Using a test board when working with a new finish for the first time, or a new finishing technique, is a great way to save your project from uncertainty. If you have never applied a certain finish before, a test board can help you work out the kinks. Also, a test board can reveal compatibility issues in a layered finish.
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Nothing stings more than applying a finish to a piece and things go wrong. All that time and effort put into a piece, and it can’t even be used as firewood now, because it’s covered in uncured finish. This is when using a test board can save the day.
If you are using a new finish for the first time, try it out on a piece of scrap. Select a piece that has enough working area to practice with. Sand it to 220 grit, and wipe off the dust. Then, apply the finish according to the directions. Next, let it dry. Finally, inspect the finish for flaws, errors in application, or anything else that you could do better when applying it to the real project. Identify these problems now, and you can correct them before ruining anything more than a scrap.
Using a test board is also great for testing out finish combinations. Most high end finishes are a layering of several different things. A dye stain may be used first, then a glaze, and then a clear. A toner can also be used to spot shot color in areas, and finally another clear. All of this can create a beautiful finish…as long as the products play well with each other.
If a couple different layers of finish do not combine well, it can ruin the project. Many times when incompatible finish components are used, it causes the film to remain sticky. The layer never dries, and the piece is effectively ruined. Using a test board can reveal these incompatibilities long before anything valuable is ruined. It can then allow you to make changes in the recipe.
Using a test board is also great for seeing what the final look of a layered finish will be. Apply the layers (stains, clears, glazes, toners, etc.) the same way you would on the final piece. Allow it to dry, and see if you like it.
I like making my test board from a similar or the same species as my project. It does not have to be if you are testing sheer compatibility, but if you are testing for the color or look, then it is very important. The piece does not have to be very large either. A piece that is a few inches by a few inches is large enough to see the final look.
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The bottom line to using a test board is that it will save you money the first time you ruin the board. If you don’t like the look, or the layers don’t dry well, it is much better to find out before you ruin something that you worked hard on by applying a poor or incompatible finish.
For more tips in the shop, my Free PDF called 50 Woodworking Tips gives the beginning woodworker lots of great information to jump start their knowledge base. It’s 25 pages, and full of good information.
Also my 10 Step Guide To Wood Finishing is another free PDF. This explains hand applied finishes in a way that makes anyone an expert quickly. No expensive equipment is required to apply these finishes, and they all look amazing.
Do you have any wood finishing tips to share? Please comment and we can all learn from your experience.
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