and finishes off your hands
Use throwaway rubber gloves, readily available at most hardware stores and home centers. What if you don't have any gloves? Use ordinary sandwich bags as "gloves" and throw them away when finished.
Proper Disposal of Solvents
- Wiping cloths, rags, brushes and similar items can usually be air dried safely by hanging them outdoors in a well-ventilated area where small children and animals can't reach them. Most solvent-based products will evaporate very quickly.

- Another ap

Cleaning those pesky spray-can nozzles
Keep an aerosol can of engine starting fluid handy. When you've finished painting, remove the tip from your aerosol of paint or finish, place it on the can of starting fluid and give it a quick BLAST!
A great brush-soaker
Use a one-pound coffee can with a plastic lid. Cut a single slit across the lid and insert the handle of the brush through this slit to hold your brush suspended in the cleaner while soaking.
Lightening dark stains
Use a mixture of 2 oxalic acid crystals and 1 pint of hot water. Dissolve the crystals in the water and apply to the surface with a cloth until you achieve the degree of bleaching you desire. When finished, wipe the surface with vinegar and rinse with clear water. Allow to dry thoroughly before applying your top coat.

CAUTION: Wear eye protection and protective rubber gloves when working with oxalic acid and follow all safety recommendations on the package to avoid injury.

Bevel
- An angular edge on a piece of stock, usually running from the top or face surface to the adjacent edge or the opposing (bottom) surface. In most cases, bevels are formed for joinery, but are also occasionally used for decorative purposes.
Spray bottle stain applicator
Spraying is a great way to apply an even coat of stain on a project. But, if you don't have a compressor and sprayer system, what are you to do? Try using a squeeze-handle-type plastic spray bottle like those that come filled with window cleaners, cleaning detergents, etc. They make a great applicator for stains, as well.
Color-Matching Finish Repairs In Small Areas
Try using felt-tipped markers, mascara brushes or eyebrow pencils.
Make your own custom-matched wood putty
Save the sanding dust from your belt sander, pad sander or disc sander and mix it with ordinary, water-soluble WHITE wood glue. Keep the dust from different species separated to achieve the best match.
Three Ways To Improve The "Glide" Of Machine Table Surfaces
1: Coat the table surfaces with paste-type furniture wax

2: Rub non-medicated talcum power into table surfaces with a cloth

3: Sprinkle cornstarch on table surfaces with a salt shaker

Two workpiece-holders for finishing operations
1: For long, slender workpieces such as legs, etc., drive an open-ended screw hook into one end of your project and use a wire or string to hang it from the ceiling joist from a swivel-type plant hanger.

2: For flat workpieces, make long, T-shaped supports by cutting a rabbet down both sides, along one edge of a 12" to 18" long piece of scrap wood...leaving a protruding "tongue" down its length. Position this tongue against the edge of the piece to be finished and attach it temporarily with a couple of brads. These supports will act as "legs" to hold the surface of the piece to be finished off the surface of your benchtop during finishing. Then, just flip your workpiece over to finish the opposite side.

Applying a finish to the inside of small, hollow bowls or vases
Instead of struggling with a tiny brush that will reach inside your vessel, try blowing it out thoroughly to remove all dust and chips. Then, pour some finish into the vessel, slosh it around a bit to coat the sides evenly, and pour the extra back into your container of finish.
Simple paint strainer
Try using an inexpensive, throwaway, paper dust mask.
Throwaway mixing containers for stains or finishes
For small amounts, use the indentation in the bottom of a soda can. For larger amounts, cut the bottom off a plastic 16oz, 20oz or 2-liter) soda bottle.
Concealing scratches in mahogany and similar dark woods
Try using iodine, applied with a fine brush or cotton swab. It may take multiple coats to cover properly.
Obtaining an ebony-like finish
Certain hardwoods (maple, beech, birch and sycamore, as an example) can be made to closely resemble expensive ebony by staining with a black wood dye or translucent black stain. Be sure to apply the dye or stain in THIN coats so the wood grain shows through, then apply a matte varnish or polyurethane over-coat for protection.
Stiffening a brush for "cutting-in" around project edges
Often, the bristles of a brush are too soft and spread-out too much to create a sharp line of finish. The next time you face this problem, try wrapping a rubber band around the bristles, about 1-1/2 to 2" from their tips. This will usually stiffen the bristles by keeping them closer together while you apply your finish.
Kitchen utensil finish is perfect for kids' toys
If you're concerned about the toxicity of the finishes you're putting on your home-crafted children's toys, try using a non-toxic Salad Bowl Finish.
Preventing paint/stain build-up in the can rim
Save the lids from all empty paint cans. Keeping the entire rim intact, cut a half-moon opening in the lid with a straight edge running across the lid, about 1/4" or so past its centerline. Fold over the extra 1/4" to make a smooth edge that crosses the can opening from side-to-side. When you remove the lid from your paint or stain, replace it with this "wiper lid" and go to work -- without fear of your can rim filling with paint or stain.
A Great, Super-Smooth "Natural" Finish
Start by sanding your project thoroughly with a succession of finer and finer grits of sandpaper to remove all scratches. Then, flood the surface of your project with a penetrating oil finish such as Watco Danish Oil or Tung Oil.

