Baby's butt oil finish

I'm practicing oil finishing techniques with the goal of that "perfect" glass-smooth finish with a satin sheen.
I've got some "colonial" maple scraps (dark grain, a bit of burl) and carving stock to work with. I sand to 220, then do the progressive wet-sanding technique where you build up a slurry of oil and sanding dust to fill the pores. I go to 320, 400, 600, and 800. I usually saturate the surface for 20 minutes (60 minutes on the first pass) and then wet-sand. I let it dry for 24-48 hours between cycles (in Utah; neglible humidity).
I'm using Woodcraft's 100% tung oil.
Then after drying the final pass for 72 hours, I apply a thin coat of Minwax Satin Wax according to the instructions.
Well, the surface is baby smooth, but the sheen is inconsistent. And then two or three days after the wax is applied, the smoothness is lost. On some pieces it tends to get rough around the end grain. Sometimes it doesn't seem to have any bearing on the underlying grain.
Anyway, I don't know what I'm doing wrong.
Should I be using a lighter oil, like Danish finishing oil? Should I cut the first tung oil coat?
Am I allowing sufficient drying time? Is the surface still "thirsty"?
Is this the wrong wood? I'm starting some experiments on purpleheart, snap cedar, red oak, and some "mystery" hardwood I salvaged from an old pipe organ windchest.
And, of course, the real question is whether there are some secrets I need to know in order to get that smooth, lustrous oil finish that people can't seem to keep their fingers away from? Thanks, folks.
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Jay Windley wrote:
<snip>

Have you heard the saying:
"Once an hour for a day, then once a day for a week, then once a week for a month, and once a year thereafter."?
It how to apply an oil finish.
-- Jack Novak Buffalo, NY - USA
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| | "Once an hour for a day, | then once a day for a week, | then once a week for a month, | and once a year thereafter."? | | It how to apply an oil finish.
Yes, I've heard that. I'm not adverse to applying more patience (and more oil). Not being an expert in this, I was hoping for some help in diagnosing the problems. I figured the uneven sheen was due either to insufficient oil or insufficient drying time. I couldn't figure out what was causing the raised roughness; it's definitely something emanating from the surface and not just the grain rising. I figured it was oil seeping from the pores and then hardening, but it doesn't seem to happen until after I wax.
I'm also new to the wet-sanding approach. Before I just sanded to 320 or 400 and put lots of oil on it according to the manufacturer's directions. In retrospect I've always gotten better-feeling surfaces out of that, but I was never happy with the sheen. I also had never tried the wax step before.
I talked to some people at art shows this summer whose work I admired and asked them about their technique. I've found similar descriptions of wet-sanding and waxing in conjunction with oil. I've set aside plenty of oil, scraps, sandpaper, and time in which to experiment and practice, but I just need some guidance from people who know their adzes from their elbows, so to speak.
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On Sat, 27 Sep 2003 16:02:11 -0600, "Jay Windley"

It sounds as if you aren't getting full coats of tung on there. Sanding (even wet) buffs it off the high points, too.

Try applying a few more coats on the parts the next time, then let them dry for a couple weeks. Oils take longer to dry than standard (higher solids-content) finishes. Apply wax with a sheet of ultra fine scotchbrite which will both degloss and denib.

You might try that. The less viscous it is, the deeper it penetrates. But it's the subsequent coats which build up the flat, smooth surface.

Prolly not.

