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The Best Finish For Your Woodworking Projects

Allan Little woodworker

Allan Little compares finish of new sipo door next to 15 year old end table

In woodworking, sanding and finishing go hand in hand. Sanding through the sequence of grits until there are no machine marks and the wood is polished, a.k.a. Sanding The Sequence, is the key to making even average wood look it’s best. And when you apply the penetrating Waterlox finish, great results are guaranteed. But before you apply, be sure to clean the surface really well in order to keep from trapping particles in this amazing, crystal clear finish.

A well sanded and finished 2×4 stud looks better to me than a piece of rosewood with planner ripple and sanding swirl marks covered in a polyurethane finish. ~ Allan Little

When I started making this frame and panel solid wood sipo door, I decided it was the perfect project to document my finishing, sanding, gluing and clamping techniques to share.

The finish that I have used almost exclusively for the last twenty plus years is Waterlox Original. In the series of videos below, I will show step by step how to produce a spectacular finish in a very low-tech, low overhead manner. Every aspect of producing this unmatched finish is covered; from sanding, surface preparation, application of the finish, and scratching or etching between multiple coats. I also show a very unique way I suspend the door horizontally on an inexpensive shop made rotisserie mechanism that allows all surfaces of the door to be finished without handling.

In the photo at the top of this post you will see why I love the Waterlox finish. The genuine mahogany bedside table was built and finished over fifteen years ago and I haven’t touched the finish since. Since Waterlox reveals the natural color of the wood, the only apparent difference of these finishes is that one is redder than the other. Sipo, also known as African mahogany, is naturally browner while genuine mahogany is a warmer, redder color. The mahogany table has darkened substantially over the years, but this tung oil based finish has held up perfectly.

NOTE: It’s important to note, that while Waterlox Original Finish is tung oil based it is NOT pure tung oil. Waterlox is a specially processed tung oil and you will not get the same results if you buy basic tung oil from your hardware store.

Hope you find these videos helpful. You can watch the whole series as well as many other woodworking videos on my YouTube channel. There are a total of 17 for this woodworking project.

If you want to be notified each time I upload a new video, visit my YouTube channel: AskWoodman.TV and hit subscribe. If you don’t have a YouTube account, you have the option of signing up to my blog in the box on the top right of my site. Or you can create a YouTube account and subscribe to both!

[tags] finish, finishing, sanding, educational [/tags]

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29 Responses to The Best Finish For Your Woodworking Projects

  1. Nancy May 19, 2010 at 4:47 pm #

    We love our new door! Thanks Allan!

  2. carl guillome June 13, 2010 at 1:31 pm #

    can you email details on how to make the rotisserie mechanism that allows all sides of the door to be worked on.

  3. AskWoodman June 13, 2010 at 10:22 pm #

    Carl, There are 3-4 more videos in this series that still need editing. I will show detailed close ups showing how to make the rotisserie using ordinary items found in most shops. I am occupied with a very complex project now, so will not be able to post these videos until July. Thanks for visiting my site. Allan

  4. john March 22, 2011 at 6:40 pm #

    Thank you Allen for your tips and your great work,it is so interesting to watch and to learn so much from it
    regards john

  5. AskWoodman March 23, 2011 at 8:07 am #

    Thank you for the kind words John. I have many more videos almost ready and many more planned. I learn so much from the incredible array of information online, it is very gratifying when people find value in my posts.

  6. Paulo Melo April 4, 2011 at 9:55 am #

    Just to thank You Allan, for your wonderful work and sharing.

