This Wood Finishing Tips Card is called Apply Thin Coats. This is the real secret to wood finishing that many new woodworkers can benefit from. Thinner coats dry faster, are much more smooth when applied, and they make the finishing process easier. Here is how.
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Apply Thin Coats
This is the first in my newest series of Tips Cards, and these focus on Wood Finishing. After you make something in the shop, you are going to need to finish it. This is where some woodworkers have a hard time.
It’s partially the fault of the finish manufacturers, and partially the fault of other woodworkers. Finishing has this myth and lore about it, making the process seem more difficult than it really is.
The truth is finishing is really easy, and you only need to know how to apply a couple different products to be successful. Once you are comfortable with the few finishes you need, all you need to do is pick out the right one.
In reality, unless you are making a really wide variety of projects, you can even get away with one really good finish. After a while, you can experiment with more, but you may never need to. No matter what you choose, here is the best piece of advice that I have ever received about wood finishing…
Apply Thin Coats of Finish
The single best thing you can do when finishing is to apply thin coats. It seems that you could get the job done better with thick coats, but it’s not true. You will have to apply more coats when you apply them thinly, but your finish will actually come out better and faster.
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Thin coats do a few things that are extremely helpful to the finishing process. They dry faster, they stay flatter, and they keep their sheen better. All of these things mean a better looking finish in a faster time than hosing on thick coats.
Finishing is the last step for most woodworking projects. It can be tempting to speed it up, or race through to get your project done. Don’t. You have invested a lot of time up to this point, and too much haste can ruin it near the end. Look at the Last 10% for more about patience if you need some motivation in that department.
Why Thin Coats are Better than Thick Coats
Finishing takes time, and the faster the finish coat dries, the faster you can apply another. A thick coat will not dry very well, and in some cases will never dry. This can set you back days instead of hours, and really hamper your progress. Applying thin coats means a quicker drying time, and that you can apply more coats in the same time.
Also, thin coats lay down better than thick coats. A thin coat is almost impossible to mess up, because it goes on extremely flat. Thin coats almost just wet the surface, so you don’t have to worry about leaving pools that create differences on the surface.
Lastly, thin coats tend to keep their sheen better. This is for a number of reasons, but it ties back to the coats laying down flatter. A high sheen needs a flat surface to reflect well. If you gob on the finish, it creates variations in the surface that reflect light differently. The difference is less sheen, and a poor looking finish.
My Favorite Finish to Apply Really Thin as a Beginner
If you are new to finishing, save yourself some time and buy Tru-Oil. Especially for smaller to medium sized projects, Tru-Oil is one of the easiest to learn. The largest item that I have ever finished with Tru-Oil has been several acoustic guitars, and the process was very easy.
I have a full set of instructions for Applying Tru-Oil that walk you through everything you need to be successful. I use this finish all the time, and it was one of the first that I ever learned how to apply.
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The finish itself is marketed for the firearm industry, and sold to people that are looking to add a finish to a gun stock. If the product is good enough for a fine rifle that can be handed down through generations of family members, it’s more than adequate for your project.
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