Friday, July 11, 2014

Fit & Finish

Sorry for the delay.  I've been busy completing this project.  It's done now, as of 7/8/2014, but I haven't had a chance to take decent photos of the completed chest.  Glamour shots are forthcoming, in the meantime here are the photos I managed to take over the past month.

Here's my setup for planing the drawer sides down.  It's super important to be really patient here and only take one or two light passes at a time and then test the fit again.  I should have taken more time than I did.  Some of the drawers skew a tiny bit in their drawer bay and jam in place.  I glued a super thin shim onto the drawer guides in the drawer bay and planed this down to get it back to where it should have been.  You can always remove more wood from the sides of the drawers, but you can't add it back...  well I suppose you can, if you don't care about it looking like crap.

All the drawers are fitted.  Major milestone!

Not pictured:

  • Fitting the drawer bottoms
  • Cutting notches in the drawer bottoms and screwing them in place
  • Fitting hardboard into each drawer between the drawer slips
  • Using spray adhesive to attach velvet to the hardboard
  • Drilling holes in the drawer faces for the drawer knobs.  Each hole is vertically located one golden ratio from the bottom edge of the drawer.
But!  I decided to try to take photos of the finishing process so you can see what the wood looks like at each stage.  There aren't a lot of in-the-act-of-doing photos because I didn't want to get dye or stain on my camera, but you'll get the idea.  

1) Sand to 120 grit.  Then vacuum the pores clean.

2) Dampen with hot water.  Hot water dries faster than cold.  I'm impatient.  Some people use distilled water for this, but I haven't found a problem with my tap water.  Water will raise the grain fibers like whiskers and they'll dry standing up.   These whiskers make the surface of the wood feel rough to the touch, so you want to get rid of them before you apply the finish.  Let it dry for a couple hours.

3) De-whisker by sanding with 180 grit.  The dye is waterborne, so if you didn't pre-raise the grain, it would have risen during the dye phase, and you don't want to sand off your dye.  So pre-raise the grain and de-whisker it before you apply your finish and you'll have smooth wood from here on out.  Vacuum the pores really well after this step.

I taped off all the dovetails because I wanted the maple drawer sides to stay pristine.  It didn't work perfectly.  The dye and stain bled into the maple wood fibers at certain points, which annoys me, but it doesn't affect the function any so I'm gonna live with it.  I'm not really sure what the best way to handle this is.  Glen Huey just sprays the front inch of his drawer sides with his HVLP system.  /shrug... maybe I'm not supposed to be fussy about this detail.  It was worth a shot, though.

Sanded, Wetted, Sanded, and Vacuumed

4)  Flood the surface with dye.  Let it soak in for a minute or so, then wipe dry.  Let it dry for an hour or two.  The dye tends to dry chalky and pinkish.  I panicked the first time I saw it, but don't worry!  It all works out in the end.  The dye is just adding a uniform undertone that shows through the next layers of finish.

5) Apply a coat of Boiled Linseed Oil to accentuate the figured grain.  Glen Huey floods the surface for 5 minutes and applies more oil to any area that sucks the oil in completely.  I've tried this before and it takes upwards of 7 days for the boards to fully cure before you can move onto the next step.  I haven't seen a real difference when I apply a decent, but much lighter coat of oil and dry the surface with a clean cloth after 1 minute.  Maybe the quartersawn white oak figure isn't as lustrous or as deep as curly or tiger maple (which he was using).  It certainly doesn't hurt to add more oil.  I just haven't really done the formal scientific visual comparison yet.  Add it to the list!

Boiled Linseed Oil applied.

6) When the oil has cured (could be a day, maybe 2.... I give it at least 24 hours), apply 1 coat of shellac.  This locks the dye and oil layers in place so that when you add the gel stain and start scrubbing rags onto the wood, you don't remove the dye.  Shellac dries pretty fast.  Give it a couple hours anyway.  You don't want it to gum up in the next step.


7) Sand the shellac layer with 300 grit very lightly.  Change your sandpaper if you get corns (finish that gums up onto your sandpaper).  Don't sand so much that you remove the dye layer and reveal bare wood.  But if you do, it's okay, just add a little dye to that spot and cover it with some more shellac.

Don't sand the dye off!

8) Rub on the Gel Stain in a Mr. Miyagi circular motion.  You're trying to fill the pores with as much gel stain as possible, but don't put so much gel stain on that it never dries.  After you feel like you've filled the pores well enough, use the application rag to remove as much as you can without sacrificing the pores.  This helps it dry faster and makes it easier to remove the excess.  Wait 3-5 minutes or so and use a clean rag to scrub the excess dried gel stain off.  I swipe at a 45 degree angle to the grain direction and sort of buff the wood so there's no gel stain streaks.  Keep turning your rag to a clean spot.  Let this dry for 24 hours.  You should be able to take a clean white cloth and lightly wipe the surface and not have any (wet) gel stain end up on the rag.

The Gel Stain adds the dominant color tone of the finish.  If you apply the Gel Stain after everything is assembled, it tends to accumulate in corners and along seams.  You can't ever really remove all of it, so this accumulation has the effect of aging the piece.  Dust and grime accumulate in those corners over several years, so this is a shortcut to that effect.  I pre-finished all of my parts because I wanted the clean and new look and because I hate drips.  It's way easier to avoid drips when every part is flat on a table.

Dye + Oil + Shellac on the left.  The addition of gel stain on the right.  

All gelled up.

9) Apply 1 decent coat of Polyurethane with the grain.  I'm using General Finishes Arm-R-Seal Satin.  I take a clean cotton rag and fold it in thirds in multiple directions and then roll it up into a tight... umm... roll.  Then I pinch it with a binder clip.  This keeps the cloth in tension, giving you a nice flat, firm applicator.  The binder clip handles make it easy to keep your fingers out of the finish too.   Let this dry 24 hours.

10) Sand very lightly with 300 grit with the grain.

11) Apply 1 light coat of Polyurethane with the grain.   Your goal here to not have any streaks whatsoever.  The lighter the better as it will prevent drips and runs.  Let this dry for 24 hours.

Polyurethane adds the amber glow we've been waiting for.  Phew!

12) Use a gray or white fibratex pad and lightly scuff the surface going with the grain
 The goal here is to bring the surface to an even sheen.  Don't worry if it looks dull.  Just don't rub so hard that you cut into the finish and reveal bare wood again.

13) Rub on some paste wax, let it haze over and then buff to an even sheen.  Mmmm...  all done.  :)

It's a lot of steps, takes about 4 days or so if you're efficient with your time and is a lot fussier than just throwing on some Minwax pigment stain, but I don't care anymore.  I'm in love with this finishing process.  I have super consistent results on every board every single time I do this.  The end result just feels so nice to the touch, the sheen is perfect, and the figured grain isn't obscured by pigment particles.  It glows so warmly in the sunlight.  I can't wait to take the final photos.

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