    Regards from Portugal

  7. AskWoodman April 4, 2011 at 10:16 am #

    Thanks for watching Paulo. Portugal must be a beautiful place. The Atlantic, the grapes, the olive trees and four seasons to enjoy them in. I am jealous :)

  8. Bryan T November 17, 2011 at 9:57 pm #

    Allen,

    I’ve really enjoyed your video series on the Sipo door project and I found it very helpful and informative, particularly the info on Waterlox. But it left me with a fundamental question: why does a professional woodworker like yourself choose to sand your work as opposed to using a smoothing plane and/or card scraper. It is significantly cheaper in the long run, gets you a finished surface much faster (or very close to it), and is much healthier because there’s much less dust in your shop (which creates a better environment for applying your finish for those of us in “garage shops”.) Granted, you can’t or shouldn’t plane or scrape every project, but I wonder what your reasons are for avoiding it altogether. Thanks for doing this site -it and others like it has helped new folks like me get started in the craft.

  9. john martino December 14, 2011 at 9:02 am #

    Thank you for some inspirational information using tung oil.
    I plan to make some furniture using eucalyptus gums and have read about the difficulty in gluing. It was recommended to wipe glue areas with a spirit to remove oils.
    Now my problem!
    Prefinishing is a great idea.
    How does prefinishing affect glueing?

  10. John Reeves December 19, 2011 at 10:52 am #

    Allen,

    I have just found your work and videos and I enjoy them very much. I have been using Waterlox for a few years but I am consistently having a problem with foaming. The surface is too rough so I spend too much time sanding it back smooth. After watching your series on finishing the Sipo door I realized that I am not doing something properly.

    I use the same method of cleaning after sanding that you do (finishing up with my hand and a vacuum). I use a quality ox hair brush for application but I get a lot of foaming during application. I have tried to increase the amount in the brush, decreasing the amount in the brush, brushing for a longer period of time so the Waterlox can begin to become more viscus. I have used t-shirt wrapped in cheese cloth but the wrinkles in the cheese cloth leave lines in the finish.

    I would greatly appreciate some guidance and/or advise on such a basic procedure that I am a bit frustrated with.

    John

  11. AskWoodman December 22, 2011 at 9:52 pm #

    Hi John I apologize for the lateness of my reply but have been locked out of my site due to password issues as a result of my site getting hacked. I have not seen foaming issues before. I don’t want to offend you, but are you shaking the can? This could produce bubbles. I am assuming you are not so I think the culprit must be your brush or some type of contaminate. I use China bristle brushes but only if the finishing situation calls for the bristles getting into a tight area. Have you tried a disposable foam brush? I am wondering if the type of brush you are using is causing many little bubbles to form as the Waterlox flows through the bristles. Could there be some contaminate left in your brush from another product that could be causing the foaming. Are you cleaning your brush with just pure thinner and a wire brush and not something with a detergent? Any type of cotton like cheesecloth is a lint bomb. Try using panty hose. The nylon is super tough and has no lint. You can put a little clothe inside a panty hose and tie knots in each end to trap lint which works as a great applicator. I personally am a foam brush man myself. I like the way they hold material and allow me to quickly brush out to get uniform coverage. Let me know what you find, I am very curious. I hope I was able to help. Keep in touch. Allan

  12. AskWoodman December 22, 2011 at 10:09 pm #

    Hi John Sorry for the lateness of my reply, but my site was hacked and I have been locked out while things were resolved. I prefinish whenever i can because to apply multiple coats to say the inside of a drawer and get the transitions at the corners and bottom right is really tough. But glue needs to bond to bare wood, the finish stops this. So all you have to do is mask the area to be glued with masking tape and finish away. Then when it is time to finish just peal off the tape and apply glue. The other good thing about this is that the glue squeeze from the joint does not want to stick to the finished area so is very easy to peal off after it sets up a bit. Masking tape comes in many widths down to tape for pin stripe masking. I mostly just use the cheap yellow masking tape from the hardware store. Oil finishes can dissolve the adhesives in tape so make sure it is pressed down really well. Oily woods are always tough to glue.Several years ago did a lot of work with teak and used resorcinol glue with success. I hope this helped and write back any time. Allan

  13. John Reeves December 23, 2011 at 8:12 am #

    Allen,

    Thanks. I hope your site has recovered. I would love to hang a few hackers by their toes!

