How to Choose the Best Wood Finish Spray

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This is How to Choose the Best Wood Finish Spray, your guide to picking out and using the best product that will give you the most reliable and easiest results. At the end of this post, you’ll know everything you need to select the perfect spray, and apply it. Enjoy.

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Best Wood Finish Spray

How-to-Choose-the-Best-Wood-Finish-SprayMany times, beginning workers think that they can’t get into spraying their finishes unless they dive all the way in and buy expensive spray equipment. Nothing could be farther from the truth, and you would be surprised how great of a finish you can get from a spray can.

Yes, you read that right. I said you can get an excellent looking finish on your woodworking projects from a rattle can. There are some tips and tricks that you need to know of course, but some of the best wood finish sprays can be found in a can.

Coming from a furniture repair background, I’ve finished everything from small chair-side tables, all the way up to medium size dining room tables all from a spray can. The results were all excellent, and the pieces were returned to factory quality.

This doesn’t just work with any old can of finishing spray though. You need to know which ones to pick, which ones to avoid, and a few little techniques and tricks to help you along the way. Thankfully, that’s what you’re going to learn right now.

See Also: Understanding Wood Finishing

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Don’t Use Bottom Shelf Clear Coats

The first big tip for picking out the right type of wood finish in a spray can is to absolutely avoid the bottom shelf clear coat that you find at home improvement stores. These are absolutely terrible, and they will instantly ruin your project.

Not only that, new wood finishers end up falling in the trap of an inexpensive finish, and when they get home they feel like they just don’t know how to apply it. They don’t realize that the product itself is what’s causing the problems, and that’s no good.

Given the right product, someone with a reasonable amount of patience can learn how to finish very quickly. They can also learn how to finish very well. However, these bottom shelf clear coats do not perform as needed, so definitely do not buy them.

See Also: A Beginners Guide to Woodworking

Lacquer is King for Woodworking

For finishing woodworking projects, the absolute best spray finish that you can possibly buy is lacquer. For the furniture finishing industry, lacquer is king. For the vast majority of woodworkers and small hobby shops around the world, lacquer is still king.

There are just a million fantastic properties about lacquer that make it excellent for using as a finish. It’s also easy to use, and forgiving. If you spend time learning how to apply just one type of spray finish, then it needs to be lacquer.

There are a lot of different kinds of lacquer in this world. You’re going to find that out to once you start looking around. A lot of this is marketing, and the section coming up will show you what you really need to know when it comes time to pick out lacquer for your project.

See Also: The Best Time to Learn About Wood Finishing as a Beginner

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Don’t Use Just Any Lacquer

Like anything in this world, there is expensive stuff, and cheap stuff. The cheap stuff tends not to work very well, and the expensive stuff tends not to work as well as the price difference would suggest. Lacquer is just the same.

The only real difference in lacquer is that the more expensive products do work really well, but so do the middle end products. That being said, definitely avoid the least expensive lacquers you can find, or ones that come from brands you don’t recognize.

Good brands to choose are Watco, Deft, Behlen and Mohawk. These are high-end lacquer brands, and middle of the road lacquer brands that perform really well, and give you the best opportunity to apply finish that you could be proud of.

A lot of choosing a finish to spray on your projects is really about finding the best opportunity. If you start with a terrible product, you can only go so far. However, if you give yourself the best possible start, and pick a good product, you can do really well.

See Also: The Secret to Wood Finishing

Practice Your Spraying Technique

Once you have your spray, it’s time to practice. All of the academic knowledge in the world means absolutely nothing until you head out into the shop and start spraying. This is the fun part, so don’t be nervous or worried about it.

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One of the best things that you could possibly do is prepare a bunch of different scraps of wood of different sizes and shapes. Sand them down to 220 grit, and wipe the surfaces clean just as if you were finishing a real woodworking project.

Watch a few YouTube videos of lacquer spraying technique from a rattle can, and read a couple of online tutorials. Once you have a hang for the basics, at least academically, start practicing them in your shop.

Apply a finish to all of those scraps, and then step back and see how it does. If you have runs, you have applied too much. If you had dry spots, you applied to little. There are a lot of different things that can happen of course, but in general you should be OK.

See Also: Lacquer Drying Time?

Apply Thin Coats of Lacquer

When you’re building up a finish, it’s a good idea to apply thin coats. For a large number of reasons, thin coats tend to solve many wood finishing problems that are otherwise exacerbated by hosing your project with lacquer.

The goal isn’t to end up with a project it looks like it was dipped in clear coat. The goal is to have a nice thin layer of protective finish on your project that keeps the wood from changing too much with temperature, resists dirt and abrasion, and in general helps the piece last longer.

Mist on several thin coats separated by a few minutes each, or more time according to the directions that you read from the manufacture. As each one of these thin coats dries, it will form one layer of lacquer that builds up a little thicker.

This technique is great for projects that have multiple surfaces, including vertical and horizontal areas. The technique is a little bit different for something like a large flat surface, which will require more lacquer and an even, wet layer in order to look nice.

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See Also: 7 Ways to Get Better at Finishing

Get Better Tips on the Cans

Most of the time, when you buy a good can of wood finishing lacquer, the tip on the can will be good as well. However, sometimes you can benefit by swapping out the tip for one that will dispense a little more product.

In the case of spraying a flat surface, like the top of an end table or nightstand, it can be beneficial to release a little bit more product. On a surface like this, you need to create one layer that is uniformly even and wet so that way it can dry without any spray marks.

Sometimes The tips on the cans can be a little bit restrictive, and they don’t quite let out enough product to make it from one end of the surface to the next without the first area drying. You need to be able to dispense a little bit more product, and a different tip can help.

