Staining Question

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I have a pre built Oak Mantel to stain and install today. It has been sanded by the builder. It has also been handled a few times to position it and mark nailing supports. My big worry is oil from my hands and the possibility of leaving finger prints on the finish and any other processes you guys use to get a great look. Should it be sealed with a clear coat or verathane?
Thanks for any advice
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You talk about staining, then fingerprints and then clear coat \varathane, so I am a little unclear of the question but here are some tips.
1. Staining can quickly ruin the piece. I am not saying don't stain it, I am saying it is real easy to do a bad stain job. Regardless of what color stain you use you NEED to do a test first. Get the same type of wood, sanded in the same manner. Hopefully you builder can provide this. Find a stain that works as you like. Then also test the top finish you will use (clear coat as you say).
2. Most stains will NOT stain near as dark as you expect if you are unfamiliar with the process.
3. You can wipe the bare wood with mineral spirits to see if any glue marks or fingerprints will be showing in the stain\final finish. They will show up as dry spots or slightly differenyt color spots. Sand out any problems. Note that sanding effects how the stain will adhere so feather out the edges and try to use the same grit as the whole piece was done with or do a quick onec oever. The spirits will dry in a few minutes and not effect anything else you will do. It also has the advantage of changing the color of the wood (while it is wet) to the same color it would be if you just applied a clear coat type finish.
4. If you stain (add color) or not, yes you should add a clear coat. This can be many different materials. Varathane is a form of Polyurathane which is the most durable finish and probably what you want to use, any polyurathane. The down side to ploy is lots of volitile fumes and it drys very slow so it can attract dust and get little "nibs" in the finish and can run making drips if applied to heavy. You can use a wiping poly whic is super thinned and dry faster and has less ability to catch dust but requires many coats to get a build up. Or you can do a light sanding in between coats with 400 or 600 grit to remove nibs. Be careful on edges.

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Everything Sonoma said.
One more thought, I would check carefully though about solvent/cleaner I used to clean it up.
If it is sealed at the factory with their sanding sealer, it could be one of the new "vinyl" sealers they use as surface prep. If it is, you can strip it off with mineral spirits.
Test an edge that isn't easily seen before you do anything.
Robert
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SonomaProducts.com wrote:

Thanks to all that replied. I didn't stain or install the mantel today. I'm going to spend some time sanding it tomorrow and stain it per the recommendations made here. When I said Builder, I meant the builder of the mantel. It was built by a cabinet shop and shipped to the customer. It seems will sanded except I did notice the filled in nail holes are still rough, so obviously he didn't do a final sanding which is probably customary leaving that to the finisher. I'm thinking 220 would be ok??? and use a block sanding method? Not sure I want to run my pad sander on this piece? Once sanded and cleaned then stain. Has anyone tried the spray on clear coats? and what do you think on using them?
Thanks to all.
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Find out what he used to fill the holes. Some of the resin fillers just nasty when you stain them. They don't take the stain well, consistently, and some are bad enough that you will think you used a marker to spot the nails.
If they are water based fillers, I would dig them out where I could find them.
The proper way to do this is to stain, putty/fill, then clear coat. NEVER fill nail holes first unless you are painting.

I almost never sand beyond 220. This started years ago with me when I had a very spirited conversation with a couple of furniture makers I was talking to. They showed me their work, their finishes, and then I went home and did some comparison sanding/finishing samples.
Properly sanded, to 220 is enough. I think most people continue to sand on because 1) they think that a completely smooth surface will make a better finish, and 2) they will do anything to keep from finishing.

Run your pad sander lightly. Then hand sand to make sure there are no swirlies. The swirl marks or other sanding scratches will take the stain more, so they will be highlighted.
Here again, if you sand to the fine grits I see sometimes bandied around, you will run the risk of polishing the wood, and bending over the fibers. This is an interesting test.
Take a piece small piece of wood, something medium hard like maple. Sand it carefully smooth to the touch, no swirl marks, etc. with 220. Now go to another section and sand it smooth to 400, being careful to get the surface consistently smooth to reflect the 400 grit.
Apply your stain. You should see a lot of difference, with little spots here and there (depending on the piece, these can be pronounced or subtle) where the stain didn't penetrate much. On a big piece such as a table top, this is disaster as the uniformity of the stain color is lost.
Now imagine this with softer woods, or woods with pronounced growth rings. The difference will knock you over.

For me, about the only way to go is to spray. If I had a mantle that I could take to the garage, or back to my shop and spray it, there would be no question. For an over the counter application, I would get a hard lacquer (like Old Master's) and spray away, a coat every 45 minutes until I was done. Let it sit for a few days, then install it.
Since typically a mantle is not a high use area like a table top, lacquer is what I use, with no complaints. That doesn't mean you couldn't use anything else you want. And just about all finishes spray these days, so no worries there.
OTOH, I know Leon has had great success with urethanes and foam applicators. While they aren't nearly as fast to build as lacquer, overall they are much more durable, and they can be easier to apply since you have a much longer open time on your project.
The last table top I did, I padded on the urethane (not sprayed... *gasp*) and the people were tickled to death with it as it came out great. It is easy to apply, forgiving, and just a couple of coats will give a great long wearing finish.
Robert
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snipped-for-privacy@aol.com wrote:

