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Q&A with Wood Finishing Expert Bruce Johnson

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Restore & Repair

1

Repairing white rings or water stains

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Q

One of my relatives placed a hot cup of tea on our wood dining room table and it left a huge white ring? How do I remove the ring from the table?

A

The white ring is moisture that has been absorbed by the finish. When you do get white rings appearing, this is a sign that the finish is wearing out and losing its ability to repel moisture. The heat from this cup of tea softened the finish and allowed the moisture to get into the top layer of finish. In this case, since it is a new white ring, sometimes you can be successful using a hairdryer on the low/warm setting to evaporate that moisture back out. However, if you have a piece of furniture with a white ring that has been in there for some time, we need a little bit of abrasiveness to remove it. I usually get a pad of 4-0 steel wool - the finest steel wool they make. The steel wool by itself is going to leave scratches, so I first pour onto the white ring a finishing product, usually Minwax® Antique Oil or Minwax® Wipe-On Poly, and then use the 4-0 steel wool on top of the oil to lightly abrade the surface. Take a rag, wipe it off, check it, and gradually you'll see that white ring disappearing. Then take Minwax® Wipe-On Poly or Minwax® Antique Oil and go over the entire surface of the table, because that white ring indicates the finish is worn out. It needs another coat of finish to prevent that from happening again.

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2

Repairing a surface scratch

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Q

What is the best way to repair a scratch in my dining room table?

A

Let's start with the assumption that we don't want to refinish the table; we just want to make that scratch disappear. The solution is going to depend on how deep it is. If it's just a shallow scratch, something that just removed a little bit of the finish but hasn't removed any wood, then my recommendation would be the Minwax® Wood Finish™ Stain Markers. These are little miniature felt pens with miniature cans of wood stain inside them and they come in the 8 most popular Minwax® colors. You can generally find a stain marker that's going to match the color of the table. Then using the felt tip on the stain marker you can very carefully fill in the missing color. If you get a little bit on the outside where you don't want it, just take a rag and wipe it off.

If the scratch has penetrated into the wood, then we need to actually put some substance in there and since we're not going to refinish the table, I would recommend Minwax® Wood Putty. It comes in 10 different colors. You just take the end of your finger, pick the color that's going to match the closest, rub it into the scratch, take a rag and wipe off the excess. This will level it out with the rest of the table.

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3

Recognizing authenticity of antique furniture

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Q

I have some old furniture that looks Mission to me. How can I tell if it really is of that style and period, or if it's just a modernist knock off?

A

Just about anybody with enough practice can go out and create an Arts and Crafts/Mission Oak color. Minwax® has made that even easier now. Recognizing the popularity of Arts and Crafts, they have added three more colors - American Chestnut, Mission Oak, and Classic Black - to their PolyShades® line. Getting the look of an Arts and Crafts piece is much easier now than it ever was before.

Knowing whether or not the piece is authentic isn't going to come from looking at the color - it's going to be looking at the construction. Turn it upside down and look for tell-tale clues. "Phillips" head screws, for instance, would not be found on an authentic piece of Arts and Crafts furniture. "Philips" head screws weren't introduced until the late 1920's and your good Arts and Crafts furniture was made before then. Look for signs of fresh glue, new construction, anything underneath it or on the back of it for some indication of when that piece was made.

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4

Repairing raised grain

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Q

I recently did some ironing on a towel placed over an oak dresser. The finish still looks okay, but I can really feel the grain. How can I repair the texture?

A

It obviously was an old finish that was affected by the heat. In this case, the combination of the heat going through that towel and probably the texture of the towel got embedded into the surface as well. It's an unfortunate thing, but it certainly is not going to make you have to refinish the piece. It sounds like in this case the finish is still intact. It probably softened for a few minutes, and then once the towel and the iron were removed, it rehardened.

So what I would do is take some 220 sand paper and very lightly, with just the tips of your fingertips, sand the finish. Note that you only want to sand the finish - not the wood. Do not sand through the finish! The 220 sandpaper is just going to sand that roughness off the top layer of finish. Run your fingertips over, and when it's nice and smooth, take a cloth, wipe off all the dust, and then put another coat of finish back on. In the case of an antique, where we've already got some finish on but we want to build up some more finish, I would recommend using Minwax® Antique Oil or the Minwax® Tung Oil. They both give you more of an antique effect, and yet will give you good protection.

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5

Revitalizing older furniture without refinishing

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Q

What is the best approach for older furniture that does not need to be fully refinished, but needs the finish refreshed (removing gunk and dirt, minimizing the scratches, etc) while retaining the character of the original finish?