    I have been using an expensive brush made out of something’s tail hair and cleaning it in mineral spirits (low odor) which is formulated differently from the mineral spirits on old. Now, I will go a purchase some foam brushed. Previously I have used the foam brushes but they fell apart. My cheapest source may have been too poorly made.

    iI have taped my joints before and that is a great way to finish prior to glue up. This project is a table top so that is not an issue and really should be an easy thing to finish. Also, I do use a bail made of t-shirt material for padding and I do get a nicer finish. At the moment, I am in the thickness building stage so I am trying to keep to a brush.

    If you care to recommend any particular brand of foam brush to consider or to stay from, all advise is appreciated.

    Many thanks, again. Good luck with the site.

  14. Tom Eddleman February 10, 2012 at 8:05 am #

    Allan,
    It all started looking for information on how to sharpen planer and jointer blades myself. After watching your videos on the Makita sharpener I watched the rest of your videos.
    Thank you very much. There was a lot of information there that I have benefited from, and I’m grateful.
    I incorporate wood with the glass that I etch and it needs to look as good as the glass.
    Thanks,
    Tom Eddleman

  15. Russell Munford February 24, 2012 at 3:01 am #

    Hi I had a chance to view some of your video on refinishing the door. Loved it. I am working on refininshing a oak table my wife has had for years. It’s at least 100 years old. I have stripped it down and sanded it. It had a lot of fiinsh on it so it took a while. Any way I need to know do you use the tung oil only or should I use a stain and then put several coats of tung oil over it? I dont want to mess this up. Its a beautiful table. Looking forward to your reply. The table is oak.

  16. AskWoodman February 24, 2012 at 10:10 pm #

    Hi Russell, First I want to say I never use pure tung oil because it really is not a finish but is merely a component of a finish I have used for over 25 years called Waterlox. Pure tung oil is a sticky mess that does not dry properly or form a protective skin. Waterlox is tung oil based but has the drying agents and resin hardeners mixed into a ready to use product. I only stain furniture if forced to in order to make a client happy. Waterlox is totally compatible to all oil base stains. I use the Waterlox Original Medium Sheen for most of my finishing. It is always the base coats even for their other products also. I really like their Original High Gloss also. They have a satin but I DO NOT recommend it. In my opinion, I would consider staining 100 year old oak a crime. Write me at gmail if you want to send me pics and we can chat more about a strategy. Just make sure that your sanding is 100% done and you are sure there are no scratches or sander swirl marks because Waterlox will show those because it has so much pop. I use a small magnifying glass because of my 52 year old eyes. Allan

  17. Thurston June 13, 2012 at 9:17 pm #

    For some reasons, some of your great videos are not available in youtube. Do you know what happened? Many thanks.

    I am eagerly waiting to learn more from you.

    Thurston

  18. AskWoodman June 13, 2012 at 10:51 pm #

    Hi Thurston I looked at my channel and did not see any unusual activity like blocks or holds. Will you tell me what you are experiencing? Thank you very much for bringing this to my attention. Allan

  19. Christy July 1, 2012 at 8:29 am #

    Hi!

    I have a brand new cherry wood Lendrum Saxony spinning wheel which must be finished. I have friends who have finished with pure tung oil and then waxed. The process decribed is to cut the tung oil 50/50 with citrasolve for the first coat and then thin it for 2-3 subsequent coats. Drying time between coats is a least a week and then there is laborous sanding after every coat to remove excess material. They have done 3-4 coats and then applied carnuba wax for a low sheen finish.

    I want to finish my wheel right and I want it to be an heirloom piece, so if this is the best process, I’ll do it. I am looking to protect my investment and enhance the beauty of the cherry wood.

    However, the process you describe using Waterlox sounds much easier and just as forgiving. In fact, if I would need to refinish due to unforseen damage, it sounds like waxing would make that more difficult as it would have to be removed.