Next, sand the oil (along with the sanding dust from the wood) into the pores of the wood thoroughly with a wet/dry, 320-grit silicon carbide paper. Wipe and leave to dry overnite...then buff with a soft, dry cloth for an incredible, satin-like finish.

Beautiful Accent Plugs From Scrap Wood
Save your small scraps of exotic and colorful hardwoods like Padauk, Ebony, Rosewood, Wenge, Bocote, Purpleheart, etc. Use your plug cutter to slice decorative plugs out of these scraps for screw holes and accents on those "special" projects.
Workpiece holders
The next time you need to come up with a way to hold a workpiece that you've just finished, try the three or four-pronged, plastic "stand-offs" that are used to keep carryout pizza boxes from collapsing.
Pre-treating brushes for easier clean-up
Before using a brush to apply a finish, dip it into a container filled with the solvent recommended for clean-up or thinning. Then, when applying your finish, never dip the bristles of your brush to more than about 1/3 of their length. By following these two simple techniques, brush clean-up will be much easier.
Great brush-soaking vessel
Use a small, oval, pint-sized glue bottle. Cut the top off the bottle and attach it to a small board with double stick tape or hot melt glue...just to prevent tipping.

Drill a 1/8" diameter hole in the body of the brush, just above the bristles. Slip a nail through this hole to hold the brush suspended over the top of the glue bottle.

For a richer finish when staining woods black
Apply a brown stain to your project first to deepen your finish.
Easy PROPORTIONAL mixing of finishes
Some finishes need to be mixed by PROPORTION and not by weight. If you don't have a graduated container (and your spouse throws a fit when you head for the shop with the kitchen measuring cup), try this approach. Use a see-through container such as an old pop bottle or drinking glass. Take a small stick of wood and mark off a series of evenly spaced lines from one end to the other (about 1/4" or so apart is usually ideal). Be sure to SCRIBE these lines since the material you're measuring may obscure any lines drawn with a pen or pencil. Place your stick in your see-through container and start adding material.
A great alternative wood filler
Try using acrylic modeling paste from your local art supply store. It can be colored with readily available acrylic artists' colors that dry fast and hard. It's tough enough to adhere very well, even when built-up and once it's hardened, it can be shaped and sanded just like wood.
Minimizing evaporation and/or "gelling" of stored varnishes and oil finishes
Here are two approaches:

- Float a piece of plastic kitchen wrap on the surface of the material, then replace the container lid. Be sure it covers the entire surface.

- Transfer your finishes to plastic, squeeze-type bottles and squeeze out most of the air before closing the lid or spout.

Keeping stains/finishes off working surfaces
When using small, round artist's or model-making brushes for painting or staining your projects, you can keep their bristles from touching the surface of your project when the brush is laid down by slipping a nut or washer onto the shaft of your brush until it wedges itself into position near the brush end.
Throwaway brushes for testing stains
Just fold napkins or paper towels into strips about 1" wide x 3" long. Hold the strips together with paper clips and use them like a conventional brush. When you're through testing, just throw them away.
Zero clean-up wood putty mixing
The next time you need to mix-up some wood putty for filling, try doing your mixing in a zip-top kitchen bag. Just dump everything into the bag...zip the top closed and knead your components together. When you're finished, throw the bag (and residue) away and you'll have nothing to clean up.
Achieving a urethane finish without bubbles
Often, brushed-on polyurethane finishes end up having bubbles in them, no matter how careful you may be. To avoid this, try wiping these finishes on your projects with wadded-up pantyhose or nylon stockings. This works particularly well on curved or contoured surfaces that may be difficult to reach properly with a brush.

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