Understanding Wood Finishing by Bob Flexner has been the single most influential book on wood finishing that I have ever read. I have several wood finishing books, but Flexner delivers so much more than just instructions. He dives into every aspect of the craft, and even covers many of the myths about finishing that have become so pervasive.
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Flexner begins the book assuming you know nothing about finishing. This is the same approach I use in my books. The first section details why we finish wood in the first place. Then, he gets into how to prepare the surface, and the tools involved in applying finishes.
Once you get into the descriptions and uses of the individual finishes, he covers everything. What I like the most about this section in particular is how he helps you understand how the finish works. This advanced learning makes you a better wood finisher. You will truly understand how the different finish types function, and when to use each type.
Another great thing about Understanding Wood Finishing, is that it is written in a logical order. It starts with surface prep, staining, and filling the pores, then gets into top coats, glazes, toners, and polishing the finish itself to a mirror shine. Moving through the book, the flow is the same as it will be in the shop. When you apply your finish, the process will be the same. This makes it easy to remember, and easy to accomplish.
I keep my copy of Understanding Wood Finishing as my primary reference on wood finishing. Over the years, I have learned quite a bit. However, it is nice to have a single reference when I have questions of my own.
Lastly, Understanding Wood Finishing is loaded with pictures. When he explains things that can go wrong when applying a finish, he shows you what it looks like. Also, when he explains how each finish looks, he includes a picture. These visuals really let you see exactly what is going on, and you will understand better when you see the same thing in your shop.
For more about finishing wood, my article on Finishing With Tru-Oil makes an expert finisher out of anyone. I learned in my Flexner book, that Tru-Oil is a polymerized oil. It undergoes a process that helps it cure faster and harder than pure oils. This means it acts more like a varnish, setting up hard on the surface of the wood.
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I finish all my guitars with Tru-Oil, and it gives them a nice warm glow. It also allows the dimples from the pores to remain on the finished surface. This enhances the classic look of the finish. A traditional finish has a close to the wood look. Modern lacquers and high build finishes can have a thick look that I do not like on my instruments. Tru-Oil is the perfect answer, and it requires no fancy equipment to apply.
If you have any questions about understanding wood finishing, please leave a comment and I will be glad to answer them. Happy building.
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