    A spinning wheel has many intricate and moving parts, but does not receive the kind of surface use a piece of furniture gets. Would you recommend a product like Waterlox? Should I sand between every coat, or just scratch after 3 coats if I go for 6-7? I am not sure I understand why the tung oil proponents are taking all the material off after every coat. I know they are looking for penetration of the oil into the wood, but aren’t they also building a surface for protection and to enhance the beauty of the wood? Or is that what the wax is for? Does the varnish in the Waterlox substitute for the wax finish my friends are using?

    Thanks for any advice, I spend a lot more time with wool and fiber than wood, but want my dream wheel to be the showpiece, precision tool of my imagination!

    Christy

  20. AskWoodman July 6, 2012 at 10:33 pm #

    Hi Christy,

    The Tung oil process your friend recommend are what I call “Hippie Finishes”. It is the easy and lazy way to pretend one has done a good job. I could never get away with that for my furniture for my clients. And you are correct about wax. It is not allowed in my shop in any form. It is not a finish as much as a contaminate and grime attractor.

    Scratching every third coat of Waterlox is fine. Especially since you have a piece with many intricate parts so your per coat application will be lighter than a horizontal surface.

    There is no better finish than Waterlox Original Sealer/Finish Medium Sheen. (Don’t use the Satin, it is trouble because of the waxing agents to dull sheen.) There is no better finish for making the natural beauty of the wood pop like Waterlox.

    And to freshen the finish periodically is a snap. A light scratch and coat is all that is required and you can be certain of total bond and adhesion. Natural oil finishes do not form an elastic skin like Waterlox so grime and gunk gets embedded in the finish so to merely reapply oil just traps it.

    You can brush on for sure two coats in a day and perhaps three depending on conditions, but I would recommend a full 24 before scratching.

    Don’t use steel wool or rags or tack clothes on your piece. Pantyhose is the only cheap lint free cloth. 3M makes a product called SandBlaster which is a flexible foam pad with abrasive material on one side. This would conform to all the spindles and intricate parts for scratching. Use a 320.

    Cherry is really know for quick oxidizing. So to trap the most brilliant color of the wood I would recommend having all your finishing items ready, do a light sanding with 220 Sandblaster, then 320 clean and vac and then seal that piece off from the atmosphere and you will have the most brilliant wood tone possible. I always save the final 320 sanding on my pieces until I am very nearly ready to seal them off from the air. It really make for a great look. It is shocking how fast woods react with the atmosphere to get a dull oxidized skin. Darker wood with more tannins are much more reactive.

    I am happy to help you have a successful project so we can have a chat on the phone if you like. Allan

  21. Becky July 8, 2012 at 7:00 pm #

    Hi Allan,

    Your tutorials are wonderful and I just purchased my first quart of Waterlox. (I live in CA and cannot get larger quantities) Before I was “enlightened” I used pure tung oil on my canary wood cabinet door. while it looks beautiful, you’re right it is pretty oily three days later. what do I do next? Can I put the Waterlox on next or should there be an in between step?

    Thank you very much.

    Becky

  22. AskWoodman July 8, 2012 at 7:44 pm #

    Becky, I bet that canary wood is beautiful. First tell me which Waterlox you bought. I use only the Original Sealer/Finish Medium Sheen. I do not use or recommend the Satin because of the waxing agent they use to cloud the sheen. The fumes are pretty potent from Waterlox. I did not think you could buy any variation or size in CA. For your situation, pure oils do not have drying agents and do not form a protective skin, so they usually become grime attractors. I would take a clean panty hose (lint free material) and vigorously wipe as much excess oil off the piece with mineral spirits. Let this dry (it won’t take long) and then apply your finish with a clean foam brush (like Jen Poly brand) that won’t come apart with contact with the solvent in the Waterlox. Write me at askwoodman@gmail and send me a pic and we can continue this conversation so you can have a successful project. Allan

  23. Bob August 28, 2012 at 12:22 am #

    Hi Allan,

    You have a great website for a learning experience. I really enjoy watching the videos and have benefited tremendously from them.

