Prep for Finish

Over the years I had many different methods and idea about how to get a project ready for finishing. Like any other part of woodworking we all have our own way of getting to the finishing stage. Some smooth every part and piece with a drum sander, others use a jointer to clean the face of boards, and there are those that prefer hand tools and use a smoothing plane. The smoothing plane takes some practice and I do enjoy using hand tools on my projects but it is definitely a lot more work.

No matter how we get there it always seems that once we are ready to start prepping the project for finish you inevitably find a spot that needs a little extra attention. Whether it’s chatter marks from the planer or jointer or tear-out from a router or saw. One of the best ways I have found to identify the extent of an area I need to fix is with an orbital sander. By lightly sanding the surface the orbital sander will hit the high spots which in turn will highlight the low spots. Once the area has been identified I typically use a combination of spokeshave, scraper, and sander depending on how much work I need to do.

If I need to be aggressive I will use my spokeshave which can remove a good bit of wood with more control than I have with a plane. The most important thing in working with a spokeshave is honing and set up, if the iron is not extremely sharp and set up for super fine shavings you can do more damage than good, especially in hardwoods which tend to want to chatter. For myself I find that I get the smoothest cut by holding the spokeshave at a slight angle to allow the shaving to roll down the iron. The spokesave also works great on getting minor burn marks from the edge of my work without having to run back through the jointer.

After any noticeable defects have been removed I like to use a scraper to ensure that I have a smooth even surface. If you have never used a scraper I highly recommend trying as a properly set scraper can remove material fast and leave a great surface. Orbital sanders often cut into the softer grains like in oak leaving the surface uneven. The scraper will cut the surface evenly leaving a truly flat surface.
The technique I use for scraping is to start with a diagonal cut across the work, I find that I get a more aggressive cut and ensure a truer surface, but try not to go over about a 45 degree angle to the work as you can cause tear out by going across grain. Next I use the scraper with the grain in a push or pull method, for myself I find that I remove more material when pushing so I tend to use both depending on my needs.
By this point very little if any sanding should be necessary. For my own preference I still sand by using fine grit sand paper either by hand or an orbital sander although I have completed several projects with no sanding at all with great results in the finish. A trick that I use, especially when using water based stains or dyes, is to lightly mist the work with water and then sand one last time once it is dry. This method ensures that I do not have a problem with raising the grain once I start my finish. Next it is time to start the finish… but that’s another day.


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One Response to “Prep for Finish”

  1. Troy Bouffard
    May 19, 2010 at 1:08 am #

    Very good point about the final sanding. I usually run a damp sponge over the entire area to ensure all the grain stands up one final time before I knock it down with fine grit. My air nozzle helps the drying process if needed.
    Your approach is solid, and pretty much exactly what I do. The results are fast and unbeatable.

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