I have completed a stand alone pantry made of oak plywood with solid oak
trim to cover exposed plywood edges. I have looked through my book by Bob
Flexner on wood finishing but I can't get a clear idea on oak plywood. The
gist of what Flexner says is you can apply wood filler to oak if you like
but it is just a matter of personal preference. He goes on to say that I
should not use sanding sealer. By the way, I do not intend to stain the
May I ask those of you who have finished a project that is made of oak
plywood to share your experiences about finishing such a project
1. Oil is easy, looks nice if you don't want a shine. If you do,
2. Lacquer is relatively easy (especially Deft which sands nicely) and
3. Varnish is nice too but takes much longer than lacquer because it
4. Clear polyurethane is hard, lasts long, hard to redo and looks like
Filler is overkill (IMO) for any of the clear finishes on oak. Also, it
is not the stuff you use to fill dings...it is a very fine silica with a
binder and thinner. You can make your own if you have any Cabosil lying
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I just use plain old satin finish water-based poly, sanding with 400
grit in between coats. It's easy and looks just fine, IMHO. I
probably wouldn't use gloss or semi-gloss, since the oak is too porous
to get a smooth glossy finish, anyway. I've never done it with filler;
a gloss finish would probably look nice in that case, though maybe not
appropriate for a pantry.
Usually, I prefer an open or semi-open grain on red oak, semi-open on
white oak. On table tops, I'll keep going until I fill the grain with
finish, if required.
My _favorite_ hand-applied, natural, semi-open look on red oak goes like
PRACTICE ON SCRAP, both to get the hang of it and see if you like the look!
- Sand to 150 (you can probably start _&_ finish w/ 150 on plywood)
- Vacuum or blast & tack rag the dust away
- Apply one full-strength coat of Zinnser Seal Coat with a foam brush
- wait an hour or two
- Carefully apply one coat of Pratt & Lambert gloss varnish or Sherwin
Williams Fast Dry gloss varnish. Use a good brush pre-wetted with
mineral spirits to apply the varnish. Don't puddle it or glop it on.
- Wait one day for the SW FD or (2) for the PL
- lightly scuff & remove any dust nibs with 320 grit and a felt block
- wipe with a clean tack rag
- apply another coat of gloss varnish
- wait again, as necessary
- VERY lightly remove any dust nibs w/ 320.
- rub out (with the grain) with med & fine pumice & rottenstone,
stopping at the level of gloss you want. For a good semi-gloss look,
you won't need the rottenstone. Use paraffin oil as a lube and and old
t-shirt material and felt blocks as rubbers.
- paste wax as desired.
This will leave you with an "almost filled" look on the grain, with the
Seal Coat and oil varnishes adding a slight amber tone that will deepen
in a short time. If you start to rub out and things don't seem right,
give the varnish more drying time.
If this is an entire kitchen, I'd probably switch to sprayed lacquer
after the seal coat. The boxes would get a third coat of semi-gloss
lacquer, the doors and drawer fronts, gloss. I'd typically only rub out
the door and drawer fronts and end panels. Face frames and insides are
fine right off the gun, sprayed semi-gloss.
Drips and runs are easily removed with a sharp card scraper, sanding
will often round the bump over. The details of all of my steps are in
the Flexner book you mentioned.
I did an armoire/entertainment center last year of red oak and red oak ply.
I used Garrett Hack's recipe of equal parts turp, linseed or tung oil, and
varnish. The project turned out wonderful and the finish was the easiest
I've ever used. As an added bonus you don't have to have a perfectly dust
free finishing room to use this finish. Google "garrett hack linseed oil
varnish finish" and click on the first result's "view as html".
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