Time to Step Up My Skills #7: Looking ahead to figure out what kind of finish I want

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Blog entry by AngieO posted 07-24-2013 02:34 AM 3277 reads 0 times favorited 15 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 6: Where do I go next? No new progress. And some questions... Part 7 of Time to Step Up My Skills series no next part

So… I bought a compass over the weekend so I can do my curves on my bench. Also… A friend of mine gave me a jigsaw. He had three… all the same kind… so he gave me one. Cool! So I’m close to cutting my end pieces.

But over the last week I’ve been checking out Charles Neil and some videos of his on finishing. Got me really thinking about my finish on this thing. I hate the finishing process. I get these projects built and get to a point where I’m pretty happy with them. Then… I finish it. And it never fails that I hate the finish. Rarely have I liked how the finish has turned out. I’m putting too much into this bench to ruin it with the finish. So I’ve been investigating.

So far all I’ve ever used was Minwax. I don’t like it. But have never used anything else. It was suggested that I try General Finishes. So I picked up some over the weekend at Woodcraft. I got the Vintage Cherry water based dye from General Finishes. And I picked up some Arm R Seal as well. One pint each of satin and gloss.

Tonight I took some scrap cherry… just some small pieces… and tried out the dye. Well… I keep hearing about pre conditioning. I want to try some of Charles Neil’s Blotch Control but I haven’t ordered it yet. So I tried some of the Minwax that I already had on hand. I was actually pretty surprised at the difference it makes.

While these may look like different sizes… that’s just because of the way I took the pics. This is actually a piece of scrap cherry. Same piece in both pics. On the left I used the pre conditioner and on the right I just put the dye on.
You can see that the right side is darker and blotchy. I think it shows in the pic… but in person it is MUCH more obvious.

So then I tried it on a scrap piece of pine. I used the pre-conditioner on the left side. Again.. all same piece of pine wood. This time I really looked at the grain closely before I put the dye on it so I can see what it affected.

As you can see on the right… there is some soft wood that absorbed the color more and it came out with dark lines. On the left… those same lines are there… but it didn’t absorb it more so it came out more evenly colored. And… it’s just a different color. The color difference is not from the camera.

I actually put the pre conditioner on three sides to see how it affects the different sides. The sides were a big difference.

But the end grain was a HUGE difference. I still don’t like the way the one on the left came out. But it’s still better than the one on the right. The one on the right is SOOOOO dark.

Tomorrow I’m going to try some different things I learned from Charles Neil with sanding and then I’m also going to see the difference when you float the color on.

Very interesting. Made very little sawdust today. Did play with the router today and tried out some different profiles on scrap. But I am glad I did a little experimenting with the finishes. Tomorrow I will apply the Arm R Seal and see how I like it. Anyone else use this brand? I was thinking about cutting it with some mineral spirits and wiping it on. Your comments on this are appreciated.

As always… thanks for reading and I hope you guys are having a great week! :)

15 comments so far

View BertFlores58's profile


1698 posts in 3809 days

#1 posted 07-24-2013 04:27 AM

Nice experimenting. Just want to add something to remember with stain and finish. The glued part including those glue smears and some unsanded glue marks have a greater effect. Glue prevents absorption and prevent stain effect making the big difference compared to the portion without glue. Aside from this, some sealers are strong enough to melt the dried stain while using brush.
Take case with the fumes.

-- Bert

View THOMRIDER's profile


104 posts in 3955 days

#2 posted 07-24-2013 10:01 AM

I am also subscribed to the Charles Neil finishing class I have found it very informative, like you I would rather build than finish, my standard has always been minwax stain and polyurethane with a brush with decent results. Now I am trying some of the different things Charles Neil is teaching, so finishing is a little less painful. Nice to see someone else who is learning from Charles and experimenting.

Keep us all updated.

-- Its all about the jigs

View Monte Pittman's profile

Monte Pittman

30568 posts in 3225 days

#3 posted 07-24-2013 11:34 AM

Ms Angie,

While most of us dislike finishing (myself included), I think we all need to think of it as every bit as important as the actual woodworking. A poor finish negates a great project. I am trying to approach finishing with the same love as I do for the rest of each project. We just need to adjust our mindset.

-- Nature created it, I just assemble it.

View Jim Jakosh's profile

Jim Jakosh

25352 posts in 3992 days

#4 posted 07-24-2013 12:36 PM

Hi Angie, I’m a simple wood finisher. I use Zar oil based stains but have a few other brands when Zar did not have one of the exact color. I do use pre-stain conditioner always on maple and birch because they tend to blotch. I never stain cherry because it naturally darkens but you show it does make a difference and the conditioner really evens out the stain on pine. I usually paint pine.
Thanks for showing the experiment. I will save it away for future use. You are getting to be a very good and inquisitive wood worker That is the way to learn the best way to do things. Soon finishing will be one of your favorite things to do after you put all the work into a project. It makes it stand out!!


-- Jim Jakosh.....Practical Wood Products...........Learn something new every day!! Variety is the Spice of Life!!

View AngieO's profile


1267 posts in 3034 days

#5 posted 07-24-2013 12:44 PM

It’s very true that I always hated the finishing. But I’m quickly learning that its not the finishing process itself that I didn’t like. It’s the way it turned out. This is why I’m trying to learn more about it. And so far I am learning enough to rethink my dislike for finishing. I enjoyed the experimenting.

