That glass smooth finish

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Blog entry by Ricksfaith posted 09-19-2011 10:17 PM 10616 reads 3 times favorited 2 comments Add to Favorites Watch

There are probably multiple ways to do that glass smooth finish on wood. I’ve always known it as being a piano finish… the kind of finish one would see on fine and expensive pianos. I’ve always liked the appearance and duplicating that finish was at first a mystery to me, especially on wood. I’m basically self taught in woodworking and doing finishes on wood was trial and error. Believe me when I say ‘ERROR’! I’ve made a few along the way. I learned allot and produced my own techniques in the process. But I must say that I had previous experience in automotive paint and finish and spray painting knowledge. Never did I, at first, realized that what I learned in automotive painting could be merged into wood working finishes. Kinda’ ‘Duh’!.. you know.. when the light comes on!!! Wow!.. an epiphany!!
I liked the hand-rubbed finishes with the tug oil and wax but did not like the fact that the finish was not durable. I’ll leave the hand rubbed poly finish for another time. The new poly finishes gives you that durability. With the polys you can also get that glass finish.
There are two methods that I use aswell as two types of material. I like using the Min-Wax line of poly clears for spraying and the pour on type self settling epoxies. With both techniques the end process is about the same to get the desired look. It is called ‘color sanding’ and buffing. ( the later derived from the auto painting thing)
The spraying of the poly is just about straightforward. After sanding sealer is applied then sanding to a smooth finish with 220 grit open coat sandpaper and dusting and cleaning with a tack cloth. Then use a lint free rag moistened with naptha to remove any oils or fingerprints, etc. Lightly tack again before spraying. Then the spraying starts. I use a gravity fed HVLP (High Volume-Low Pressure) paint gun with the correct tip for paint finishes set to about 3-6 psi. The Min-wax poly can be sprayed without thinning. First a med. tack coat is applied, allowed to get tacky then successive coats up to 2 are applied then allowed to dry up to 24 hrs. Second comes more sanding with 220 grit paper to get the nibs out and level the surface, then cleaning and prep for more coats. (tack cloth, naptha, etc. ) Apply 2-3 coats and let dry for another 24 hours or until cured. Now you have about 8 mills of clear to work with at this point to start the color sanding.
Color sanding is the process of cutting out the ‘orange peel’ affect of spray painting. This levels the surface.
It is done using 1500-1800 grit automotive waterproof sandpaper wrapped around a sanding pad and normally water I use naptha instead on a rag kinda soaked with it instead, Caution; naptha is flammable and proper care and ventilation must be used and definitely NO SMOKING! With that said squeeze out a puddle of naptha on the surface and start sanding in the direction of the grain till the naptha almost evaporates. Wipe any residue as you go with a dry cloth and do it again and again till the whole surface is done. The naptha keeps the sandpaper from clogging up and creating scratches while sanding. Keep the paper turned in the process when there is build up on it also.
When all of the sanding is complete then the buffing is in order. I use an air powered angle buffer and a double lamb’s wool buffing pad with fine cut white auto buffing compound. The trick her is proper wheel speed on the buffer… not to fast or high speed. About 650-800 RPM is preferred. Dab the compound on with a brush and fair amounts and start by spreading the compound with the buffer. Work the compound in with the buffer using side to side sweeps and not letting the compound get to dry. Apply more as needed till you cut down the whole surface and the sanded surface starts to become clears again. When that is complete then clean the surface and see if there are any missed places. Repeat buffing if necessary. With that done then clean the buffing pad using a cleaning wheel running against the pad. Now use that dry pad and again go over the surface lightly and slowly till there is a dust almost coming from the pad. Care must be taken at this point not to burn the surface with the buffing pad. This is the final touch before cleaning and waxing. The wax can be applied with the new side of the pad and then you are finished.
All of the above is basically the same process using the pour on epoxy after the epoxy is cured enough. Oh yea, be carefull to not let the buffing wheel hang up on any edged and watch the direction of the turning pad to keep from gouging an edge.
I know, this in depth process but the challenge is worth every bit of the effort. When you can see your face in the surface you will be very very happy. Good luck.

2 comments so far

View SASmith               's profile


1850 posts in 4328 days

#1 posted 09-19-2011 11:29 PM

Thanks for taking the time to write this up. Lots of good info in this blog. I checked out your rustic coffee table and the finish is fantastic.

-- Scott Smith, Southern Illinois

View gfadvm's profile


14940 posts in 4031 days

#2 posted 09-20-2011 06:22 AM

Thanks for posting this. I had a buddy do this on on of my tables that I thought was ruined because of all the orange peel. Not only was it not ruined, it was probably the best finish I ever got. The wet sanding looks pretty bad but the buffing compound fixes all the wet sanding scratches. Not a quick process but worth the time if you’re after that ‘piano’ finish like you have on that beautiful table you posted.

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

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