Finishing #2: Backpeddle and Onward

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Blog entry by Scott Parsons posted 02-05-2009 05:14 AM 1168 reads 0 times favorited 5 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 1: The Big Mean World of Finishing Part 2 of Finishing series Part 3: Spray Guns and Fans »

I feel the need to mention something before I go on here.

This is my first online community experience, I’m so enthusiastic about sharing experiences and gaining knowledge from others and my main purpose is to correspond with people of like interests.
The reason I bring this up here and now is after putting up the first finishing blog post I had time to reflect and think. I don’t want to come across as a know-it-all so I’d like to point out that my finishing experience is very focused on two areas. Staining and spraying. With my fair share of glazing. I’m sharing what I’ve learned and how I found best to execute my job to the satisfaction of the client. By no means do I mean to imply that my way is the only way nor that I know everything there is to know. The world of finishing is as vast as the world of woodworking and will take more than my lifetime to master.

This is my backpeddle and now onward.

So I think I was going to explain how I prepare surfaces before the finishing actually begins.

Most stained projects we do are made with maple veneered particle board. There are different qualities of veneer and we usually deal with what is called “good 2 sides”. That means the 4’x8’ sheet has stain grade maple on both sides. It doesn’t always seem like it but for the most part it’s ok. The veneer has obvious machining marks on it much as a machine planed board might and needs to be sanded in order to get a uniform expanse of wood. Sanding is almost always done right before assembly in order to ovoid cross-grain scratching in the corners of the cabinet. Almost all the moldings we use will be a white-wood unless the project is in a different species like cherry or walnut and needs to be sanded as well. Once the project is built it comes into my spray room where I do a once over and look for glue, contact-cement, or other defects.

I’m now at the point where I have to decide how much prep the wood needs to achieve the colour I want. If the stain colour to matched is light in tone I simply go ahead and stain. If it’s a very dark colour I would wet the veneer with a wet rag and then stain right over it. I don’t worry about sanding the raised grain because that gets taken care of after I apply the first two coats of clear coat which is a water base and raises the grain slightly anyways.

If the colour has a luminescent quality or golden quality I will use orange, yellow, or red NGR and after the entire project has been sprayed with that I would go ahead and stain.
The most popular colour for stained projects in my area is very dark brown. I use a Dark Walnut NGR which basically makes the wood so dark brown that it looks black. I then stain with Goudy Brown Cherry. I’m not a fan of this but it’s very popular.

The thing about NGR is that it makes the wood look cloudy at first. But once the stain touches it the grain becomes visible again and once the clear coat is applied the grain can really spring out. NGR is tricky stuff to spray too. Build-up is a common occurrence in the corners and gives an older look to the cabinet but generally we look for a uniform and even application.

I use a stain sponge to apply the stain because it’s a little less sloppy and I can really stretch the stain out if I have to. I rarely apply stain to an entire cabinet before wiping it off mainly because it can get tacky and require a heck of a lot of rubbing to get it off and will likely leave streaks. Instead, I remove the back and lay the cabinet on it’s back and propped up at one end on something so it doesn’t lie completely flat. I then put the stain bucket on the floor inside the cabinet and quicly stain two adjacent expanses. I then grab a big rag and wipe the corner where the two stained panels meet. I do this across the grain and immediately switch to methodically wipe in a circular motion to remove any streak created and finally into a “with grain” direction. It’s important to remove the stain with the grain.
This poorly explained technique is repeated until the entire inside is done and I then stain the exterior which is easier because there are no inside corners to worry about.
One thing to remember is that the harder you wipe the hungry something can look. I usually start wiping lightly and adjust the pressure until I like the way the wood looks.
Keep in mind that I’m using oil stains.

Laying the cabinet down on it’s back has reduced the time it takes by quite a bit and not to mention the back, neck, and arm ache of staining above my head for tall cabinets.

After the staining process I decide if I’ll do it again to get a tone darker or maybe I’ll end up toning it to achieve just the right depth. I’m almost sure that what I call toning is not really toning but what I do is this:
I take the stain that I was using and spray it on the project with my spray gun. I very, very lightly mist the wood with the grain. This can noticeable change the intensity of the stain without changing it’s colour.

After all that is done I let it dry over night. I get my spray gun ready with my water base lacquer and set the room up for efficient movement so I can work as fluidly as possible. I start with facings and shelves first and coat them lightly and then roll cabinets into position and spray every surface lightly. I repeat the process immediately. For the first and second coats I don’t worry about anything except dripping or runs. That is essentially too much product in one spot that creates and obvious drip. After the two coats I sand very lightly with 600 grit only the horizontal sections of the cabinets and the one sprayed surface and edges of the faces and shelves. Then the third coat which I treat as a final coat. That way I can sort of get acquainted with any challenging section or parts of the project before the actual last coat. I sand the third coat thoroughly and get ready for the fourth. If I like the coverage then that will be the last coat if I think it looks a bit hungry I will apply a fifth and so on. Always sanding in between coats with 600.

I let the project sit over night and the next day I tape things off.
I use painters tape and newspaper to tape off all the horizontal sections of the cabinets that were sprayed the day before. I make sure to tape about 4 inches from the inside corners so the lacquer won’t saturate the newspaper and cause me problems. For the facings and shelves I usually apply a couple of strips of tape along the finished surface so that the drying rack arms don’t leave impressions. I always spray any edges on the facings and shelves the first day. That way I can just spray the remaining surface the next day without worry about over-spray ruining my finished side.
Once everything is taped it’s off to the races. I already put the two initial coats on the cabinets the day before so it’s just a matter of getting a few more coats on and the facings and shelves are just the same as before.

I take the tape off right away carefully and let everything dry and move it out to start on something new.

I usually stir my lacquer once per project and I use a drill to do it. I filter everything that goes into my guns with a cone filter. I almost never use the filter that comes with the guns. My air pressure is almost always at 40 psi except when I tone and I lower it to about 30-35psi.

I think I covered everything I wanted to and I would like to talk about lacquer a bit next time. The process for spraying it is exactly the same as the clear coat except I usually only need 3 coats.

A final note: After posting my last finishing blog I corresponded with a member in the comments area which led me to calling my supplier. I asked about mixing my own stains and what are the proper supplies needed. I am excited to discover a new skill to make me a better finisher. So thank you very much I will post my progress as things develop.

I will also get some pictures soon.

5 comments so far

View Thos. Angle's profile

Thos. Angle

4444 posts in 4356 days

#1 posted 02-05-2009 02:29 PM

good info here

-- Thos. Angle, Jordan Valley, Oregon

View Jon3's profile


497 posts in 4499 days

#2 posted 02-05-2009 06:55 PM

I look forward to more posts, and I hope some pictures too!

Staining has always been one of those dark arts, and seems to be an area where there’s a lot of disagreement, so I try to absorb as much as possible.

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27250 posts in 4215 days

#3 posted 02-05-2009 08:23 PM

Thanks for the info, Scott. Staining and finishing are areas that a number of woodworkers “enjoy” even less than sanding. This is a nice post that, I am sure, will help out other LJs with their finishing techniques.

-- Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful- Joshua Marine

View Scott Parsons's profile

Scott Parsons

38 posts in 3794 days

#4 posted 02-06-2009 07:38 AM

Thanks all. I’m sure enjoying my getting to know my way around the site and taking in all the great work and blogs. This could become addictive.

View DocSavage45's profile


8816 posts in 3236 days

#5 posted 12-12-2012 05:11 PM


goin backwards through your blog. Lots of stuff here. A lot to take in. LOL!

-- Cau Haus Designs, Thomas J. Tieffenbacher

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