I’m still trying to decide what kind of finish to do. I originally had decided not to do a stain. But I’m trying this to see what I like and don’t like about it.
Jim… How do you finish your cherry?

View chrisstef's profile


18112 posts in 3893 days

#6 posted 07-24-2013 12:45 PM

That’s some hands on learnin right there Angie. Just wait until you delve into the world of shellac ;) I really like the general finishes products. They work great and their top coats hold up to a good beating. Ive got a maple table that my 10 month old constantly pounds on and the finish is yet to show any signs of weakness.

Soon enough youll find your “go to” finish for all kinds of species of wood and you’ll slowly master them. Keep at it girlfriend!

-- Its not a crack, its a casting imperfection.

View B0b's profile


105 posts in 3577 days

#7 posted 07-24-2013 01:16 PM

On my last big project (a dozen replacement house windows) I used general finishes gel stain on a mixture of birch and pine, and it looks awesome. The gel stain eliminates the need for conditioner, and it helped to level off the differences between the pine windows and the birch trim; and a third species from the original sills that I cannot identify. The only problem I have is that it hides some of the nature of the wood, not terribly, but just a little. For this reason, nearly all of my projects are unstained unless I’m trying to match something existing.

For the clear coat, I still really love minwax’s rub on poly. It looks and feels great to me. I will use Minwax’s regular poly with a brush if I want a thicker or glossier finish, and I’m looking for something better, but most of what I’ve tried I like less.

-- Time to get started

View a1Jim's profile


118143 posts in 4464 days

#8 posted 07-24-2013 02:18 PM

Looks like you following a good learning process,I’m glad your getting something out of Charles Neil’s on line finishing class. As far as end grain goes you need to sand it much finer then the rest of the project so it won’t absorb as much finish.I think you will find a big difference in controlling blotching once you have used Charles Blotch control .Lot’s of folks don’t think to use scraps to practice on and end up unhappy with their finish. It’s all a learning process and takes some practice to get it just right.


View CFrye's profile


11081 posts in 2727 days

#9 posted 07-24-2013 04:37 PM

Thanks for sharing your experiments Angie. Guess I need to check out these classes. I’ve had some band saw boxes that I’ve been ‘finishing’ since last year! hahaha

-- God bless, Candy

View gfadvm's profile


14940 posts in 3577 days

#10 posted 07-25-2013 02:22 AM

Angie, I know that freshly milled cherry doesn’t look too “special” but give it a little time and exposure to sunlight and it turns a beautiful color that I have never seen duplicated with stain. Just take a piece of scrap and leave it in the sun for a few days to see if you love it.

-- " I'll try to be nicer, if you'll try to be smarter" gfadvm

View AngieO's profile


1267 posts in 3034 days

#11 posted 07-26-2013 12:29 AM

Well… I’ve debated back and forth whether I will stain it or not. That’s why I’m trying different things. I will try putting some out in the sun and see how I like it. But I’m still wanting to hear how people finish their cherry when they don’t use a stain.

I haven’t tried a gel stain yet. The one I used was water based. I’ve spent a lot of money on finishes lately. I got to slow down a bit.

View gfadvm's profile


14940 posts in 3577 days

#12 posted 07-26-2013 02:27 AM

Angie, I assume this is a “sitting” bench and not a workbench. Padded on shellac is nearly foolproof and looks great. I finished my “Arkansas Cherry” coffeetable with BLO and was going to poly it but the recipient loved the BLO so that was all it got. Looks better now than when she took it home. I did a rubbed on coat of BLO, put it out in the sun, applied a second coat, more sun for a total of 3 coats (rubbed in well and not “flooded on” as the directions call for).

-- " I'll try to be nicer, if you'll try to be smarter" gfadvm

View B0b's profile


105 posts in 3577 days

#13 posted 07-26-2013 03:13 PM

These two tables are finished with Minwax rub on poly. Initially I was surprised that they looked a little blotchy since there is no stain. Every year the tables get darker and darker and look even more blotchy. The one with glass is really interesting because the sap wood does not darken and the contrast is massive. As they age and my children scratch and dirty the tables, I get more and more compliments because the color keeps getting richer and richer. Since the rub on penetrates into the wood though, the scratches don’t really jump out too much (except in photos).

I included two photos of the small table because the reality is halfway between with a flash and without. The other table looks exactly like the photo.

I’m sure a stain would provide balance, but it might obscure the vibrant nature of the wood. I also know that no matter what finish you use, or how much light they get, they will always darken over time.

-- Time to get started

View AngieO's profile


1267 posts in 3034 days

#14 posted 07-26-2013 04:09 PM

Thanks for sharing those photos. That’s helpful to know.

I have more cherry. :) And this piece is a learning experience as well as something that I’m keeping for myself. So I’m not terribly in a hurry to finish it. So I think that I’m going to use some of my other cherry and build some small easy projects this weekend. Things I can give away as gifts. I’m going to try several different finishes to see how I like them. Including trying the BLO and putting it out in the sun while it dries.

View Tom Pritchard's profile

Tom Pritchard

188 posts in 3578 days

#15 posted 08-08-2013 04:58 PM


I use the General Finish products and I have great success. I had tried the MInwax products before. I do not care for them. I picked up my General Finish products at Woodcraft in Louisville. Thanks for sharing.


-- Tom in Mount Vernon, Wa

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