"Toning, Staining and Spraying a Polyurethane Finish"

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Blog entry by Dennis Zongker posted 11-14-2011 12:14 AM 5017 reads 5 times favorited 20 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Polyurethane is a clear finish topcoat for wood that offers long-lasting protection and also moves with the wood. Polyurethane finishes are much more resistant to moisture and spills and moderate heat than traditional finishes. Most manufactured furniture is not polyurethane coated, because it requires much more work. Finishing a piece of furniture is just as important as making it. The Griffin table took me around two years to make, in my spare time and approximately 90 hours to apply the finish on this table.

First by bushing on a wood conditioner, on everything but the top veneer, this is similar to a seal coat. The conditioner soaks into the pores of the wood filling the bigger pores in the wood grain. It is basically like wood filler that helps the wood to not be blotchy when applying the stain. I let the conditioner dry overnight before staining.

Second step is brushing a yellow dye on just the face. This is so that when I stain the face it will give a light yellow hue to the face only. I also brush black dye into the eyes.

Third I stain the whole Griffin table base and carving except for the lion face. For the face I stain it last so I am careful not to put too much stain over the yellow toner. Then I let the stain dry for 24 hours before spraying the sealer coat of satin polyurethane.

After the sealer coat I lightly sand with a finish scratch pad then air and wipe off all the dust. Next, I spray 3 more light coats approximately 3 mils wet. I like to let each coat dry 24 hours this insures that every coat is completely dry before applying the next finish coat. After the table is completely dry I assemble the table.

The top of the Griffin table has marquetry and inlays which I wanted the natural beauty of the wood to stand out. Also, by having the top finish as flat as possible without having the finish build up too thick which affects the longevity of the finish.

The first coat I spray very thin for the sealer coat. After the finish is dry I sand lightly and wipe off all the dust. Then I spray the next nine coats with a medium build approximately 5 mills wet and sand in between each coat with 320 grit sandpaper. Then after all 10 coats have been applied I wet sand with 800 grit sand paper. I use an air sander this helps cut though the layers of finish faster. Once the finish is flat then I spray the last coat and let it dry overnight.

Then wet sand with 1200, 2000 and 4000 grit sand paper. Be careful not to sand through the last layer of polyurethane because this will leave layer rings in the finished top. Sand with each grit just enough to get the cuts into the finish and any imperfections out, like dust particles. By stopping with 4000 grit this will leave a medium sheen and not a glossy one. If you want the top any shiner then you would need to use a car buffer and compounds.

Here is a link to my Griffin Table Project. Time fly’s, it’s been a little over three years since I posted it.

-- Dennis Zongker

20 comments so far

View Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)'s profile

Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)

9239 posts in 4204 days

#1 posted 11-14-2011 12:25 AM

Finishing is such a complex process Dennis. I know so little about it. This is an absolutely amazing project on every level. Thank you so much for your step by step explanation of the process. It helps people like me have a better understanding of what is involved. It is a real pleasure to see your wonderful work here. You are an artist in every sense of the word.

Sheila :)

-- Designer/Artist/Teacher. Owner of Sheila Landry Designs ( Scroll saw, wood working and painting patterns and surfaces. "Knowledge is Power"

View shipwright's profile (online now)


8760 posts in 4082 days

#2 posted 11-14-2011 01:33 AM

Good blog Dennis.
The Griffin table is such a tour de force piece.
I see more in it every time I look at it.
I can’t imagine how impressive it must be in person

-- Paul M ..............the early bird may get the worm but it’s the second mouse that gets the cheese!

View Bothus's profile


443 posts in 4460 days

#3 posted 11-14-2011 01:58 AM

Dennis, thank you so much for taking the time to explain this so thoroughly. It’s guys like you that make Lumberjocks a success.

-- Jerry Boshear, Professional Kitchen Designer, amature woodworker.

View HerbC's profile


1821 posts in 4143 days

#4 posted 11-14-2011 02:28 AM


-- Herb, Florida - Here's why I close most messages with "Be Careful!"

View SASmith               's profile


1850 posts in 4271 days

#5 posted 11-14-2011 02:30 AM

Impressive carving with an equally impressive finish.

