Building a Table - Finishing Building a Table - Finishing

Finishing the Assembled Table


The best time to do any major sanding is BEFORE the main pieces are attached.

Sandpaper is graded as medium, or numbers 60, 80, and 100. Fine sandpaper numbers are 150, 180, and very fine 220, 240, and 280. Medium is usually used for the first sanding, fine for smoother results and very fine for smoothing finishes between coats. Sandpaper can be used wet for some finishes.

You can fill in nail holes with wood putty before sanding if you are not planning to stain the wood. If you are staining, fill the holes AFTER the stain is applied. In either case, match the wood putty closely in color to the stock or use saw dust and wood glue to make your own putty.

  1. Sand with a fine, wet sandpaper (start with a 12O grit on plywood and 60-80 grit on other lumber) wrapped around a felt pad or use a pad or orbital sander. Use aluminum oxide sandpaper because its grit material lasts longer.
  2. Sand slowly so you get the best job possible. Vacuum frequently to remove dust. Finish manufacturers recommend which grit of sandpaper to use with their specific finishes to achieve the smoothest result. Feel the wood to check on the smoothness as you work because touch is really the only way to get a smooth surface. Make sure that you remove all dust, finger marks and excess glue before applying the finish. First vacuum or brush the entire piece clean and then wipe with a tack cloth.

When it is time to varnish, vacuum the room and let the remaining dust settle for 24 hours. Wear lint free clothes and use the fastest drying varnish available. Use a tack rag to remove dust before applying varnish and between coats. Do not apply urethane varnish over a coat of shellac or lacquer.

Applying Filler

(Optional Step) The key to a beautiful finish is making sure the surface is as smooth as possible.

  1. Countersink all nails and repair all dents.
  2. Apply a coat of filler to all surfaces of the table. (Paste wood filler thinned with turpentine or paint thinner is best.) Filler is a compound mixed to the consistency of yogurt which fills all the pores of the wood for a smoother finish. Do not use the wood filler that is sold to repair rotted wood. Work the filler into the wood instead of just brushing it on. A short-bristled brush is best and can be made from an old paint brush. Using the filler gives your table that "Extra" touch of beauty by providing a smoother finish. You can color the filler after thinning for a perfect match of wood and filler.
  3. Brush the filler on with the grain of the wood, making sure all pores are filled.
  4. Wipe off the first coat of filler. Recoat, this time working across the grain. Make sure the brush is heavily loaded with filler.
  5. The instant the shiny wet surface looks dull, start scrapping off excess filler with a straight, sharp edge implement like a playing card, ruler, stiff cardboard or knife with a wide blade (like the knife used to apply drywall).
  6. Use a rough cloth like burlap to rub briskly across the grain.
  7. Once the surface is as clean of excess filler as possible, let it dry overnight. If you are using a wood with an open grain, you may need two or three coats of filler.

Applying the Finish

Apply your finish in a well ventilated space with lots of room. Cover the floor in the area that you will be applying the finish so that if a spill occurs it will not leave a permanent stain. Be sure the area is clean and dust free and can remain so during the drying period. Follow the manufacturer's instructions. The finish is the first thing you and your friends will notice, so take your time.

The choice in the videotape is a polyurethane finish applied with a foam applicator. You could use an air compressor with a spray attachment or the traditional brush method. Give the surface a fine sanding between each coat for a long-lasting, durable shine.

Your handcrafted table is a personal source of pride and you will want to select a finish which shows it off to its best advantage. Here are some suggestions to consider when you choose your finish.

  1. Appearance: do you want a clear finish or do you want a stain to blend with the other pieces in your home. Do you prefer a high gloss or satin look?
  2. Texture: Do you want the table to appear smooth and slick or do you want to feel the wood's grain?
  3. Durability and protection: how is this piece going to be used, and what are you going to set on it? Do you need minimum protection from water marks and scratches?
  4. Ease of application: how do you want to apply the finish? Will you be using a rag, brush, or spray? Why not visit an unfinished furniture store and talk to the staff about your needs. Look at their finishes and don't hesitate to bring a part of your project or a sample of a finish you may be trying to match. Try any finish you are considering on a scrap piece of wood that has been smoothed down to your table's finish. You can save a lot of heartache by taking the time to check BEFORE applying a finish that doesn't work.

Another finish that can be used is an oil finish. The advantage of the oil finish is that after the first coat a fine grit of sandpaper can be used when wet (220) to cause a slurry of dust particles and oil. This mixture is continually absorbed into the wood with each coat. Each coat builds up a very durable surface with a hand-rubbed look. Though beautiful, those oil finishes, do not have the durability and water resistance of the polyurethane finishes.

Some refinishers use a sanding sealer, which makes a light fuzz stiff so that it can be sanded off. Test to make sure that a sealer will not adversely affect the finish by applying to the underside of a shelf and then applying the stain to see if it goes on smoothly.

If brushing on the finish, consider the following:

  1. Position the piece in horizontal sections.
  2. Apply the paint, varnish or stain across the grain.
  3. Brush out the finish with the grain using the brush as a wiping tool. Clean the brush as it collects liquid.
  4. Pull the brush across the table's surface with the bristles held almost vertically.
  5. Let each side dry between coats.

Check the varnish to see if a certain stain is called for. Read the label for drying times and how many coats to apply. Apply two, preferably three coats of urethane varnish using a good quality natural bristle brush. Between coats wet sand the finish. Rub the surface till it feels smooth. Wipe off any residue and then apply the next coat. Be careful at the edges of the table so varnish doesn't drip or run down the sides. For the final touch, rub down the table using a thin paste of rottenstone. Let the finish dry for a week before buffing with a hard paste wax or lambs wool pad.

Completing this project gives you a beautiful addition to your home. It is an expression of craftsmanship you and your family will be proud of.

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