See Also: 9 Unbelievable Wood Finishing Myths for Beginners

Lay Product in Both Directions

When you’re spraying a table top, applying an even layer is very important, but you can also do something to help hide your spray marks. As you take overlapping passes back-and-forth, switch directions and go the other way when you’re done.

This means if your first layer is done with passes left to right, go up and down on your second pass and space your layers just a little bit wider. This will help keep the lacquer layer wet, so we can dry together at the same pace.

When you don’t put enough lacquer on the surface, you can end up with these foggy lines that almost look like zebra stripes. Apply your lacquer in both directions, and keep the layer wet, and you won’t have to worry about that.

See Also: How to Pick the Best Respirator for Wood Finishing

Lay Thinner Coats on Vertical Surfaces

When you are using your wood finish, and spraying lacquer on a vertical surface, use thinner coats then when spraying a horizontal surface. Vertical surfaces need to be treated differently, and for one important reason.

Vertical surfaces are more susceptible to gravity pulling the product away than horizontal surfaces. On a table leg for example, you don’t want to spray so much product that you end up causing a run, which will have to be dealt with later.

You’re not saving any time at all by applying so much lacquer that you cause a drip. The problem is it will take several hours for that drip to dry up enough that you can sand it out, and then you’ll still have to apply another layer of lacquer to even out the look.

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See Also: 50 Awesome Reasons to be a Woodworker

Allow a Few Minutes to Dry Then Coat Again

The most high end and middle end lacquer can be re-coated within a few minutes. If you are applying light misty coats, they should dry very rapidly, allowing you to apply your next coat pretty quickly.

You can use this to your advantage, and a place several coats of lacquer separated by a few minutes each, and almost complete your project in a very short amount of time. Lacquer will still take several hours to fully cure out, but it will be dry to the touch.

This is one of the awesome properties of spraying lacquer from a rattle can. This is also why I think lacquer is one of the best wood finish sprays that you can possibly buy. Not only does it apply a great layer of finish, you can also handle the product quickly afterwards.

See Also: Wood Finishing Tips Cards -How To Choose a Finish

Lacquer Melts Into One Layer

Another interesting property of wood finishing lacquer in a rattle can is that the layers all melt into one. When you lay down your second layer, the solvents in that layer reactivate the first, and they fuse together.

The third layer does the same thing to the second, and so on and so forth. In the end, even if you applied 10 different layers, you really only have one film of material at the microscopic level. This is an interesting property, and part of what makes lacquer special.

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You also don’t need to do as much scuffing or steel wool in between coats of lacquer as you do with other finishes that don’t have this property. One layer of lacquer melts the next, so it forms its own chemical bond.

See Also: Wood Finishing Tips Cards – Use Fresh Product

Wood Finish Spraying Safety Tips

Just like any other aspect of woodworking or wood finishing, working with aerosol sprays has its own degree of danger, and you need to take steps to protect yourself. Make sure to follow all recommendations from the manufacturer, and use the right protective equipment.

Also, make sure to work in a well ventilated area that will not allow solvent fumes to accumulate and cause problems. A high concentration of solvents in the air can be dangerous, and you might not be able to react once you realize you’re in trouble.

Also, make sure that you wear any other protective equipment that you need, which includes but is not limited to safety glasses, a respirator, and protective gloves. Wood finishing can be a very enjoyable task, as long as you protect yourself from the effects of the chemicals.

See Also: Why I Wear Safety Glasses

Where to Get Your Sprays From

There are a few different places that you can get your wood sprays from, and they include regular businesses that you can walk into, and also online. I buy the majority of my materials online, and you can too.

Retailers that carry nicer products include high-end woodworking stores and boutique stores that cater to woodworkers. The home-improvement stores will typically carry one or two of the brands that I mentioned, but will also have a lot of bottom end product.

Again, no matter how tantalizing a two dollar can of clear finish spray is, it’s definitely not worth it. The first time you spray it on a project, you’re going to destroy that project, so all of those hours and materials is your real cost.

Find a place that’s reliable where you can buy your wood finish from, and you’ll always have a place to get it when you run out.

See Also: 9 Excellent Tips for Staining Plywood

Your Action Assignment

Now that you know all about how to choose the best wood finishing spray, it’s time to take action. Select one of the brands that I mentioned earlier in the post, and bring a can of it home to the shop to test out.

The goal of this can isn’t to apply any actual finish to a live product. The goal is to finish a bunch of your scraps and random size pieces of wood to get the hang of using the cans. It’s not a very hard task to master, you just need to spray at least one can worth in practice.

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As your practice, pay attention to how well the lacquer lays down, how far away your can is from the surface, and how thick of a layer you apply. All of these things can be manipulated simply by how fast you move, and how far away the can is from the surface.

Keep that in mind as you practice, and make minor adjustments. When you increase your movement speed, you lay a lighter layer. When you decrease the speed, the layer becomes thicker.

The same thing goes for your distance from the piece. The closer you are, the more lacquer you will apply. The farther away, less. Keep on practicing, that’s your assignment. Dispense the entire can in practice, and you should be ready for the real thing.

If you have any questions on how to pick out the best wood finishing spray for your woodworking projects, please post a question and I’ll be glad to answer them. Happy building.

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  • More than 20 Years Woodworking Experience
  • 7 Woodworking Books Available on Amazon
  • Over 1 Million Words Published About Woodworking
  • Bachelor of Arts Degree from Arizona State University
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I receive Commissions for Purchases Made Through the Links in This Post.

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