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My Ideas on Finishing
By, Derek Willis.

Timbers to deal with:

  • Softwood.
  • Oak.
  • Mahogany.
  • Teak (or variations).
  • Ash.
  • Beech.
  • Maple.
  • There are of course a lot more, but not popular.

Finishes to use:
  • Danish Oil.
  • Other oil.(Tung,Teak,etc. all treated as Danish.)
  • Seal and wax.
  • French Polish.
  • Acrylic Varnish.
  • Oil bound Varnish.

Preparations to use prior to finishing:
  • Sanding sealer.
  • Using proprietary fillers for grain filling.
  • Liming wax.
  • Acrylic wood dye.
  • Spirit wood dye.
  • Home made dyes.
  • Fuming, (a possibility, with ammonia might be Health and Safety problem.)
  • Using Van **** Crystals.
  • There are other chemical variants that could be touched on, but hardly the sort of thing for the average woodworker and a little difficult to come by perhaps. (I have only information on these, and not first hand experience.)

Methods for staining and finishing of timber

In the above picture a number of the products to be used, rear row, acrylic Palette wood dyes, inner row, spirit based palette wood dyes, these all by Liberon. Front row spirit wood dyes by Black friars. At the two extremes we have rare earth pigments that may be used to make your own wood colourings.

Phase one:

Treating English oak with liming wax, stains and Danish oil.

After rubbing down with progressively finer abrasive paper, coat with Sanding Sealer.
  • When dry, rub down again, then apply sanding sealer again, rub down lightly with the finest paper.
  • The whole idea of this being that the surface of the timber is covered with tiny open pores, the sanding sealer will expel the air from these pores in the timber thus causing small grains over the surface, rather like fine glass paper, rubbing down will remove these and a second sealer will prepare the timber for finishing by filling and sealing.
  • The samples shown here have been prepared in this way.

Here shows six pieces of timber these have been prepared as described with sanding sealer.
Left to right, Beech, Utile (Mahogany), Deal (softwood), Iroko (Teak), Maple and Chestnut.

Picture 3 (above). Shows four pieces of timber that have been treated with sanding sealer.

Picture 5 (above), Shows four pieces of Oak. Left to right, natural. Stained Tudor Oak, Stained Medium Oak, Stained Jacobean Oak

Picture 6 (above), Shows how to drag a wire brush across piece of Oak to remove fibers prior to applying liming wax.

Brush the timber (in the direction of the grain) with a wire brush, so as to leave the grain in the timber very open in places. Obtain some Liming Wax and with a soft cloth gently apply wax over the whole of the timber, allow to dry, rub off the surplus wax, (a little white spirit on a cloth may help), you will be looking for a light gray effect with deepening of colour in the open grain that you have obtained

Picture 7 (above), Shows application of liming wax, spread quite sparingly.

Picture 8 (above), Shows half of each piece after liming wax has been applied and
the surplus wiped off. The other half is left natural or stained.

When dry, rub the timber vigorously with a cloth to remove the excess wax, and apply Danish Oil sparingly to the timber with a soft cloth, leave to dry, depending on the temperature of the room in which it is done, six hours minimum to twenty-four will be needed, repeat this application three or four times until you have a deep soft glaze, should the surface become a little gritty between operations, rub down with very fine Wet and Dry paper used wet, or use 0000 wire wool. If you are working on very large areas of timber you may wish to apply the oil with a brush, if you do so, you must after about ten minutes wipe off the surplus oil with a soft cloth or the resins will be on the surface and will need to be taken out.

Picture 10 (above), Shows after one coat of Danish Oil has been applied.

Picture 11 (above). Shows after three coats of Danish oil have been applied.

Picture 12 (above). Shows a piece of oak that I have experimented with in making my own Liming Paste, I used Hydrated Lime, (garden or builders lime), and mixed in a little spirit to turn it into a paste, I allowed it to harden and then rubbed off the surplus and polished it with Danish Oil. Of course, if you do not wish to put any other finish to your timber, you can use liming wax as described above and just buff the timber, as described later on in this article, but you will not have the durable finish of Danish oil.

Picture 13 (above) here is a picture of a chest that has been made with Oak veneered M.D.F. and natural Oak trim, and has been finished with liming wax and Danish oil. This is the light gray effect you will be looking for.

One very important point to notice, place all cloths used for Danish Oil in a container with a lid, a glass jar is ideal or spontaneous combustion can possibly take place, dispose of them sensibly when you have finished.
  • You may wish to finish with wax polish, although this is not necessary as the Danish oil has a very nice soft sheen to it, wax polish will give your finish a high gloss, apply with a soft brush or cloth and buff to a good shine.
  • Rubbing down with very fine ‘0000’ steel wool will give a matt finish to the Danish oil.

