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Advise on wood treatment

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  • Advise on wood treatment

    I'm just about finishing up my first major indoor project and I have many thanks for you all that have helped me with other questions. Tonights questions are on sanding and treatment.

    I've made my project (a bunk bed) completely out of poplar. I'm very pleased with the look but I'm thinking I'd like to darken it a little so that slimy little fingers don't show up so easily. So I'm wonder if some of you all could give me some suggestions on how you'd treat the wood after a project like this. Things such as sanding (what grit did you end with?), stain and sealing? Should I re-sand at some point and then reapply treatment? Do I use shalack?

    Anyway, I'm just looking for some advice before I jump in. Thanks again for all your help!

  • #2
    Re: Advise on wood treatment

    Wow, I must have asked too much... lol


    • #3
      Re: Advise on wood treatment

      I don't think you asked too much, I just think you're looking for a specific answer to a very general question. By that I mean there is no one answer that will be the right answer for every situation.

      For instance sanding, many people will stop at 150 grit while others prefer to go to 220 or even finer. In my case, I generally start with 100gr and go up to 220gr. For some projects, like a chessboard I made, I'll go up to 320gr.

      Finish is again something that can be project driven. Many of the things I do I'll end up staining but certainly not everything. Besides stain, I've used just plain poly, tung oil, BriWax to name just a few.

      For a fairly non complicated and easy to apply finish, staining followed up with a couple or three coats of polyurethene would be a good starting point. Pick a color of stain you like and the poly shade look you want and go from there.

      A good book on this subject is Complete Woodfinishing (ISBN 1-86108-247-9) by Ian Hosker. Another book that I liked is The New Woodworker Handbook (ISBN 978-1-56523-297-6) by Tom Hintz. It's a very informative soup to nuts book that deals with most types of woodworking questions.
      I decided to change calling the bathroom the "John" and renamed it the "Jim". I feel so much better saying I went to the Jim this morning.


      • #4
        Re: Advise on wood treatment

        First you need to decide on what finish you plan for it (i.e oil based or water based). If water based, then you will want a water-based stain or a dye. you can apply water-based finish over oil based stains/sealers, but you must let them thoroughly dry, and that can take a week or longer. Poplar is usually painted due to its propensity to blotch and the green streaking making it difficult to get an even color. However, I have seen some attractive pieces stained and varnished.

        I have not used shellac, so will not comment on it.

        One oil-based finish schedule: Try this first (all steps) on a scrap piece of the poplar.

        1. Sand all the parts to 220 grit.
        2. Wipe down with a lint-free rag dampened (not soaked) with mineral spirits.
        3. Apply a sealer coat mix of 50/50 clear varnish and mineral spirits by brushing the coat on and removing all the excess with a rag. Let dry over night.
        4. Pick a color of minwax polyshades you like, and apply light coats with a natural bristle brush until you get the darkness you want, sanding with 320 grit between coats. (follow mnfgrs directions on drying times).

        You could also try an oil based stain,applying the sealer coat first and then using clear varnish or poly varnish. Sanding will be the same.

        I have yet to use the water-based "varnishes" so can only give one piece of advice regarding sanding and wipe down. After the 220 grit sanding and vacuuming off the dust, wipe with a rag dampened with water (not mineral spirits). After it dries, hand sand in the direction of the grain to knock off the ends of the fibers that the water will cause to pop up. This is not necessary with oil based, as the mineral spirits do not cause the wood fibers to swell like water. If you do not do this with the water based, the moisture in the coating can cause the fibers to swell and stick up in the first coats.

        Hope this helps. There are many ways to finish wood, so your question was a bit vague. If you plan on doing a lot of furniture projects, I recommend picking up a book by Bob Flexner, "Understanding Wood Finishing". It costs about $30 new in hardback, but will save you more than that in wasted finish materials and lost time repairing mistakes.