still
Robert, again thanks for the advice. I will be working on this today. I will be taking the mantel and leg supports out to the garage and working there. Will also be following your directions to the T. 220 it is, I'm just a little concerned about running a sander over this piece. Think I'll just hand sand it. The nail holes are very small and not in noticeable places, think they will be ok. Thanks again for the detailed advice!!!!! I'll let you know how it turns out. Will take pics and put them on my website.
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snipped-for-privacy@aol.com wrote:

still
I sanded with 220 and stained the Mission Style Mantel on Wed. Looks great! I sprayed it with a fast drying satin polyurethane today,3 coats, looks even better. Can I rub the poly with 0000 steel wool or would you use something else. Like to get the finish a little smoother, although its very smooth now, but would like something along the lines of a glass finish. Thanks, Rich
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On 2/4/2010 9:19 PM, Evodawg wrote:

Try a brown paper bag ... won't hurt and may be all you need.
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For folks who turn wood, a brown grocery sack is terrific. For instance, consider a turned pen or pencil. Just sand it down normally, then burnish with a strip of brown paper bag. When it's smooth as a baby's rump, wipe on cyanoacrylate glue and let it soak in and cure. Then, burnish again. The glue saturates the wood via capillary action and makes for an extrodinarily strong pen that's impervious to about anything. The brown paper bag makes it all smooth and polished.
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Swingman wrote:

coats,
glass
I'll give that a try. I don't want a gloss finish that's why I used the Satin Poly. I probably used the wrong term, "glass" finish. Just want it super smooth not high gloss. Would steel wool take to much poly off or just dull the finish?
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On 2/5/2010 7:40 AM, Evodawg wrote:

The paper bag trick will "smooth" the finish out, but will not noticeably change the "gloss" or shine. Brown paper is an abrasive, but mildly so.
Steel wool is much more abrasive and will definitely dull the gloss, to a satin, less so if it's used with a lubricant like wax, provided you use it lightly.
If you rub steel wool with enough pressure you will remove the finish, so a light hand is needed, and a test piece is mandatory if you value the original.
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Swingman wrote:

it
I'll use the brown paper bag trick. I don't want to remove any more Poly then is necessary to get it smooth. And I definitely don't want to remove any stain finish. Thanks
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Swingman wrote:

it
Installed the Mantel yesterday and the customer loves it. Did a final polishing with the brown paper bag trick and your right it did give it a very smooth finish. It was smooth before but had little nubs and the paper bag removed them. Thanks for the tips.
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On 2/6/2010 7:16 AM, Evodawg wrote:

You're welcome, glad it worked for you as well as it does for me. I basically use it as the final finishing step on every project I do.
On shellac, I usually give it at least a week to cure beforehand.
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Well... steel wool is generally used to create a satin finish. If you really want glass flat you need to do grain filler first and it wouldn't be to easy with Oak. I think maybe you want to be sure to use "Gloss" or even "High Gloss" if you can find it and spray it pretty wet.
The other way is to go to rotten stone or pumice, read up on it. You basically sand at00 400, 800, 1000, 2000 and even higher. Lots o work and not easy. If you go this way be sure to let the poly fully cure. Also not sure it is really possible with poly usually done with lacquer.

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SonomaProducts.com wrote:

I'll give that a try. I don't want a gloss finish that's why I used the Satin Poly. I probably used the wrong term, "glass" finish. Just want it super smooth not high gloss. Would steel wool take to much poly off or just dull the finish?
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Steel wool will just knock down the sheen, it won't burn through except maybe on an edge but unlikely. You might consider synthetic scrub pads instead. Steel wool is the classic material but real messy and all the rubbing generates static and it is really hard to get all the shavings out of the corners. A magnet can help. Better to use a maroon synthetic pad typically available in same location as sandpaper and wool at any wood releated store.
If you wanted it flat like glass, then grain filler should have been used first. either clear or colored (brown or black). Colored grain fill on Oak is really great and adds a lot of depth to the grain but it is a very different look and might not be what you want. kind of late now anyway.

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On 2/2/2010 9:49 PM, Evodawg wrote:

FWIW, I usually sand to 150 on red or white oak with a finish sander, then do a final pass, lightly and "by hand", with 220 and a sanding block, just before staining.
This last 220 pass is not really to "sand" as much as it is to "break edges" slightly and, most importantly, it allows me to go over the entire piece and do a final check for any problems and to make sure that the piece is indeed ready for finishing.
Strangely enough, I hate to sand, but get a good deal of enjoyment out of that last "by hand" pass ... a freshly hand sanded piece can be as beautiful as the finished piece to my eye (but my color blindness may have something to do with that).
If there is end grain showing by design, I will generally take that to 220 fairly vigorously, or even 320, before staining as end grain, particularly on red oak, will soak up stain and be much darker than a face.
IME, you can go to to high a grit on red of white oak oak faces and burnish the surface, thus you may have problems with penetration of the stain ... however, that can be desirable in some instances.
Tuppence ...
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Swingman wrote:

220 is what I'll be using, again thank you and to all that have replied.
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I had the same thing, the builder used minwax cherry stain and covered it with poly.looked fine but not what I had in mind. I sanded the finish off then (because it was red oak) filled the pores then applied the cherry stain and then used a satin poly and sanded between coats(two coats of poly and one of wipe on poly) Looks a lot better.
Len
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