When Does Finishing Start? 6/15/2012 6:08:26 PM
Surface preparation is a key component to obtaining a proper finish on wood. The most expertly applied finish with the best materials will look terrible if the surface of the wood is not properly prepared. When it comes to surface preparation everything matters: Moisture content of the wood, sand paper grit and technique, joint integrity, the list goes on. Surface preparation is truly the “middle ground” of woodworking. It is where the woodworker and the finisher meet. My goal is to walk professional finishers and woodworkers alike through this all important area of woodworking.
I would like to start this discussion with a question; “when do we start finishing the project?” After 39 years in the industry and visiting thousands of shops I have heard many answers to this question. “When the stain or primer is applied” or “When the wood is sanded;” there are other answers as well. I have learned that FINISHING STARTS IN THE WOOD PILE. That’s correct, savvy woodworking facilities know that the proper selection of wood, especially when being stained, can make or break the quality and profitability of the finishing portion of a woodworking project. I repeatedly see two common errors made during this important phase of preparation. First, woodworkers let frugality dictate the lumber or veneer that is selected for a project. Second, the finishing professional is not consulted at this stage of the project. Wood selection is an expensive proposition today. Lower quality and higher priced lumber continue to shrink the bottom line in a woodworking project. By paying more attention to consistency in color and grain a woodworker will reject more material thus creating more waste. Although this is expensive it pales in comparison to the cost of labor and material in the finishing room to get everything to match.
Bring the finishing professional into the process at the beginning. I suggest that he bring the step panel that was approved for the project and use that as a standard for selecting lumber and veneer. Step panels are an integral part of the finishing process and the subject of a separate discussion. Selecting wood that matches or is lighter in color is more acceptable than selecting wood that is too dark. You will rarely find all of the material to be to your liking, but making light pieces darker is manageable. It is almost impossible to make dark pieces light.
Also, pay attention to grain patterns in the wood. When selecting veneer, whether it is raw or glued to a substrate, look for veneers that are from the same flitch (log) if possible. This will increase the probability that the color and grain pattern will be consistent throughout the project. When buying lumber ask for “pattern grade” or “select.”
Lastly, let’s talk about substituting species. In the best interest of “value engineering,” woodworkers will sometimes substitute the specified species of hardwood with a lower grade species. For example, in a cherry kitchen the moldings will be made in low cost poplar and finished to match the color of the higher -priced cherry. This egregious practice is not only misleading to the customer; it actually costs more to finish than the money it saves in material. Unless it is finished to match the color perfectly, it can become a punch list item as well as a source of frustration for the customer and the woodworker.
Following these simple pieces of advice can save time, aggravation and money.
Until next time, keep finishing.