A

The first thing you want to do is make sure, like that old physician's adage, first do no harm. You don't want to use a harsh cleaner. Don't suddenly just grab ammonia, or any sort of cleaner, TSP, even mineral spirits. I would not use any of those because old finishes can be rather fragile, and you might find that instead of cleaning it you're actually stripping it. That's going to make a bigger job for you, and the piece is worth less when you're done with it than if you'd left that old finish intact. So the first thing I would do would be to just give it a very careful cleaning. Make sure you're using a product like Minwax® Wood Cabinet Cleaner - it comes in a convenient trigger spray. Use a wood cleaner that is specifically designed for wood, not something that you would typically use to clean your floors, like ammonia. Just use Minwax® Wood Cleaner and a soft rag, clean off the gunk, and work on small sections at a time. This is not something you do when you're in a big hurry.

Once you get it clean, the original finish, whether it's shellac or an early form of lacquer, needs some protection. If the piece has a lot of scratches on it, you can go back and use Minwax® Wood Finish™ Stain Markers to touch up your scratches. If you like the look of the scratches and consider that part of the character of the piece, then don't worry about them because you're still going to put one more coat of finish on there, and you can go in one of two directions depending on your personal preference.

When preserving an antique finish, I recommend using Minwax® Paste Finishing Wax. You can apply it with a rag, rub it on the wood, let it dry but not completely harden, and then buff it off. That thin coat of paste wax will seal the original finish, but it won't change the appearance of it dramatically.

The other option you have, if you like rubbing on oils rather than rubbing out paste wax, you can go with Minwax® Tung Oil or Minwax® Antique Oil. Any of those would be acceptable and preferable to sanding it, refinishing it, or even putting a coat of Minwax® Fast-Drying Polyurethane on it. I would not do it. In a case like this, it's going to be wax, tung oil, or antique oil, after that careful cleaning.

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6

Refinishing a veneer table

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Q

I would like to refinish a Rosewood veneer end table. Should I strip the existing finish and should I apply a sealer before I finish with an antique oil finish?

A

Okay, so we've got Rosewood and we've got veneer. By veneer meaning that we've got a sheet of Rosewood that may only be a 16th, maybe even a 32nd of an inch thick. That means that we have to rule out any sort of abrasive sanding, and it also means we rule out any sort of a stripper or remover that may require water as a rinse. Water can seep underneath the veneer and soften the glue to the point where the veneer actually starts to loosen at the ends, or it can seep right into the middle where there might be a joint between two pieces of veneer. With any sort of paint and poly remover, do not use water as the final rinse. I always use Formby's® Paint and Poly Remover or the Formby's® Paint and Poly Remover Wash, which does not contain water. That way you're not introducing water into the equation. So for getting the old finish off, it means no stripper that requires water as a rinse and no heavy sanding because you don't want to sand through that very thin sheet of veneer.

As far as the final finish goes, a sanding sealer is optional. If I was using Minwax® Antique Oil, I would probably not use the sanding sealer. Instead, once I got the wood completely stripped and lightly sanded so it was all nice and smooth, I would probably start by applying the first of maybe 3 or 4 coats of Minwax® Antique Oil to give it a great hand-rubbed effect. And with the rosewood having a lot of oil content of its own. You may find that 2 or 3 coats are all that it needs to saturate all of the pores with the oil. What I would do is go back every six months or so, anytime it starts to look a little bit dry and worn, get out a can of Minwax® Antique Oil and spread another coat on it.

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Wood Preparation

1

Proper treatment of unfinished pine

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Q

Should a sanding sealer always be used prior to staining unfinished Pine?

A

Not necessarily. A sanding sealer is a coat of finish specifically designed to dry very quickly and sand very easily. You see sanding sealers used the most on floors, because a contractor or a do-it-yourselfer can put down a coat of sanding sealer, and it's going to dry quickly and sand more easily than if you had just put on your first coat of Minwax® Fast-Drying Polyurethane or Minwax® Polyurethane for Floors. In other words, when time is of the essence, a sanding sealer comes in handy. However, if you don't want to use a sanding sealer, it's perfectly acceptable not to. You would apply your first coat of finish directly to the wood. Instead of drying in just a matter of a few hours, typically you will have to let it dry over night, come back the next day, sand it lightly and put on your second coat of finish. So it's all a matter of time versus investment in the can of sanding sealer.

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2

Color matching on wood filler

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Q

Can you create specialty stain wood filler that will match an odd color material?