Picture 14 (above), shows a box made of English Oak finished with Danish Oil and subsequently waxed.

Danish Oil is one of the easiest of finishes to apply and one of the most satisfying. Others being Tung oil, Teak oil and Chestnut oil, Danish oil is impervious to spills and is also waterproof; as are all the other oils mentioned most are made from the Tung nut grown in China (although it is now grown extensively on farms in the southern states of America.) and are mixed with the Addition Of resins and dryers.

Propriety finishing oil by Liberon may also be used and has similar properties, this I have found to be ideal on very light timbers such as Maple and Beech, and is not quite as yellow as Danish oil.

Raw Linseed oil is very hard wearing, after a few coats, but is very slow to dry, boiled Linseed oil (so called because steam or hot air has been passed through it to change the properties of it), is a little faster in drying, this oil is of course made from linseed, being the seeds of the flax plant, to be seen in our fields in the summer with very pretty blue flowers.

Although I have been using Oak for this demonstration, liming wax and oil finish, work equally as well on timbers such as Ash, Beech etc. and almost all timbers respond well to finishing with Danish Oil.

I have a supplier near to where I live, albeit ten miles away, but then, everything from here is ten miles away, at a place called Witney, home of the blanket, they have all your needs to timber staining and finishing and are also suppliers of all sundries for older type furniture such as iron works and brass ware that seem to be unobtainable elsewhere, they have a web site and sell via mail order, a very interesting site. Relics of Witney - The Relics Collection

A fairly new product to me, I only discovered it about 5 years ago, is, RUSTINS Plastic Coating, the name does not do it justice, there is nothing plasticky about it, it is a two pack finish, which I imagine to be Melamine based, it leaves a wonderful gloss finish and can be diluted 20% to give a Satin finish, used at a fairly high temperature, it dries in minutes and one or two coats with a brush is all you need, it will withstand hot drinks and dishes, so therefore has many domestic uses, I use it a lot.

Phase Two:

Above are the materials for the making of a successful French polish finish, Sanding Sealer, Button Polish, Blonde French polish, White French polish, Methylated spirit, Grain filler, Polishing rubbers, Cotton waste for making rubbers, and Rottenstone abrasive.

French Polishing.

French polishing is undoubtedly the ultimate finish, and although a myth of great difficulty has been built up around it there is actually no need. I will try to simplify the process here but first let me tell you a little something about the origin and make up of it.
  • French polish is made from Shellac and alcohol, usually nowadays Methylated spirit.
  • Shellac is made from a product of the Lac Beetle living in Asia, i.e. Thailand, India and China.
  • The Lac Beetle lays its eggs in the branches of trees, by the thousand and surrounds them with a substance that sets hard and after the eggs have hatched, is harvested and processed to produce Shellac.
  • There are many grades of Lac, as it is called, and they all go to make up differing types of Lac for French polish, I think that it might be better to restrain ourselves and stick to one type or so.
  • I make up my own French Polish and so can you, from your chosen supplier, I have previously mentioned Relics and their website, I like to go and collect mine so that I can browse around at all the other stuff they have, also Axminster power tool centre have an extensive range, obtain sufficient Shellac flakes and Methylated Spirit to mix at the proportions of 250 grammes to the litre and mix together, it will take a couple of days for the shellac flakes to be fully absorbed and will need shaking quite often to disperse.
  • I like to use Blonde dewaxed flakes for most of my polishing, because it is pale and suits almost anything, but I always have by me some proprietary branded Button polish for touching-in of darker pieces, and I have coloured some of my own mixture with Rare Earth pigments to make coloured shellac.

Picture 16 (above) shows a number of different timbers that I have finished with French polish.

Except for the Deal all of the timbers finished extremely well using the method described herein. To the left is a piece of Deal (softwood), this I have polished with Blonde shellac but I have added Burnt Sienna Rare earth pigment to colour it to a shade near to Mahogany. Deal does not accept this type of finish too well, because of its softness, unlike the various hardwoods, but I thought I would like to demonstrate it.
  • Next is a piece of Maple which accepts Blonde shellac finish very well and does not go under a great transformation of colour in doing so.
  • Beech is next, and there again works well colourwise, and has the close-grained texture to finish very well, that’s probably why it is used so extensively in the furniture industry.
  • Next is a piece of Chestnut, which in my opinion has been improved with the shellac finish, as it seems to bring out the grain and the natural timber colour.
  • Iroko (Teak) finishes very nicely and benefits from finishing with shellac as it enhances the colour of the timber without disguising the colour variations in the graining.
    Here are two redwoods, the first being Utile, and the replacement for most Mahogany nowadays, and a piece of what is probably real Brazilian Mahogany as is it many years old. I put a line across the centre of both of these and polished each half separately one with dark button polish and the other with Blonde shellac, as you can see with a timber of this colour and density there is no visible difference.
Except for the Deal all of the timbers finished extremely well using the method described herein.

