Dovetail Box #18: Finishing the Box

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Blog entry by Eric posted 05-19-2008 09:08 AM 1730 reads 0 times favorited 10 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 17: Mothers Day Gift - The Box Is Done! Part 18 of Dovetail Box series Part 19: Is This a Finishing Problem? »

I have to admit, since I finished with the actual woodworking part of my wife's box, and presented it to her, I’ve barely thought about it. But the box isn’t finished yet (literally), so I’d better press on to the end.

So here’s my question for you: how would you finish the box? I was considering a simple 1:1:1 blend of boiled linseed oil, varnish and mineral spirits, as recommended by Marc Spagnuolo in one of his podcasts. That’s the finish I used on my Good Friday Cross, although I don’t know if I did it right. I rubbed it on with a soft cloth, 3 coats I think, lightly sanded in between. I think I read somewhere that you only need to sand prior to the last coat. Is that a good way to apply it?

Fellow Jock Thuan suggested shellac or even a French polish. To be honest, I didn’t even know what a French polish was, and had to look it up (and it looks a bit complicated for a noob like me). From what I hear, shellac is nice and protective but is more difficult to refinish if needed.

So keeping in mind my limited experience and skills, how would you finish this box?

-- Eric at

10 comments so far

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27248 posts in 5313 days

#1 posted 05-19-2008 12:06 PM

The finish that Mark described is a relatively easy one to apply. It is designed to be wiped on and the excess is wiped off after setting a few minutes. If you want to do a french polish I would experiment some with scrap since this is a learned technique that does take some time to master. But shellac is an easy repair since it readily redissolves in alcohol or another coat of shellac.

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

View teenagewoodworker's profile


2727 posts in 5259 days

#2 posted 05-19-2008 12:28 PM

I would go with a simple varnish, my favorite is Arm-r-seal by general finishes, and you could go before that with Seal a cell (also by general finishes) which the the “Tung Oil” that David marks always refers to in his shows. just put the seal a cell on and let it soak in, then when its dry go back with a few coats of Arm-r-seal. I like to wait until I have two coats of Arm-r-seal on until i start to sand. I usually sand with 600 grit because i only want to knock it down not remove the finish. then i buff with 000# steel wool after the final coat and i get a really nice finish that is smooth, protective, and looks really nice.

View GaryK's profile


10262 posts in 5479 days

#3 posted 05-19-2008 03:46 PM

I have a habit of using water based poly for most everything.

-- Gary - Never pass up the opportunity to make a mistake look like you planned it that way - Tyler, TX

View Ethan Sincox's profile

Ethan Sincox

767 posts in 5665 days

#4 posted 05-19-2008 09:12 PM

Shellac is absolutely easy to renew/refresh if necessary. That is one of the great things about shellac – a new layer will easily go over an old one.

You don’t need a whole lot of protection from moisture and such with a box, which is good because that is one of the drawbacks to shellac – poor water resistance.

-- Ethan,

View Betsy's profile


3394 posts in 5387 days

#5 posted 05-20-2008 01:16 AM

I use Waterlox and then wax it to a high shine.

-- "Our past judges our present." JFK - 1962; American Heritage Magazine

View Karson's profile


35300 posts in 5891 days

#6 posted 05-20-2008 01:19 AM

I like shellac and use it all the time. It’s easy but does dry fast if put on with the french polish techniques.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Appomattox Virginia [email protected]

View Eric's profile


875 posts in 5274 days

#7 posted 05-20-2008 07:40 AM

Is shellac glossy? Or can you get a matte-type shellac?

-- Eric at

View marcb's profile


769 posts in 5164 days

#8 posted 05-20-2008 08:26 AM

I Highly recommend picking up a copy of Understanding Wood Finishing: How to Select and Apply the Right Finish by Bob Flexner

This is, to me, the bible of finishing. If I have a question I flip through this and its in there. A bit technical at times, but only in the right places. Explains all the pros and cons for different finishes, plus a lot of the myths that float around.

View Tom Adamski's profile

Tom Adamski

306 posts in 5262 days

#9 posted 05-21-2008 04:39 AM

For a keepsake box, you can’t go wrong with Tung oil… Take a look at my boxes and you be the judge. It is very easy to work with. 100% natural. No alcahol. and provides a durable finish that is easy on the hans and eyes…

-- Anybody can become a woodworker, but only a Craftsman can hide his mistakes.

View Eric's profile


875 posts in 5274 days

#10 posted 05-21-2008 05:05 AM

Appreciate the helpful comments! Sounds like a lot of good options out there. Decisions, decisions…

-- Eric at

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