-- Scott Smith, Southern Illinois

View Lee A. Jesberger's profile

Lee A. Jesberger

6875 posts in 5264 days

#6 posted 11-14-2011 02:48 AM

Hi Dennis;

Very well written.

Lot’s of people don’t think of poly as being acceptable for a fine finish.

I guess you cleared that up.

Well done.


-- by Lee A. Jesberger

View ajosephg's profile


1899 posts in 4845 days

#7 posted 11-14-2011 02:56 AM

Thanks for sharing, Dennis.

Could you explain (in further detail) what you meant with this? “Also, by having the top finish as flat as possible without having the finish build up too thick which affects the longevity of the finish.”

Are you saying that a thick finish has a shorter life than a thin?
By flat are you talking about level, or gloss (lack of), or did I totally miss the point.


-- Joe

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3697 posts in 5006 days

#8 posted 11-14-2011 02:58 AM

Informative blog and excellent photos. Thanks for sharing your expertise with us!

-- "They who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night." ~ Edgar Allan Poe

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13722 posts in 4625 days

#9 posted 11-14-2011 05:25 AM


your skills and expertise
are at such a high level

thank you for sharing them with us

this piece is stunning !

-- david - only thru kindness can this world be whole . If we don't succeed we run the risk of failure. Dan Quayle

View Jiri Parkman's profile

Jiri Parkman

953 posts in 5097 days

#10 posted 11-14-2011 09:38 AM

Thanks for this blog.

-- Jiri

View Porchfish's profile


862 posts in 3816 days

#11 posted 11-14-2011 03:25 PM

Gorgeous piece ! Absolutely gorgeous ! Thank you for the post ! Sincerely, it would be good if you posted it every 6 months for us to enjoy !

don s. your north florida friend.

-- The pig caught under the fence is always the one doing all the squealing !

View gashley's profile


125 posts in 4290 days

#12 posted 11-14-2011 03:50 PM

Tremendous work Dennis. Terrific craftsmanship and design.
As an amateur, I don’t have to worry about time spent on any one piece. It’s value to me is the time I put into it and my enjoyment of the process.
But since you’re a professional (I have a good friend who is also), how difficult is it to recoup your time/costs or make a profit when you put 1100 hours into a single project? My friend spent 10 years laboring to build a custom, fine woodworking business until he realized he had to charge a very high hourly rate for his time so that he could make a living doing quality work. Can you really do projects like this and make a living? :)

P.S. Totally impressed by this piece. So many good things going on I don’t know where to start!

-- Gary in OP

View Dennis Zongker's profile

Dennis Zongker

2859 posts in 4876 days

#13 posted 11-15-2011 02:48 AM

Hi Lumberjocks, Thank you for your kind complements!

Hi Joe, How are you doing? Hope all is well. The goal for a great finished top is for the finish to be flat but not to thick. I sprayed 11 coats on the top for the griffin table, but I sanded off approximately 8 coats. The finish is like a filler in some areas. The thickest part might be 4 coats thick. The thicker a finish the easer you can get cracking, grain checking, only because the wood will always move. I hope this helps a little. And flat I’m meaning level.

-- Dennis Zongker

View Dennis Zongker's profile

Dennis Zongker

2859 posts in 4876 days

#14 posted 11-15-2011 02:58 AM

Hi Gary,

Thank you for the complements, I do make a living making custom furniture, I think we have found the right circle of customers. We have been in business for 22 years and right now are 3 months backlogged. Thanks for asking and happy woodworking to you.

-- Dennis Zongker

View ajosephg's profile


1899 posts in 4845 days

#15 posted 11-15-2011 11:48 AM

I’m doing well, Dennis, and I see through my Facebook connection (with your brother and Patti), that you guys continue to hit stuff out of the park. Congrats on all your recognition from the Omaha Chamber of Commerce.

I firmly believe that this Griffin table and your chess table and set will some day be in a museum. Next time I’m in Omaha, I’ll be by to look at them again!

One more question. Did you use satin poly for all the coats or just the sealer coat? I have been using gloss for all the layers except for the last several coats, and then use satin or semi gloss, in the belief that it gives a deeper look. But, you can’t get any better than the look and feel of what you’ve done.

-- Joe

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