A dozen coats of Watco natural, with or without wax on top. It takes a month to do it right. I have always loved the "hand" Watco lends to a piece. But the smell gets to me now.
-- Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life. ---- --Unknown
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| | It sounds as if you aren't getting full coats of tung on there.
That seems logical. It explains the uneven sheen. Still wondering where the rough patches come from. I'm not sure, but it seems to happen only after I put on the wax. I tried a paste wax and a liquid wax with the same results. Maybe I'll leave off the wax next time and see if the roughness is coming from some weird interaction between the wax and the wood or the oil.
| Sanding (even wet) buffs it off the high points, too.
Hm, good to know. I hadn't considered that. I'm working mostly with flat surfaces. I want to get some consistent understanding before I start dinking around with contours and end grain.
| Try applying a few more coats on the parts the next time, | then let them dry for a couple weeks.
Will do. I think I understand the drying principle, but I just wasn't allowing enough time. I don't have a problem spending weeks on these pieces.
BTW, how does wet-sanding fit into the "once a day for a week," etc. regimen? Is it okay to wet-sand any of these coats, or should I really get it good and saturated for several coats first before I pick up any sandpaper?
| Apply wax with a sheet of ultra fine scotchbrite which will | both degloss and denib.
I forgot to mention that I put the wax on with 0000 steel wool. I know a lot of people shy away from steel wool because of the mess it can make, but I didn't have any clean Scotchbrite on hand at the time. But I did consider applying the first coat of wax with a fine abrasive applicator.
| You might try that [cutting the oil]. The less viscous it is, | the deeper it penetrates.
Yes, that's my experience. I've used the Watco oils before, back in my very young and naive days. As a kid it was my job to oil the furniture (the once a month for a year part of the deal), and so I got used to the behavior of those lighter Danish oils.
Then when I decided to get serious (at least as far as a hobbyist can get serious) I attended a finishing workshop at my local Woodcraft store. The instructor there recommended 100% tung oil instead of the commonly available diluted tung oils. I'd never used tung oil before and wanted to try it. I've always used it at the thick consistency right out of the bottle, but the bottle itself suggests thinning the first coat a bit.
| A dozen coats of Watco natural, with or without wax on top. | It takes a month to do it right.
Okay, so what I'm hearing is:
Take more time and apply more coats and allow more drying time.
Use a thinner oil, e.g. Watco. (I'll try some experiments with the first coat thinned a bit and apply progressively thicker coats.)
Pay attention to the wet-sanding, that it doesn't scrape high spots or corners.
| I have always loved the "hand" Watco lends to a piece. But the | smell gets to me now.
Well, I'm getting more conscious of things like finish fumes and ventilating the shop a lot more than I used to. But the Watco smell still brings back a lot of pleasant nostalgia for me, from the architecture studios and shops I used to hang out at in the 1960s and 1970s.
Thanks, folks!
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On Sat, 27 Sep 2003 23:22:29 -0600, "Jay Windley"

It's probably finish soaking into end grain on contours, though there may be some grain raising from any water in the finish and/or wax solution, or moisture getting in from exposed areas where the finish was buffed off.

Personally, I don't like wet sanding because it puts the face material into the nice shadowy areas of pore. I feel that a clear finish better fills those and leaves the full character of the wood.

That's good. Most people will spend eons on the woodworking part and expect a finish to go on and out the door the same day. It's ridiculous. Sure, you can spray a couple coats of lacquer and do that, but do you want a store-bought finish or a REAL finish? ;)

Sanding finishes is way overplayed.
I prefer scrapers on the flat parts and use 0000 or scotchbrite for curves and denibbing between coats. A sheet of 320 grit, used dry after quartering, will last long enough to do several projects.

I know that lots of "serious" woodworkers shy away from the oils but I absolutely prefer them over other finishes. I don't like glossy, glaring finishes on 99.5% of items. A piano is one of those few.

Give Waterlox a try. It's tung oil with varnish. It works just like Watco but builds about 5 times quicker and stinks less. It's sweet stuff! You might also try Tried & True Varnish Oil. It's like an organic version of Watco. It builds very slowly and gives a good hand, but doesn't have the metallic driers you find in Watco.

Ayup. Give her a few coats over a few days, wait a week, give her a really good buffing, then see what she looks like. Go from there.

Plain linseed/tung oil for starters will pop the grain, then put whatever buildable finish you like on top.

Or dry sand S L O W L Y and L I G H T L Y . You just want to take the nibs off, anything which feels like a sharp bump.

