10 Wood Finishing Techniques

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

| May 2014

  • These wood finishing techniques can solve any mistakes and still achieve the best looking end product.
    Photo courtesy The Taunton Press
  • Not smooth enough. Swirl marks tell you that you haven’t done enough sanding to eliminate scratches.
    Photo courtesy The Taunton Press
  • Smoothing slurry. Wet-sanding with the oil or stain you used helps eliminate swirls more rapidly without ruining the color.
    Photo courtesy The Taunton Press
  • Uneven oiling. Glue residue on this mortise-and-tenon joint prevents the wood from absorbing oil evenly.
    Photo courtesy The Taunton Press
  • 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.
    Photo courtesy The Taunton Press
  • Overdone. It doesn’t take much to sand through the face veneer on hardwood plywood.
    Photo courtesy The Taunton Press
  • 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.
    Photo courtesy The Taunton Press
  • Faux finish. Carefully paint the tinted shellac over the sand-through. Apply a glaze to help blend the patch into the surrounding wood.
    Photo courtesy The Taunton Press
  • 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.
    Photo courtesy The Taunton Press
  • Sand by hand. To eliminate cross-grain scratches, finish sanding by hand, always moving with the grain.
    Photo courtesy The Taunton Press
  • Check your work. Wipe on mineral spirits before applying the finish. This will reveal any lingering scratches or patches of tearout.
    Photo courtesy The Taunton Press
  • 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.
    Photo courtesy The Taunton Press
  • Wipe off the excess glaze almost immediately, revealing a better color.
    Photo courtesy The Taunton Press
  • Sand lightly. Pine is one of several woods that blotch easily.
    Photo courtesy The Taunton Press
  • To even things out, begin by scuff-sanding.
    Photo courtesy The Taunton Press
  • Brush on a glaze to help cover up the blotches.
    Photo courtesy The Taunton Press
  • Wipe away the excess glaze to reveal a much more uniform color.
    Photo courtesy The Taunton Press
  • Control penetration. A light coat of shellac thinned to a 1-lb. cut creates a good foundation before coloring the wood.
    Photo courtesy The Taunton Press
  • No blotching. Stain over a shellac washcoat has much less tendency to blotch.
    Photo courtesy The Taunton Press
  • Sample board. Test the finish you want to use on a scrap of the same wood used in the workpiece.
    Photo courtesy The Taunton Press
  • Scrape or sand to remove drips that have dried completely.
    Photo courtesy The Taunton Press
  • Once a drip has dried completely, scrape it off with a razor blade.
    Photo courtesy The Taunton Press
  • Or sand dried drips flush.
    Photo courtesy The Taunton Press
  • Wipe off all the contaminated topcoat as soon as you see it crawl.
    Photo courtesy The Taunton Press
  • A light spray of shellac will isolate the contamination, so you can reapply the topcoat.
    Photo courtesy The Taunton Press
  • Witnesses. Sanding too much can produce witness lines, whitish areas exposing earlier coats of finish.
    Photo courtesy The Taunton Press
  • Burned up. If you sand the topcoat too aggressively or don’t keep the sanding block level, you risk removing some of the finish.
    Photo courtesy The Taunton Press
  • Restore the color. Use a small artist’s brush to reapply stain to the sanded-through area.
    Photo courtesy The Taunton Press
  • Seal the color. Brush a light coat of shellac over the stain touch-up.
    Photo courtesy The Taunton Press
  • 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.
    Photo courtesy The Taunton Press
  • Add another topcoat. Apply more of the topcoat to the entire surface, not just where the witness lines had been.
    Photo courtesy The Taunton Press
  • “Best Finishing Techniques” from the Editors of “Fine Woodworking,” is a valuable resource filled with tips and tricks for creating the best finishes possible.
    Cover courtesy The Taunton Press

Never fear finishing again! The Editors of Fine Woodworking will give you the skills necessary and confidence to apply finish with ease. Best Finishing Techniques (Taunton Press, 2011) is an invaluable reference that offers foolproof techniques to guarantee a perfect finish every time. In the following excerpt, Teri Masaschi will teach you a few wood finishing techniques, tips and tricks for fixing finishing mistakes.

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: Best Finishing Techniques.

Top 10 Wood Finishing Techniques for Fixing Mistakes

Hobbyists and professionals alike make mistakes in the shop. When you’re building a piece, fixing an error is fairly straightforward: Back up and start again by milling a new piece, recutting a joint, or fitting in a patch. But finishing mistakes can be harder to overcome—hence the dread many woodworkers feel.

Problems can pop up at any one of three points in the finishing process—surface preparation (and assembly), staining and coloring, and applying the topcoat. I’ll show you some of the methods I use as a professional to back out of a mistake and to try to keep it from happening in the first place.



The best way to avoid mistakes altogether is to practice on a sample board. Testing the colors and materials you want to use will alert you to problems before you risk ruining an expensive project. Also, resist the urge to rush through the finishing process. You can nearly always tell when someone has taken a shortcut.

And finally, even if you make mistakes you can’t fix, after suffering through them you probably won’t repeat the same ones again.





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