A

Getting a wood filler that will accept the stain either wet or dry has always been a challenge. You want a material that is going to dry extremely hard, yet at the same time after it's dry, you want it to accept the stain. I use Minwax® Stainable Wood Filler because I found that it comes the closest and gives me the best opportunity to match it up. After it's dry, Minwax Stainable Wood Filler has the color of natural wood with a yellowish tone. It will accept a stain more readily than any of the other synthetic fillers I've ever worked with.

That doesn't mean that you don't have to do some experimentation. One of the things I always keep in my shop are those inexpensive artist brushes. While the Stainable Wood Filler accepts the stain, it may not always accept it identical to the pores of the wood immediately surrounding it. So take your artist brush with a little bit of stain, dab it on there, let it sit on the filler for 5 or 6 minutes to soak in deep enough, wipe it off with the end of a cotton swab, and then check your color. If it isn't quite right, you can always add a little bit more color to it. That's the great thing about the Minwax® oil-based stains - they give you the ability to work with them whether you're mixing them together on top of the surface or even before you apply them, but they'll do a lot better than any of the homemade remedies I've ever messed with.

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3

Filling gaps in miter joints

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Q

I'm an amateur woodworker and have recently started making my own picture frames. Unfortunately, some of my early attempts left unsightly gaps in my miter joints. The frames are nailed and glued, so I can't take them apart and recut them. Any suggestions for filling the gaps?

A

Don't feel badly, for I've seen gaps on frames made by professional woodworkers--and me. The difference is that the professionals know how to disguise the gaps in their miter joints. I prefer to use Minwax® Stainable Wood Filler rather than the old sawdust-and-glue mixture, simply because the Stainable Wood Filler dries quickly, is easy to sand and accepts a stain better than anything else I have tried. To help the patch blend into the surrounding wood, be careful not to overspread the filler.

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4

Removing white paint

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Q

We are struggling to get the last of a coat of white paint out of the pores of the fancy turned legs on an English Tudor style table we want to use in our dining room. The stripper removed most of the paint, but now we are trying to sand off the rest. The problem is the paint is deep in the pores of the wood. Should we keep sanding or strip it again?

A

Strip it again! This time follow these tips: First, use a high- quality stripper, such as Formby's® Paint and Poly Remover. Second, apply a heavy coat of Paint and Poly Remover, then cover it with wax paper to slow the evaporation of the remover. Finally, after the Paint and Poly Remover has had enough time to soften the last of the paint, use a small brass bristle brush (not the stiff standard wire brush!) to dislodge the softened paint from the pores. You can find brass bristle brushes, which won't scratch the wood, near the outdoor grills in your local hardware store.

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Staining

1

Achieving an even stain color on maple

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Q

I recently made a coffee table using maple, but I've heard so many horror stories associated with the staining of that wood. I was wondering if you could give me any pointers?

A

Maple, whether it's hard maple, soft maple, or birds eye maple, is a great wood, but all maple has one characteristic in common: it absorbs stain unevenly. My first recommendation is, if you don't have to stain maple, let it go natural. It's a beautiful wood. Just put either a couple of coats of Minwax® Wipe-On Poly, or brush on Minwax® Fast-Drying Poly or Minwax® Polycrylic. It looks great with just a clear finish over it.

If you do have to stain it, I would strongly recommend two coats of Minwax® Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner. This is going to help even out the absorption of the stain. Apply Minwax® Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner and let it soak in for 5 to 15 minutes (usually 15 minutes), removing any excess. Apply second coat accordingly.

Finally, don't try to make maple look like walnut or some other darker wood. If you want a walnut bookcase or a walnut coffee table, buy walnut. If you are going to stain maple, stain it with one of the lighter colors - Minwax® Golden Pecan or Minwax® Golden Oak. Lighter colors won't tend to show the blotchiness as much.

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2

Matching new stained wood to an existing piece

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Q

Do you have any tips on matching old, maybe 100 year old stained wood with new stained wood? Is it just trial and error until you get it color matched?

A

Yes, it is just trial and error. One of the things I recommend if you're doing much matching is to buy several of the smallest sized cans of stains you can find. One of the great things about Minwax® Wood Finish™ oil-based stains is that it is available in 24 colors. The wonderful thing is that you can mix them together to create a number of different colors. Start with your color chart. Try to find one that comes as close as possible and apply it to your wood. Compare it to the old finish, decide if it needs a little bit more red or a little bit more brown, etc., then apply more stain.

You can mix stain together in more than one way. One way is to apply one stain, let it dry, and then apply another stain on top of that. The problem is that on a tight grain wood, after two or three layers of stain, the wood isn't going to have much room to absorb any more stain. What I generally prefer to do is to mix my stains together in liquid form. Remember to keep track of how much of each stain you're putting in by using plastic measuring spoons and cups. Once you hit upon the color you like, write the formula down and give it a name, so you can go back and duplicate it whenever you want.