Then you'll really like Waterlox and T&TVO.
G'luck! And do post pics on ABPF.
-- Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life. ---- --Unknown
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| | It's probably finish soaking into end grain on contours
And how would this rise? I know oil tends to seep, especially when warmed, so does that mean it soaks into the end grain and then re-emerges later to harden outside when I'm not looking?
You may have a point. I just picked up a piece of fairly clear maple into which I cut a contour and finished with 100% tung oil. It's badly roughened where the contour exposes end grain. And this is "young" maple as opposed to the very old maple scraps on which I'm practicing (and in which the grain direction is ambiguous). As opposed to the other woods, the roughness seems to be the color of (drum roll, please) cured tung oil. So in some cases at least it appears I'm getting seepage from the end grain.
Very well, the technique covers that: wipe it off as it seeps and before it hardens. Seems I need to pay more attention to these guys during long-term drying.
| though there may be some grain raising from any water in | the finish and/or wax solution, or moisture getting in | from exposed areas where the finish was buffed off.
Hm. That's worth a second thought. I live in Utah, so any airborne moisture is purely accidental. But I didn't consider the possibility of moisture stowing away in my waxes. Considering I've probably wet-sanded and/or buffed too aggressively, I can see how that would expose a bare area and raise some grain.
So I should sand less aggressively while building up the finish.
| Personally, I don't like wet sanding because it puts the | face material into the nice shadowy areas of pore. I feel | that a clear finish better fills those and leaves the full | character of the wood.
Agreed. The technique I'm trying doesn't make any guarantees about the final appearance, just the final feeling. The people I spoke to about their finishes didn't say anything about wet-sanding, just that they sanded up to grits resembling satin and then applied oil and wax. The wet-sanding approach came from a handout I picked up somewhere. The idea of a slurry filling the pores seems intuitively obvious, so I thought I'd give it a try.
But come to think of it, I have a towel rack that seems to already be mostly what I'm after. I made it long before my mind was corrupted by all this nuance. I heard of a guy who made fly-fishing nets whose wooden frames he finished only with tung oil. The moral was supposed to be the water-resistance and surprisingly durability of the finish. Anyway, I sanded a maple dowel down to 600 or 800 and then just did the "once a day, etc." application of tung oil. Since it's a dowel you can just work the oil in with your fist. After eight coats of that or so, I had what I wanted. Now I've put a wet towel on that thing every day for a year now and there's not wear, no raising of grain, and no discoloration. It's as smooth today as it was the day I put it up.
Maybe I'm just overthinking all of this.
I don't like trying to wet-sand with tung oil either. The stuff I've got is pure, unadulterated tung oil and it's way thick. Half the time the sandpaper just floats over a film of oil and the grit never seems to find the surface. That doesn't feel right. I'm going to try wet-sanding with some of the lighter Danish oils to see what that gives me. Everyone I've talked to swears you can wet-sand effectively with tung oil, but I think they must be using a lighter tung oil than I am.
| That's good. Most people will spend eons on the woodworking | part and expect a finish to go on and out the door the same | day.
I'm just doing it for me, so there's no profit to be lost. Even though it's a hobby, it's something I want to learn to do right. For me it's not about making money by selling clocks or furniture or croquet sets. It's about learning how to make something that looks great. And if that means sanding until your arms fall off and layering oil or varnishes or dyes or waxes or the secretions of some Guatemalan beetle until the shop smells like a Sumo wrestler's jock strap, that's what I'll do. I don't have a lot of money to spend, but I'm not opposed at all to spending time.
| Sanding finishes is way overplayed.
Probably. I've found there's a lot of room for individual preferences. Some people like certain looks and feels, and within each look and feel there's a whole gamut of methods to obtain it. At this point my approach is, "try everything and see what you like."
| I know that lots of "serious" woodworkers shy away from the | oils but I absolutely prefer them over other finishes.
As do I.
My parents, as I said, were big believers in oiled furniture. We had custom-made furniture and commercial furniture with oil finishes. Unfortunately the dining room table suffered through a year of careless renters and ended up with a number of water rings on it. One of these days I will undertake to repair that for them since they still have it. But I'll want to be more confident of my skills before I do anything like that.
Anyhow, my point was that the professional wood workers may shy away from oils not just for the time it takes to complete the finish, but also the perceived poor durability of the finish. Put a few coats of lacquer on something and you can dump Jell-O, coffee, or baby slobber all over it and it will just wipe off. People who commit to defending and preserving an oil finish seem to be in the minority, and so I can't imagine a lot of people who do this for a living will consider that a huge market segment.
| I don't like glossy, glaring finishes on 99.5% of items.
Neither do I. The stuff I'm making now for practice is just the simple desk and mantle clocks because the shaping is easy and it lets you concentrate on the nuances of the finish. But they can still be sold or given away as gifts. On these pieces I prefer a satin or dull finish with a very smooth feel. But of course you'll find someone who likes the finish whether it looks like it's coated in glass or whether it looks like bare wood. Ideally I'd like to be able to do all kinds of finishes, regardless of my personal taste.
Speaking of pianos, I've seen all kinds. I think the black stage models look good in either a shiny or satin livery. And one of the most striking finishes I've seen on a piano is a light neutral brown dye over an open-grained hardwood with a very thick satin-rubbed clear coat. You can't keep your eyes or your hands off of it. Not your typical piano, but it fits very well into its environment (a church). Unfortunately it has been damaged; it was near a window through which a vandal threw a brick. The brick bounced off the lid of the piano and chipped the clear coat badly. The wood underneath is undamaged, and thankfully there's an insurance payout to have it repaired.
I've even seen pianos with the grain texture preserved. I see value in both philosophies: fill the grain v. keep the grain. I figure I should learn how to do both effectively.
| Give Waterlox a try. It's tung oil with varnish. It works just | like Watco but builds about 5 times quicker and stinks less.
I'm beginning to think I've just got a bum bottle of tung oil. I'm pleased with how it has worked in some cases, but I'm not pleased with how it has facilitated what I'm doing now. But part of my experimentation plans call for using different types of oils. I'm not married to 100% goopy tung oil; it was just praised by someone who seemed to know what he was talking about.
| Ayup. Give her a few coats over a few days, wait a week, give | her a really good buffing, then see what she looks like. Go | from there.
When you say "buff" what exactly do you mean? Is this soft-cloth buffing like what you'd do on hardened wax, or is this de-nibbing lightly with some very fine abrasive? I've had a lot of people tell me to "buff", but I'm never exactly sure what that entails.
| Or dry sand S L O W L Y and L I G H T L Y . You just want | to take the nibs off, anything which feels like a sharp bump.
I'm trying to pay very close attention to sanding.
| G'luck! And do post pics on ABPF.
Okay, but no laughing. :-)
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On Mon, 29 Sep 2003 10:44:43 -0600, "Jay Windley"