    I paid particular attention to the information in the Waterlox vids as I am about to start the refinishing of my front door. It is an 8 panel (4 long and 4 smaller, mixed sizes), pine door. I want to stain it dark walnut to comply with the HOA rules. I plan on sanding through the steps and then some paint stripper in the intricate molded parts. A final sanding with 320 and then a vacuum cleanup prior to staining.

    Any other thoughts I should consider.

    Thanks much for your guidance.

    Bob

  24. AskWoodman August 28, 2012 at 12:32 am #

    Hi Bob, Write me at askwoodman@gmail.com and we can exchange phone numbers and have a chat about your project. It is easier than writing all the info. I have everything distilled down to easy recipe from years of using Waterlox. Send me some pics of your door so I can get a sense of it too. Allan

  25. Dan November 11, 2012 at 2:25 pm #

    Allan, thank for all the time you spend sharing your expertise. I really like the results of Waterlox on mahogany, I am getting ready to start a mahogany childs crib and changing table as my first grand child is on the way, would you recommend any different finishing schedule for a baby bed such as a shellac seal coat over Waterlox followed by a clear finish coat or stop with multiple coats of Waterlox
    Thanks Dan

  26. AskWoodMan November 11, 2012 at 10:46 pm #

    Hi Dan, I would just stick with the straight Waterlox Original Sealer Finish Medium sheen. It really makes Mahogany pop. If you were wanting to change color of the piece you could use a tinted shellac or stain first, and then top coat with the Waterlox to form a tough skin. I personally would just keep it simple. Waterlox is a great choice for a child’s furniture because after the cure period, it is considered a food grade finish. And the best thing is that it can be indefinitely touched up if you need to seal up some teeth marks to get the crib ready for the next grand child :-) Don’t hesitate to write me at askwoodman@gmail.com if you want to send pics or discuss your project in more detail. Allan

  27. Matt Cosgrave November 27, 2012 at 12:41 pm #

    Thanks for taking the time to make the videos, they have been a massive help, all the best from England

  28. dennis bracci January 24, 2013 at 5:49 pm #

    Saw your utube and took your advice about useing waterlox. I made mission style coffee table and two side tables for a customer. i made them out of tigerwood. WOW. what a finish. never used anything like it. the tigerwood poped like, well you know. thanks for your help. Dennis.

  29. Hantzel Angulo February 5, 2013 at 9:31 pm #

    Thank you very much for your video series depicting the rotisserie mechanism for the doors .

    I spent at least 4 days these past month replicating the device and building some new sawhorses to accomodate them .
    I live in Cancun where besides working in a travel agency I repair front doors of expensive houses all my weekends, here that means dealing with very, very heavy solid doors of tropical woods such as mahogany, cedar , tzalam and of course zapote(sapodilla/manilkara zapota), not all of them are beautiful to be honest but all af them are over 1 3/4 inches thick ,since all of them are custom made ,
    Your mechanism has worked perfectly but had to use longer and stronger woodscrews to support the door ( mainly out of fear ….) Besides the obvious benefits already stated by you and some others, I would like to say that I got at least 2 other jobs this week , just because people were impressed by my “superior carpentry skills” made apparent by the use of the mechanism.
    I have to use catalyzed polyurethane varnishes and also catalyzed sealers for the jobs, ( average of 3 full days per door) due to the heavy amount of sun and rain in the area. My late grandfather used to say that only very rich people and very poor people lived by the sea , the poor because they had no choice and the rich because they could afford to pay lots of money , as the sea destroys everything very fast .

    Once again thank you for sharing your knowledge ( and for making me look good!!)
    Hans Angulo

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