        PS. Just saw Dave's post, so also ditto what he said.
        Last edited by Gofor; 11-11-2008, 05:11 PM.
        Practicing at practical wood working


        • #5
          Re: Advise on wood treatment

          I agree with the above as well. My general rule is 220 max when using a film forming finish (poly etc), 320 to 400 or plane and scraper (preferred) for oil finish.
          For a first project Minwax polyshades is a good product. It has the stain and poly in one can, two to three coats and you are done


          • #6
            Re: Advise on wood treatment

            I haven't been back to the forum in a week or so... Thanks so much for you input on this! This is much more complicated then I thought and I applicate the time you took to give me ideas! I was planning on just buying that stain/poly all in one but now I'm afraid I'll mess up my project. For someone as much of a novice to this, would that be a bad thing to do? I just ordered the two books that you all recommended...but having to wait is getting the best of me!


            • #7
              Re: Advise on wood treatment

              take some scraps and do some test pieces, at least test the products on some scrap first and get a feel for how it will work, and look and if the stains and the finishes are compatible, and if you like the look.

              regardless of the type of stain/dye you choose, test it, and then test the finish over it.

              to get an Idea of how a dry stain will look one can wipe it with some mineral spirits/paint thinner, and it will give one some idea of what the finish will look like, but one easy way is to try two or three stains on a board and then you can try two or three finishes on the same board by going the other direction.

              I have never liked the all in one stain and finish.

              but I have seen some that others have done and it seemed very nice, I am not sure that multiply coats of all in one finish is good, as the secondary coats can end up appearing muddy, Or I have seen that happen.

              I like oil based stains, the gel stains are nice as well, and I have had good luck with dyes, I have used urethanes but do not like them, lacquers are fast but not very brush friendly, (deft) is more brush formulated, but lacquers are not very water resistant,
              I my self like the old kind oil varnishes, but there strong and slow drying, I like the look they give, I have used shellac but not a normal, alcohol is the thinner for shellac, it is made from a secretion of an insect, and melted with alcohol. one of the problems with shellac is there is wax in it as well, and depend on the quality the wax content can be high, and to re coat with any thing other than more shellac will not hold well and will peal off or pop off. so if one chooses it as a finish get a good grade, probably a pre cut verity would be best, not the flaked you mix your self.

              I would probably go with a oil or gel stain, and for ease and reasonable quickness is to use a urethane, but if you choose to use a urethane time it where you can re-coat it in the window of time suggested, usually the directions say can be re-coated in 8 hr, but not longer than like 24 to 30 hr, the problem is the finish can get so hard that the new coat will not properly adhere to the under coat, so read the directions and follow, if you do need to re coat after the time window you will need to lightly sand it to give the new coat something to lock into. one reason I like the old type varnishes or polymerized tung oils, can be slower dry times but not as hard or resiatance to things but good to most things. and many times they take more coats to build up a finish, and normaly more amber than the urethanes.
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              • #8
                Re: Advise on wood treatment

                There's a lot of good ideas here! One thing I could add is that a gel stain might be your best choice for poplar. The gel stains don't soak in like others, and it'll lead to a more even coating on a blotch-prone wood like poplar. Over that you could then do shellac or even poly. For a kid's room, poly would probably be a better alternative. Kids have a way of laying wet towels over furniture and poly will handle that better than anything else. I've had good luck with spray polys but they take a long time. Each coat is very thin, and has to dry completely in between. Then you have to sand each coat. It'd be a long and tedious process. A brush on poly will still require multiple coats with sanding in between, but you will only have 3 coats tops with brush on while a spray-on could easily be 6 or more.
                I put it all back together better than before. There\'s lots of leftover parts.


                • #9
                  Re: Advise on wood treatment

                  I've had good luck with Minwax Polyshades on several projects. What I found works best is to thin it with mineral spirits and apply it with a rag. It's a lot easier to avoid the lap marks you get with brushing, no drips, and I think its easier to control the final color. If you're concerned about durability (and with kids, you should), you can put a coat of clear poly over top.

                  It sounds harder than it really is. Just take your time.


                  • #10
                    Re: Advise on wood treatment

                    I have found that using a pre stain treatment with poplar will give you a more even staining of the wood. I use the poly that you can put on with a rag and it leaves a nice finish. Just sand with 320 paper or sponges between coats and it will come out fine. Be sure to clean the sanding dust off after each coat otherwise you will get a rough surface.


                    • #11
                      Re: Advise on wood treatment

                      Thank you all for your input! It has been a good education for myself and for anyone else that's new to this.