We will now go through the process necessary to carry out a successful French polishing operation.

Picture 17 (above) First you must make a rubber. A piece of good cotton cloth with a good-sized piece, the size of a large egg at least, of cotton waste.

Picture 18 (above) Fold-in the top two inches,

Picture 19 (above) Fold in the two corners.

Picture 20 (above). Fold-in the two sides as shown your rubber is now ready for use.

Picture 21 (above). Unwrap your rubber again, now pour Into the cotton waste a small amount of shellac, enough to soak the cotton waste but not to run through, a dispenser should be used so as not to overload the rubber, traditionally a wine bottle was used with a groove cut in the side of the cork to give a very small amount at a time, if you buy your French polish or Button polish in the containers shown in the picture, they have small pouring spouts. Fold up the rubber again and twist the tail, in doing so you will force the Shellac through the cover so allowing you to apply it to the surface of the timber.

Picture 6 (above). Apply the shellac to the timber in a circular motion without lifting off.

If you have carried out the process, as before described, with Sanding sealer, the whole French Polishing process will be that much easier as the timber will not be so absorbent.

  • If any open pores or blemishes are visible in the surface of the timber at this stage, they can be filled with proprietary grain filler, prior to the polishing process, just brush in the grain filler, allow to harden, and then sand off with very fine abrasive paper.
  • Any minor blemishes that show up during the polishing process can be removed by using, Pumice or Rottenstone, just touch the rubber onto some of this powder and work into the aforesaid blemish, these preparations are so fine that they will not harm any work you have already done but will blend the polish and fill where necessary.
  • Pumice is more course that Rottenstone, but it is not dark and will therefore be better on light coloured woods, whereas Rottenstone is almost black and will stain lighter timbers.
  • Start by twisting the tail of the rubber so that a little of the shellac is forced through the cloth, work in circular movements, do not let the rubber stop on the surface, always run-off at the end to finish a stroke, but try to keep your movements continuous, twist-up the tail as and when you need more shellac to keep covering the surface. When you begin to run low, open your rubber and charge it again with shellac.
  • There will come a time when your rubber will start to drag a little, this is the time to put a few drops of linseed oil onto the surface of your rubber this will make the rubber slide over the timber a lot easier and you will be able to carry on with adding more shellac to your finish.
  • It is a good idea to change the pattern of your rubbing to figure-of-eight and eventually to straight up and down strokes, following the grain.
  • Very quickly you will see a very good surface appear, (it is not a long job at all).
  • Although shellac is very quick drying, it is advisable to let the work stand for a short while to harden and then to do a bit more polishing.
  • Keep an eye on the light reflecting across your work and correct any blemishes that may occur straight away by rubbing in more polish and then oil.
  • You will need to spirit-off when the desired finish is obtained, that is, to wipe over the whole area with your rubber dipped in Methylated spirit to remove the surplus linseed oil, It is probably better if you make up a separate rubber and keep for spiriting off as otherwise it will dilute the shellac to a degree that will be inadvisable. This will remove any surplus Linseed oil from the surface, but not so much as to affect the polish, use spirit very sparingly. I will advise that spiriting of must be used only in the circumstances where too much oil is present.
  • Allow to harden for 48 hours at least before use or damage to the finished surface may occur.

Picture 66 (above).

This piece of oak is the one shown in the demonstration and I obtained this type of finish with Blonde shellac as described, in a very short time. I have only given this piece about six or seven coats, whereas to give a first class durable finish of a very high standard one would use at least twenty coats. Of course it is only quite small so that is why it didn’t take long, but a table top can be French polished in a matter of an hour or so, remember, you do not have to wait whilst each coat dries as you do with oils and varnishes.

To get a piece of Oak furniture to look like an antique Victorian piece I suggest you stain with double strength solution of Van **** Crystals, seal as described and then French Polish with Shellac to at least twenty coats.

An eggshell finish may be obtained by rubbing the whole of the project with Pumice powder by touching the rubber onto some of the very fine powder, or may be rubbed out with 0000wire wool to the same effect, though why after having gone to lengths to create a beautiful high gloss finish to be proud of, I don’t know.
  • Keep all your rubbers in an airtight container so that they will remain soft and ready for the next time.
  • Shellac French polish may be put over any other finish especially where the finish may have gone wrong or has deteriorated, any wax must be removed with spirit first and then carry on with the finishing as before described. Damage or deep scratches may be filled using wax filler sticks, or a scratch pen, all of which are available from your supplier.
  • Any finish will benefit from the protection of a final coat of wax polish, although this is not deemed necessary, but the wax will receive the scratches and not the polish.

