10 Wood Finishing Techniques

Check out the top 10 wood finishing techniques and learn how to fix the most common finishing mistakes.



These wood finishing techniques can solve any mistakes and still achieve the best looking end product.
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Not smooth enough. Swirl marks tell you that you haven’t done enough sanding to eliminate scratches.
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Smoothing slurry. Wet-sanding with the oil or stain you used helps eliminate swirls more rapidly without ruining the color.
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Uneven oiling. Glue residue on this mortise-and-tenon joint prevents the wood from absorbing oil evenly.
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Touch-up. When removing glue squeeze-out, sand with the grain using P220-grit sandpaper. Keep the block flat against the work to avoid rounding over an edge. Shield adjacent surfaces with a wide drywall knife.
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Overdone. It doesn’t take much to sand through the face veneer on hardwood plywood.
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Practice patch. Make a similar burn-through on a scrap of the same plywood. Mix touch-up powders with thinned shellac to match the color of the face veneer and hide the sanded-through spot.
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Faux finish. Carefully paint the tinted shellac over the sand-through. Apply a glaze to help blend the patch into the surrounding wood.
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Easy fix. This maple door didn’t take dye well, leaving lap marks on the frame. A wet rag rubbed over the dye will even out the color, minimizing blotchiness.
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Sand by hand. To eliminate cross-grain scratches, finish sanding by hand, always moving with the grain.
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Check your work. Wipe on mineral spirits before applying the finish. This will reveal any lingering scratches or patches of tearout.
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Tone it down. A contrasting glaze usually will correct a color that’s wrong. Here, black glaze will tame a too-red stain on this oak door.
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Wipe off the excess glaze almost immediately, revealing a better color.
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Sand lightly. Pine is one of several woods that blotch easily.
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To even things out, begin by scuff-sanding.
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Brush on a glaze to help cover up the blotches.
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Wipe away the excess glaze to reveal a much more uniform color.
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Control penetration. A light coat of shellac thinned to a 1-lb. cut creates a good foundation before coloring the wood.
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No blotching. Stain over a shellac washcoat has much less tendency to blotch.
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Sample board. Test the finish you want to use on a scrap of the same wood used in the workpiece.
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Scrape or sand to remove drips that have dried completely.
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Once a drip has dried completely, scrape it off with a razor blade.
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Or sand dried drips flush.
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Wipe off all the contaminated topcoat as soon as you see it crawl.
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A light spray of shellac will isolate the contamination, so you can reapply the topcoat.
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Witnesses. Sanding too much can produce witness lines, whitish areas exposing earlier coats of finish.
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Burned up. If you sand the topcoat too aggressively or don’t keep the sanding block level, you risk removing some of the finish.
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Restore the color. Use a small artist’s brush to reapply stain to the sanded-through area.
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Seal the color. Brush a light coat of shellac over the stain touch-up.
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Keep sanding to remove witness lines. Using fine sandpaper and a light touch, sand the surface to level it as much as possible before applying more topcoat.
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Add another topcoat. Apply more of the topcoat to the entire surface, not just where the witness lines had been.
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“Best Finishing Techniques” from the Editors of “Fine Woodworking,” is a valuable resource filled with tips and tricks for creating the best finishes possible.
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