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Finishing Touches - Stain and Paint


Any woodworker who's worked with hardwoods -- walnut, cherry, oak, etc. - knows how rich the grain patterns and colors are when compared with ordinary softwoods. Unfortunately, however, there aren't many of us who can afford to build every project out of these expensive hardwoods.

Even when we do use hardwoods, there are times when we just aren't completely satisfied with the way our projects look once we've finished. Freshly-worked cherry, for example, is regularly stained a deep brown to make it look aged. And for those occasions when we need to change the color or appearance of the wood we're using - or even cover it over completely - there are hundreds of paints and stains available to do the job. By mixing different colors and tints or combining techniques, you can achieve almost any effect you want.

Probably the most common method of changing the color of wood is to use an oil stain. Oil stains are readily available and easy to apply, but they do have some disadvantages. First, they take a long time to dry between coats -- 24 hours minimum; you can't apply varnish or paste wood fillers directly over them; the oils combine and the final finish looks muddy.

They also come in a limited range of colors and hues, but this can be remedied, somewhat If you want to slightly alter the hue of an oil stain, buy the appropriate artist's oil pigment and mix it with your stain until you achieve the desired effect. For example, a little bit of “burnt umber” (deep brown) pigment will darken a light oak stain nicely. “Turkey red” (red-brown) pigment will redden it slightly. The secret is to test your mixtures on scrap wood and give it time to dry completely before applying it to your project.

Once you've mixed up the color you want, prepare your project by first wiping it down with a tack cloth to remove all dust residue. If you can't find tack cloths at your home center or hardware store, try an auto paint store -- or make your own by sprinkling a little of the finish you plan to use (or a little varnish) on a piece of cheesecloth and working it in your hands until it becomes “tacky”.

Next, seal the exposed end grains of your project with a little shellac and alcohol to keep them from absorbing more stain than the other parts of your project. There are also special stain-blocking products available for this purpose.

Select a wide, STIFF brush. Soft, flaccid brushes aren't particularly well suited for applying stains because their bristles won't get down into the pores of the wood. Always brush stains on with the grain of the wood. With each new brushful, start a few inches from your last brush mark and move towards the wood that's already been stained. This approach will help eliminate dark areas where the brush strokes overlap.

Stain one section of your project at a time - sides, front, back and finally, the top. If possible, always work with your surface in a horizontal position, turning the project as you go to avoid runs. Once you've finished each section, wipe off any excess stain with clean rag. If your stain appears uneven in any particular section, you can even it out by rubbing with a lightly oiled cloth. Recoat every 24 hours, until your stain deepens to your desired tone. BE PATIENT ! More projects are ruined at the finishing stage than at any other...simply because woodworkers get impatient.



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