No, it soaks in and leaves the end grain sticking out. You wet-sanded it into the grain and it shrunk when the solvent disappeared. It's only rough against the grain, right?

Yes, as in NO SANDING. That's considerably less aggressive.

Some people, myself included, feel that it makes the piece look muddy.

Ayup.
Are you sure it isn't polymerized tung oil?

There ya go.

Yes, repairs are a lot harder than doing it right from the start. Some damage doesn't want to be repaired and must be hidden with (dare I say it) discolorants (Nope, I couldn't use the 's' word.)

The minWhacked people are very persistent in using the word "protection". Hell, a 3-minute coat of wax/buffing a couple times a year will protect most furniture from most damage, but people don't want to worry about it or spend the time to care for their things. The next time you hear someone mention that they're going to refinish something, look at the item. Chances are extremely good that it's extremely dirty, not just in need of finishing. With an oil finish, cleaning it takes you halfway to refinishing it. <g>

Excellent.
I haven't seen plain tung oil but even the polymerized tung mixtures I've used have all been fairly drippy. The T&TVO is a goopy, honey-like mix, but it wipes fairly well when warmed. Perhaps your can of tung sat open for a month. =:0

Buffing uses no abrasive other than that of the cloth. Lay a soft, clean, cloth (cotton t-shirt material or terrycloth) on the clean, dry waxed piece. Now rub -vigorously-. On an oil finish, it's akin to burnishing. It's using the soft cloth to smooth any irregularities in the finish itself.

