Have you ever gone to a woodworking show and seen a flawless, perfect looking finish and just wondered how in the world it was done? what techniques did the craftsman use to get such a perfect finish? and what sophisticated equipment and booths did he have and why did it seem so effortless for some, but an unobtainable reach for us no matter how hard we try, it just comes up short or less than perfect. I remember I did an entertainment cabinet and the client ran her hand over the finish and said.."It feels rough..how come?" and I said thats industry standards" she said "I paid for smooth" and out came the steelwool and trying to knock down the slight roughness she felt..drove me nuts and I thought right then and there that there had to be a better way..
I have been doing woodworking for quite some time now, and although I have not had any formal training..I got to spend time with the late Sam Maloof many times over and his helpers Larry, Mike and Dave..and to say I learned alot is to say the least..
When I first started doing pieces..my finishing skills consisted of a wipe on/wipe off mixture that Sam used and after about the 4th or 5th coat..the piece would glow and shine and looked just stunning, however..as time went on..that same finish, would dull and become flat, thus the recommendation of re-coating it once a year. Thats the problem with BLO finishes..they eventually dry and go flat and offer you absolutely ZERO..protection properties..so I had to change
When I started working making cabinets..my experience with finishes was to spray with a sanding sealer, knock it down with 220 and spray it with lacquer and call it a day.. no spray booths no rubbing out..nothing..and if it was hot..blisters formed and trying to sand them off afterwards was a nightmare..but hey..I didn't know any better and this is where the client complained the finish felt rough..
As we spend countless hours perfecting our craft.. believe it or not..finishing is a whole other craft that takes just as much effort to master as the actual building does..meaning it takes a lot of practice and trials and error, with error being the dominant teacher. I have been told that you can create the greatest woodworking piece..flawless design, perfectly executed build, but skimp, or mess up the finish and the piece will look horrible and cheap.. I know because it's happened to me..more than once..We like to think we are on the homestretch when we finish the piece and are about to put the finish on..But I say "Oh No.. your just now venturing into the hard part" this is where it all counts..this is where the piece will either shine..or flop..
I remember when I was doing a black entertainment cabinet and after I was done..the client asked me if I could refinish her coffee table which was a $10,000 table..she put something on it that turned the finish into a LA roadmap..looked like a crocodile skin.. she said she called at least 10 other companies and they all told her they wouldn't touch that table with a 10 foot pole..sorry Ma'am!! No Way!!
I took a few pictures and called my friend Charles and without even seeing the table..he said take the job!..I stuttered and said but..but..but no one else would touch it!! "Take the j o b!!.. so very reluctantly..I took the job.. not having a clue how I was going to do this..nonwhatsoever.. after i got the table back..Charles, who was e mailing me the whole time had me run a series of test to see just what kind of finish was actually on this table..it was a lacquer and I was pouring lacquer thinner all over it to make a slurry to see if I could burn and meld the cracks back.. nope, AND..this table had a black line inlayed between the main veneer and the border veneer.. but guess what..that black line was painted on and was now coming off with the finish..to say I was sweatin was a gross understatement..I was petrified.. so lets step back and look at what was happening..I had a $10,000 table on my bench..finish all gummy and gooky..black line coming off.. bank account almost empty in case I was going to have to buy another table..things were not looking good..So after many e mails and a whole lot of ranting and raving..I sanded the entire finish off down to bare veneer and was going to start building the finish from the raw..
But first..I had that thin, black line I had to put back on but how? this table was not square, but curved on all four sides..the line had to follow that curve.. so I went and got some thin tape called striping tape used for stipes on cars..and carefully..I followed the seam between the main and border veneers, but if you look right at the point where you are laying down the tape..it doesn't tape down to a flowing, clean line..you have to look past the point of pressure..about 3" and press the tape down using your perpetual vision..it's easier than it sounds.. and you end up with a smooth flowing line.. this first tape was1/8" wide.. then.. sandwich that first tape, with 2 wider 1/2" tape of the same kind..get it down seamless meaning no visible gaps between the 3 tapes.. then pull off the 1/8" tape and you have a perfect channel. I masked off the table and had a spraycan of black lacquer made up from my supplier.. and just lightly dusted over the tape and onto the 1/8" gap.. going over and over till I had a solid black line.. now remember..I couldn't flood this for the lacquer would seep into the veneer cracks and leave a horrible looking line that bled..so I just dusted it till the line was solid..then after about an hour..I pulled off the two tapes and had a perfect, solid black line..I then wiped the line with some 320 paper to cut the ridges off and proceed to spray post cat conversion varnish on the table building up coat after coat over about a weeks time..then I let the table sit to allow for solvent burn off and rubbed the finish out with 4000 grit abralon pads, glazed the finish, then waxed it... It was totally a learning experience for me but when I finished that table..I had a flawless finish that looked like a pool of oil was poured on it and a soft buttery feel..the client was extremely happy..
Cracked finish and painted black line
Sanding the old finish completely off
Striping tape. I applied a smaller 1/8" tape between these two 1/2" tape first..this is with the 1/8" tape already removed
Table done after tonecoating, rubbing out with 4000 grit abralon pads, glazing and waxing and polishing