Finishing question


Hey, guys. I'm a newbie here, and figured maybe some of you regulars could share some advice.
I've recently started making picture frames as a hobby. Everything is going well so far, but I could use some advice on the finishing aspect of the hobby. I just did some frames for my mother, and I applied 2 coats of Minwax stain (Cherry), followed by 4 coats of gloss varnish (also Minwax). After that, some brush strokes were still visible, so I wet sanded with 400, then 600 grit. However, after that, the finish was quite splotchy (basically dull with some glossy patches here and there). I saved it by applying one more coat of clear gloss, which evened out the finish, but there were still some brush strokes visible.
The guy at Home Depot said the reason was that I hadn't applied Wood Conditioner first (it was pine). Since then, I've been using wood conditioner, but I haven't tried a really glossy finish yet since then (this was just last week).
So I guess my question is, what's the secret formula? What do you guys do when you want a really nice finish? How many coats of stain vs. how many coats of clear gloss? Do you use wood conditioner? When do you sand, and what grits give you the best finish when it's all done?
Any tips you guys could suggest here in the group would be greatly appreciated. Thanks a million,
Kevin.
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Kevin says...

You could have used steel wool after the sanding to bring back the shine. I like the synthetic kind, especially the super fine white grade. You can also use pumice stone and rottenstone along with the steel wool (synthetic or real) to get to the shine you want. Just experiment and find what works for you. The final rubbing out is best done at least a month after the final finish coat is applied. Finish it off with a coat of wax made for furniture finishing, not car wax. You will always have brush marks and dust nibs after brushing any kind of varnish.
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wax.
I was going to wax some countertops with a carnuba wax made by Mother's car wax. Any reason not to use this, even tho' it isn't specifically for furniture?
thanks in advance, dwhite
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The potential problem is silicone contamination, if it's in the car wax. In small amounts even, it causes fish eye in some finishes. That might not be a problem on your countertops, as long as the tools don't get used elsewhere.
Wouldn't you want to use something 'food grade'?
Patriarch
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not
These counters are for a store and have been poly'd. I wanted to even out the finish a little and add a touch of protection and gloss with the wax. None of these surfaces will see food contact. The food prep section is mineral oiled. On the other hand if there is a product that does the same job and can be considered food grade, then I'd use that. I'm assuming this Mother's wax won't have any lingering odor. If so, then I won't want to use it.
dwhite
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Dan White says...

Most labels for car wax will warn you not to use it on wood. I'm not sure why, but it probably has to do with the solvents used or other ingredients intended to remove oxidation from paint or maybe it is something else. If it contains silicone, it could make refinishing your woodwork difficult and could even contaminate any tools that come in contact with the silicone. You could probably use it on cured polyurethane without problems, as long as you are aware of the problems silicone can cause. I bought a can of Lundman's wax at an Ace hardware stores that contains nothing but carnauba wax and turpentine.
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car
Looks like what I got isn't worth the potential problems. I'll go pick up some of that Lundman's.
thanks! dwhite
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Or Butcher's Bowling Alley wax.
Patriarch
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Several thoughts.
A good friend of mine has a picture framing business. He's been doing this, at least part time, for 30 years. Every frame he makes is from prefinished stock. You can see ahead of the joinery how things will come out. He buys his prefinished, because of the economics, but you don't have to.
The part that I don't understand is hobbyists taking all that time, energy and expense to make pine look like something other than pine. If you want it to look like cherry, or mahogany, or something else, then start with that material, put on a simple finish, and go from there. Enough prime cherry to frame the biggest art piece in my home wouldn't cost $20. Stained pine always looks like stained pine to me.
When I want a seriously glassy finish, I use shellac, padded on, usually over an oil undercoat, and often rubbed out, using a nice paste wax. The archives at Google have numerous good references on the methods. None of them originated with me.
Patriarch
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Hi Kevin, like you, I too enjoy making frames, don't think I have ever made one of pine though. Try using other wood that you can enhance with say an oil finish rather than change it with stain. Over the years I have given away the odd frame to the right person and you will find that they will invariably reciprocate with donations of interesting wood; you will soon become known in the neighbourhood. I also at times carry a chainsaw in the car, ready to liberate any interesting stuff I may come across.
Bottom line is, it takes a bit of work to make a top frame so why not use the best material you can lay your hands on. The result will speak for itself.
Cheers Bill New Zealand

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Gotta agree with previous posters re: hardwood to start with. Start with the color wood you want in the end. I like shellac for a glossy finish, its easy to rub out. You just didn't go far enough with your final sanding. Smooth gloss is achieved AFTER your last coat. Use several coats, then let the shellac cure for at least a week. Sand with the highest grade that will remove your brushstrokes and dust. Work up the grits to 1000 or 1500 then rub out with rubbing compound, polishing compound (available at auto stores), and a good paste furniture wax. You CAN get a perfect, glossy finish but it takes time.
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Thanks for the tips, guys. I've been using pine so far simply because of the cost, and how easy it is to work with, being a softwood.
I've bought a plank of birds-eye maple, and 2 walnut boards, with the intention of ripping the walnut down to 1x2, and using the birds-eye maple to do an inlay. It sounds like the finish you guys are recommending would be some kind of oil, followed by a few (how many?) coats of shellac, with the final coat wet-sanded down through 1500 grit, finishing off with some super-fine steel wool (#000? Is that right?), then rubbed out with some sort of furniture wax (can you recommend a brand?)
Did I get that mostly right? :)
Kevin.
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Close - the 1500 is finer than steel wool. If you're going to use 1200-1500 wet sandpaper, go imediately from that to rubbing compound - medium cut, then fine. You'll have glass when you're done.
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The thing is, working in pine is not all that much easier, if at all, than working in cherry or walnut. Birdseye maple, on the other hand, can be a challenge. Use really sharp tools, and watch your technique. You will be rewarded.

The technique of padding shellac almost makes the concept of 'coats' irrelevant. Each layer 'melts' into the previous, with little of the fussing between coats that endears us so to poly/varnish. A google search on padding shellac often yields some great, simple advice from solme wReckers of the olde days, on which I cannot improve. Look for something from Paul Radinovic, or Paddy O'Deen...

Butcher's, Briwax, Liberon are on my shelf. Johnson's is well respected, and should be easily available. Don't use anything with silicones in the mix. Beeswax & Carnuba & some sort of solvent.

Yes.

Patriarch
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Kevin wrote:

The guy at HD was a dolt. The here and there glossy patches were where you hadn't sanded.
And if you sanded until there were no more glossy patches, applied another top coat and sanded again there would *still* be glossy patches. Unless you wait until the top coat is *totally* dry (takes a good month for varnish) before the first sanding. Reason is that the top coat is always thicker some places than others; sand it after a day or two and the thick places aren't totally dry and will continue to shrink over time.
Best way is to build up a thick finish, set it aside for a month or so and then sand til there is no more gloss. If you cut totally through the top coats, you didn't have it built up enough or sanded too much (unevenly). Once you have a completely dry, perfectly smooth finish, you can apply either a thin, smooth layer (wiped, preferably) or rub it out to get the gloss. Lots of work to get a great finish...
-- dadiOH ____________________________
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