Deco&Design - DIY Finishing - Finishing Techniques

Don't ruin wood and furniture design with inappropriate finish and materials

I saw the other day, posted on a woodworking enthusiasts group, a lamp made from an interestingly shaped branch, covered liberally with glossy varnish. The author was asking the other members of the group for their opinion of his creation, and the comments varied and were divided, some considering the object a success, others a total failure. Far be it from me to determine what is beautiful and what is not. The term is so relative, everyone has their "beautiful" based on different criteria and perceptions, that it is hard to say, generally speaking, that one object is beautiful and another ugly. Regardless of the beauty and ugliness of each, there are unwritten rules, correlations between styles and finishes that should be respected for a coherence of the idea conveyed. In the above case, an object that is meant to be natural - a branch that retains its natural shape - cannot be covered with a thick layer of glossy varnish. The resulting object completely loses its natural appearance and the original intention is compromised.

The most abused of all styles is rustic. I have already written an article about it and you will find here recommendations for finishing furniture reminiscent of the village world. But it is not only the imagination of those who produce wooden objects and furniture that is affected. Choosing the wrong finish, poor quality or using questionable materials to make it leads to an unpleasant appearance of the furniture, even if the wood used or the processing methods were among the best.

matching wood finish

Don't spoil the wood and the look of the work with unsuitable materials!

This is not the first time I have talked about how the value of furniture can be improved or, on the contrary, decreased by finishing. Over the years, I have seen craftsmen with a talent for woodworking, a talent that disappeared when they had to apply protection to the object obtained. I find it very hard to understand how craftsmen who choose their tools very carefully, who discuss differences in fineness between brands, choose any kind of varnish, apply it with the wrong brush and think that a thick, glossy coat of varnish solves the problem of finishing.

If when you buy a machine or a tool you spend weeks researching it and talking to all sorts of specialists, do the same for finishing materials. Social media groups are not a good place for this. There are some very good craftsmen out there, but also many who don't know and have no qualms about giving advice in a very firm tone. If you ask for advice and are only unlucky enough to get the least qualified to respond you will be left with a wrong idea of the solution to the problem.

It is best to call in the specialists, as you do with machinery. Talk to representatives of companies that sell professional wood varnishes and paints. The products in DIY stores are mostly for those painting a chair or fence at home. Ask for as much information and advice as possible, ask what can happen if you use one material or another, what is the best option, find out what is possible. I assure you that you can learn a lot of interesting information and finishing techniques from a well-trained technician.

suitable wood finish
Shabby chic
Don't abuse the gloss!

There are styles of furniture or objects that look good if the lacquer applied is very glossy. But gloss doesn't suit every kind of furniture. Styles rustic, rustic industrial, shabby chic, farmhouse, Scandinavian do not have gloss among their characteristics. If the design suggests one of these styles, the finish must be made to match for the furniture to achieve its purpose.

Mirror light is one of the most difficult finishes, both in terms of maintenance and for the person who wants to achieve it. I often hear that "the customer wanted it that way". But the customer can be helped to understand the advantages and disadvantages of finishes. People who buy furniture know very little about wood, derivative panels or types of finish. Perhaps if they were explained what it means to maintain a very shiny piece of furniture, how every fingerprint and every speck of dust or very fine scratch shows, they would not be so determined.

And glossy doesn't necessarily mean mirror shine. A gloss level over 60-70 is already glossy enough for most customers and much easier to obtain and maintain. It will be even more satisfying to those who think that if it doesn't shine, it isn't varnished. Even at gloss level 40, the varnish has a nice sheen, even if it does not perfectly reflect the surrounding images. Gloss levels between 40 and 60 are very pleasant, giving the furniture a silky appearance.

suitable wood finish
Mirror gloss finish
Wood staining by burning is not suitable for all furniture

Another abused custom is staining wood by torching. It can't be done anytime and on any kind of furniture. To make it look nice, the wood is burned first and then brushed. If left unbrushed, the appearance of burnt wood will be uneven and stained. It may look good on a small piece of wood, but on a cabinet the size of the entire wall it looks busy and tired. If the burning is continued for uniformity, a layer of charcoal will form on top, which will protect the used wood very well on the outside, but on the inside the appearance will only be appreciated by enthusiasts of the Japanese method. shou sugi ban.

If the wood is brushed after burning, the result is a raised, glazed appearance, very suitable for rustic styles. Not all furniture can be made with burnt wood. Classical, elegant styles do not go well with this type of staining. In this case, a wood ofnuc, oak, frasin, ulm, cherry, mahon, uncoloured or in a colour that highlights its natural grain and pattern and coated with semi-gloss or gloss varnish.

suitable wood finishing
Rustic burnt, brushed and groomed
Antique finishes have their rules

Many people appreciate old-looking furniture. There are finishing techniques that achieve this look, called antiquing techniques. They start with wood preparation and continues with the application of glazes, skates, paints and varnishes so as to achieve a look very similar to decades-old, long-used furniture.

In the magazine there is an article about practical realisation of an antique-looking garden table top. Wood from pallets was used to make it. Both the special processing of the wood in white and the patinas and techniques used contributed to the antique appearance. Someone commented that they would never leave circular marks on a table, even if it was a garden table. But it's precisely those marks that make the table have an authentic old look, even though it was made recently.

If you want your furniture to look authentic, to be credible, all aspects must be taken into account. The table, which was supposed to be a peasant table, also looked credible because the wood had traces of circular woodworking. A few patinas applied to unprepared wood does not necessarily give the appearance vintage desired.

suitable wood finish
Garden table
Finishing sells furniture!

I have been contradicted many times when I have said this. I was told that people were making furniture out of wood before the idea of protection and finishing came along. That's true, but it's not about who came first. It's about not ruining a piece of furniture, made with hard work and quality wood, with a bad finish. Because the finish can be seen and felt before you can identify the wood used and discover the craftsmanship with which it was made. By the time you see the carefully made joints you can see the varnish spills and stains from the beating and feel the rough look of improper sanding. No matter what the style of furniture, a poorly done finish will diminish its value.

Try to treat the protection and finish of the furniture you make with the same care you use when working with wood. Use the expertise of those who sell finishing products. Educate yourself, even if information is not easy to find. Be open to advice and recommendations from specialists. And if you have any questions or queries you can leave them in the magazine, here or in any other article. I'll get back to you, as always. Good luck!

About the author

Mihaela Radu

Mihaela Radu is a chemical engineer but has a great passion for wood. She has been working in the field for more than 20 years, wood finishing being what defined her during this period. She gained experience working in a research institute, in her own company, as well as in a multinational. She wants to continuously share her experience with those who have the same passion - and more.

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