Easy Simple Finish

After sanding this is all you need for a good quality finish.

After sanding this is all you need for a good quality finish.

Many of you already know my feelings on polyurethane varnishes. For those of you who don’t look here. The General Finishes gel varnish pictured above is the main part of a simple finish that I use that will give your next project a high quality, professional look.

Does this sound like you? You spend countless hours in your shop fretting over the tiniest of details. Finally your latest masterpiece is done, you brush on several coats of big box store varnish and call it finished. It has been my observation that most woodworkers spend far too little time applying the finish to their projects. A good furniture make once told me that it takes one-third to one-half of the total time spent on a project to sand and finish it.

A good finish starts before you even begin to assemble your project. All parts should be finish sanded before assembly, and some need to be finish sanded before the joinery is cut. For example, if a shelf is to fit into a dado that shelf needs to be finish sanded before you cut the dado to fit it. If you sand the shelf after cutting the dado the joint will be loose. You can eliminate a lot of sanding by using a well tuned smoothing plane to prepare your surfaces, but that is a subject for another article.

Begin sanding with P120 paper and progress to P400. Don’t skip a grit. You can use a random orbit sander for this, but the last grit should be done with a cork padded block by hand. After assembly a light hand sanding with P400 is all that is needed. If you have compressed air blow the dust off of all surfaces inside and out. If you don’t have a compressor use a good vacuum to clean your project. Now cover your project with a clean cotton bed sheet or something similar and let the dust settle for at least an hour.

After allowing the dust to settle you can apply the first coat of varnish. As you can see from the picture I use General Finishes Gel Topcoat satin polyurethane. It is called wipe on and you certainly can apply this varnish by wiping it on with a rag if you like, but faster results can be obtained by using a foam brush. Brush on a thin coat and let it dry overnight. The first coat of any finish on sanded bare wood will always raise some grain and this needs to be sanded down. Use the finest grit that will leave a surface that is smooth to the touch. This is usually P320 or P400. Fold the paper over twice to give you a pad that is three thicknesses of paper and about 3″ by 5″ in size. By hand without a block lightly go over the entire piece being careful not to sand through the varnish. Feel the surface with your hand and go back over any areas that don’t feel smooth.

Wipe off all surfaces with a rag dampened with mineral spirits. And I said dampened not wet! Let the mineral spirits dry and apply a second coat and just like the first let it dry overnight and lightly sand with P400. Now apply the third and final coat and in the morning you should have a very good-looking finished project.

You can leave the finished piece as is and it will look great for many years. If you would like to rub out your finish give it at least a week to cure. For a quick rubout I use 4/0 steel wool lubricated with paste wax. Let the wax dry and buff. Then apply another coat of wax with a cloth and let this coat dry and buff to a beautiful satin sheen.

This finish will give you a finished piece of furniture you will be proud of.

As always thanks for stopping by and please feel free to leave a comment.


Professional furniture maker and restorer. Dealer and collector of vintage and antique woodworking tools.
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