I think I should make mention of an alternative way of using Shellac, that is what is called the English or British method.
  • The Shellac is thinned a little more and is brushed on with a very fine paint brush, (The new very fine nylon brushes that have been brought out for Acrylics are very good for this.) This means that a much thicker layer of Shellac will be applied.
  • Now it will need rubbing down with 0000 wire wool or very fine abrasive paper 300 grit or so to even out the Shellac, repeat this process several times to build up a good dense finish.
  • Then it can be finished with a rubber if so desired, or it can be finished with wax polish and buffed to a good shine.
  • Keep the extra-diluted Shellac separate from your French polishing Shellac.
  • Keep your brushes suspended in Methylated spirit to prevent them going hard during the process, although they will always soften with methylated spirit.

Industrial finishers for bulk furniture products use a method whereas the shellac finish is sprayed on or they use a sprayed cellulose finish.

Phase Three:

Staining , Varnishing and finishing with Wax polish.

Liberon Acrylic Palette wood dyes.

These are a very good method of staining timber and are exceptionally easy to use and also quite economical.

To apply Acrylic wood dyes, first wet the surface of the timber, but only with a sponge, allow to dry, to raise the grain, rub down and then apply the wood dye evenly, any sanding sealer or other preparation will be:
  • applied after this process. Many shades of timber are available plus brilliant colours, which I have used to good effect shown below.
  • Liberon Spirit Palette wood Dyes.
  • A more traditional method of staining timber, to be applied straight on before any other preparation is used, usually only one coat is required as subsequent coats make very little difference, not as easy to use as the acrylic dyes and do not give the cover on some timbers.

Van **** Crystals.

A method of staining timber especially Oak and other light timbers, with many shades of brown according to the strength of mixture, and will be applied to the bare timber before any sanding sealer or other preparation has been applied.

  • Van **** Crystals are dissolved in hot water, the amount is dependent on the depth of colour required, 250mls. Hot water, to 250grms. of crystals and water will give a good average colour, adding more crystals will give a much deeper shade of brown. Varying the strength and testing are quite necessary to obtain optimum shade required, then store and label the various strengths for a future date
  • Rare Earth pigments.
  • These can be mixed with a variety of oils and finishes to produce your own timber colours; I have used them in Shellac and Danish oil as well as linseed oils and especially mixed with Methylated Spirit to great effect, care must be taken, not for the faint hearted, but very good un to know you have made your own dyes.
  • I have a supply of Rare Earth Pigments that I have obtained from Relics, in 500 gr. Boxes imported from Italy, and although I have not seen them of late, may still be available, but Liberon sell small quantities of a large variety and are available from all Liberon stockists.

Combined staining and polishing.

Using rare earth pigments (obtainable from art and restoration shops) combined with Danish Oil or French Polish, see picture below. Put a little Rare Earth Pigment into a container and add Danish Oil until the powder has dissolved, the amount depends upon how strong a colour you require, do the same with French Polish, brush or wipe onto your work the same as usual, the effect is very good, try also to use with Methylated spirit. To the rear is piece of softwood with two coats, in the foreground is a piece of Iroko with one coat the darker is Burnt Umber, the lighter is Burnt Sienna.

Rustin’s plastic coating.

The name of this product does not do it any good, there is nothing at all plasticky about it it is a 2 pack finish that dries very quickly, can withstand hot dishes etc. without marking, and will keep in an airtight container, once mixed for a few weeks. It appears to be a like melamine product goes on very evenly with a brush and only needs one coat, although I always give two. Avery high gloss finish is obtained, but can be made into satin finish by diluting with appropriate thinners by about 20%. I am very much converted to this and constantly use it.

  • Acrylic Varnish.
  • Oil based varnish.
  • Wax polish and buffing.

Picture 22 (above).

To the left is a sample using only wax polish over sanding sealer, half of which has been stained with Burnt Sienna Rare earth pigment, apply wax with a soft cloth or brush fairly liberally and leave to dry before buffing, machine buffing with a sheepskin pad gives the best result.

Whilst varnishes have their place, they are basically for builders and decorators, not for the discerning woodworker. Centre is a sample using Oil based varnish over sanding sealer, half of which has been stained with standard Van **** Crystal solution. When using oil based Varnishes of any sort, rubbing down between coats it is essential using a very fine grade of paper, to get a glass like finish use wet and dry used wet as fine as you can get before the final coat and apply very thinly.

The right one is finished with Acrylic varnish, over sanding sealer, half of this has been stained with a double strength Van **** Crystal solution.

To the naked eye there is hardly any difference to the finished article but to the discerning eye it will be obvious so therefore the choice is to be yours. The finish will only be as good as the effort that you put into it.


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