It really shouldn't be called sanding. When it's performed correctly, it doesn't remove finish, just the "orange peel". Wet sanding should be done the same way (if you must), and very, very lightly. You can denib many finishes with a regular brown paper grocery bag. Just keep it flat and wrinkle- free or it will scratch some finishes so later wax and buffing will be mandatory.

I refuse to be limited in that way, sir. ;)
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| | No, it soaks in and leaves the end grain sticking out.
Okay, I see how this might be the case. It looks to me like something is sticking above the nominal level of the surface, but that could be the ends of the fibers sticking above the sunken level of the finish. The fact that it's on the end grain is strong evidence that it's a problem with absorption.
As for the other pieces, where it appears randomly, I can't rule out that it's an end grain problem because it's difficult to see the lay of the grain in the burl.
| Some people, myself included, feel that it makes the piece | look muddy.
And that seems to be the appearance of the pieces that I've seen. I think the tradeoff advertised is between appearance and feel. But I've managed to get a better surface with less effort, so I think I'll stick to what works.
| Are you sure it isn't polymerized tung oil?
On second thought I'm reasonably sure it is. It's the consistency of a good olive oil.
| The minWhacked people are very persistent in using the word | "protection".
Modern society tries to free itself from the drudgery of "maintenance" and so the market is for a one-application coating that dries fully in less than an hour and is forever after impervious to crayons, hot-wheels, artichoke dip, gamma rays, and Uncle Steve who never uses a coaster. Then these same people marvel at the beauty of antiques whose owners took it in stride to clean and wax them periodically.
| The next time you hear someone mention that they're going to | refinish something, look at the item.
Grr. I have a parlor organ bequeathed to me by my great-grandmother (Lyon and Healy, about 1905). At some point, probably about 1950, she glopped on a coat of some vile varnish that glossed up the whole thing. The vestiges of the original finish that remain on the inside surfaces and in the nooks and crannies are gorgeous.
It's a sufficiently convoluted set of carvings that I wouldn't want to think about doing anything to it until I could be assured of convincingly mimicking the original finish and having the fortitude to go through with it until the end. So for now I just leave it alone with the justification that it's already undergone enough indignity for one lifetime.
| Perhaps your can of tung sat open for a month. =:0
LOL, I doubt it. It's fairly new and it's in a tall squeezable bottle that lets me evacuate the excess air before capping it. It was always that thick. That's why I'm putting it back on the shelf and trying some of the other oils that have been recommended.
| Buffing uses no abrasive other than that of the cloth.
Gotcha.
| It really shouldn't be called sanding. When it's performed | correctly, it doesn't remove finish, just the "orange peel".
Agreed; I like the idea of miminally invasive denibbing. But some people will also opt to cut the shine of oil with superfine Scotchbrite or the like while denibbing. But since all my problems seem to derive from mucking with a perfectly good finish, maybe I'll just follow my intuition.
Thanks!
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On Mon, 29 Sep 2003 17:08:37 -0600, "Jay Windley"

Burl's also good for gaping holes.

Erm, whatever.

Hell's Bells, chile. Dat ain't _thick_! But it does scream "He's trying to finish-sand that piece, and in a hurry!" Don't do that, Grasshoppah. Read the energy of the piece and go with the flow. (I oughta catch flack for that one.)

You forgot "and free of good taste."

"Imagine that, Betty. Someone spent over an -hour-a-year- on keeping that thing clean and pretty. Amazing!"

Removing the air from a hardening oil is very good practice. I use Bloxygen since it's so long between trips to the shop.

Prolly a good idea. I rub only until all bumps are gone. That can be 1 to 6 light, caring strokes in any given area and always clear of the edge. A flat block on top of the w/d sandpaper helps keep you honest on flat areas. Your fingertips on the scotchbrite works other curvy places. Just remember where you've been and how many strokes each area got or you'll be back at it soon enough. (With naphtha and your main finish, getting rid of the way-matte spots.)

De nada.
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