Wood boards – part 3 – finishing

The last step in finishing the wood is, well, finishing.

As I mentioned in this post, Bob Bouvier planed (cut) my wood for me and gave me great tips on how to prepare my covers. After the wood has been sanded, be sure to clean off any dust before starting application of finish. As I mentioned in this post, Bob recommended using Endust to clean off the wood (pray the Endust on your rag and not directly on the wood). You can also use tack rags if you prefer.

Bob warned me that I should finish the wood as soon as possible after it had been planed – the longer I waited, the more likely it would be to warp. As you can see in the image below, there were some casualties (poor mahogany).

Warped piece of wood

Unhappy wood

He told me that if the wood warped, I could try salvaging it by putting water-soaked rags on it for about 15 minutes, then press it overnight. Unfortunately, it was too late for the mahogany because it had already cracked. Luckily, the technique worked on the purpleheart. I found that I could push my luck if I kept it in my book press until I was ready to work with it.

Bob showed me something really cool – nail beds. After you apply finish to your wood on all sides, you place the boards on two rows of nail beds for drying. The nail tips are so small that they leave no mark on your finished boards while drying.

I didn’t believe it when he told me this, but it really does work.

The base of the nail bed is made of a long, thin piece wood. You hammer in two rows of nails along the length of the wood. Bob recommended that I use 1″ panelboard nails.

Strip of wood with nails sticking out

Nail bed

I drew 2 parallel lines along the back of the wood to help me keep my nail rows straight (too bad I couldn’t hammer all of the nails in straight!). I found it easiest to hammer in the nails when I rested each end on top of blocks. The two rows of nails are about 1.5″ apart.

I finished my wood with Minwax Wipe-On Poly in a clear satin finish (I’m not a glossy girl). It comes in a 32 oz. can and you can find it at your local hardware store. The poly is really easy to work with because you can apply it with a rag instead of a brush – you get no drip or brush marks.

You pour the poly on your rag or paper towels and rub it into the wood. I wore latex gloves to protect my hands (the can has warnings on what to do if you get it on your skin).

I found that if I waited too long before placing the finished wood on the nail beds, then my gloves would stick to the wood – it’s best to work quickly. Let the poly dry for 2-3 hours (it can vary depending on the humidity in your work space). When the finish is dry, you sand the entire surface of the wood with 220 grit sandpaper.

Wood covers drying on nail beds

Wood covers drying on nail beds

Clean the wood with another application of Endust, then apply a second coat of the poly. Let it dry for another 2-3 hours. You get the picture.

You can apply 3 or 4 coats, depending on how you like the feel of the surface. I imagine that some woods might soak up the finish more than others and would require more coats.

Bob recommended that before you apply the last coat of finish, sand the surface with 400 grit sandpaper. He also said that if the wood has more sheen than you’d like, you can buff the surface with #0000 steel wool to remove it.

A very important thing to know is that you should never let poly-soaked rags pile up because they can spontaneously catch fire. It’s recommended that you immediately place all poly-soaked waste into a sealed, water-filled metal container.

Storage can for poly-soaked materials

Storage can for poly-soaked materials

I was able to pick up an empty gallon paint can from my local hardware store for about $3.00. I filled the can halfway with water and immediately place all soaked materials inside after each finishing session.

So what did I learn during this process?

  1. If you put your nail beds on the floor for drying, be sure to sweep your floors first. Dust loves to grab on to those suckers!
  2. Fresh air, fresh air, fresh air! Vapors are harmful, so take care of your lungs.
  3. Don’t put the poly on too thick – it will leave dried puddles of finish on the surface of the wood.

I’ve got one more coat of finish to do and then I’ll show you the completed boards. I plan to compile the information from all of these posts into a tutorial that you can print out for your own use.

So what do you think? I'd love to know!

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