One more tip for matching colors: keep in mind that the top coat is going to add a little bit of color as well, especially an oil-based one. To get a true color match, it's not just a matter of looking at it when you've got your stain on there. You have to let your stain dry, take an aerosol can, mist a little bit of finish over it, and compare that to the piece you're matching - because that final little bit of finish you're putting on is going to affect the color as well.

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3

Choosing between gel stain and liquid stain

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Q

Can you explain the difference between a gel stain and a liquid stain and the best options for using each?

A

Let's start with their similarities. Both are oil-based stains, which means they contain mineral spirits and clean up with mineral spirits. Minwax® Wood Finish™ penetrating stains, available in 24 colors, tend to penetrate deeper into the wood. Minwax® Gel Stains, available in 10 different colors, are formulated a little bit differently. There is actually a gelatin appearance to them and when you first open up the lid of the can, it's a little bit shocking to see this gelatin jiggling around in there. Stirring is essential with all stains - oil, water, gel, regular - because the pigments tend to settle to the bottom of the can while sitting on the shelf. So stir it up very well, and the gelatin will become a little bit more liquid in form, but it will still maintain that gel-like consistency.

One reason why Minwax® came up with Gel Stain is that if you're working on a vertical surface, such as paneling in a room or doors, it's just not practical to take them all down and put them on sawhorses. If you have to work on a vertical surface and if you were using the standard Minwax® Wood Finish™ penetrating stain, the thinner of the two, you'd be chasing that stain as it ran ahead of your brush. If you weren't fast enough you could actually get some slightly darker streaks from the stain that ran down the wood instead of actually penetrating into the wood.

If you use Minwax® Gel Stain, it's going to cling to the wood better and you're not going to have it running down ahead of your brush or ahead of your rag, so your staining is going to be more consistent. Also, if you're doing a metal or a fiberglass door, Minwax® Gel Stain is formulated to adhere to these non-porous surfaces, whereas Minwax® Wood Finish™ stain would wipe right off. Generally, if it's a vertical surface, or if it's a surface that doesn't have any pores to it, those would be when you want to use Minwax® Gel Stains. So you aren't limited, you can use Minwax® Gel Stain in several different applications, even though it's especially designed for vertical application.

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4

Removing stain from skin

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Q

While finishing cabinets with water-based stains and poly, I got some on my arm without realizing it. What is the best way to remove it once it dries?

A

I had this situation - I had the glove on one hand but I didn't have the glove on the other hand, and sure enough that's where all the stain ended up. I just came in and gave it a good scrubbing with soap and water. It takes a few extra seconds - it doesn't just instantly rub right off with warm water and soap. Squirt a little liquid hand soap and it will soften up the stain and just come right off the skin. I do tell people that even though we think about water-based as no fumes, easy clean-up, it's still a good idea to wear gloves. These stains are designed to be absorbed, and the stain doesn't know the difference between trying to absorb into your skin versus trying to absorb into your project, so it's always a good idea to wear gloves but it's not a major concern. It's going to wash off pretty easily.

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5

Stain seeping out of the wood

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Q

The last time I stained a piece of unfinished oak furniture I had a problem with stain seeping back out of the wood. I applied the stain as directed, let it soak into the wood for about four minutes, then wiped off the excess stain. I came back the next day to apply a polyurethane finish and I was surprised to find several spots of stain all over the wood. It looked like chicken pox. I was able to scrub them off with mineral spirits, but don't want to go through it again. Any solution?

A

What you're describing is "bleed-back." It is not uncommon with open-pored woods, such as oak, ash and mahogany, especially on vertical surfaces. The larger pores in these woods act as containers for the stain, which collects in the pores, but does not dry. Instead, it gradually seeps out of the pores, leaving the spots you so aptly described. The solution is simple: After you have wiped off the excess stain, take a clean bristle brush and lightly brush the tips of the bristles over the wood. As you will see, the bristle tips will pull the extra stain out of these deep pores. You can then remove the last of the excess stain with a clean cloth.

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6

Glue vs. stain on kit furniture

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Q

I have been reading about the advantages of kit furniture, which sound very appealing. I understand, too, why it would be easier to stain the individual parts before you assemble it, but I have a question: Wouldn't the stain interfere with the glue's ability to work on the joints when you assemble it?

A

Excellent point! Stains do seal the pores of the wood - and glue depends on open pores to work effectively. For that reason I always wrap masking tape around the ends of spindles, legs and any parts which I will later glue to keep the stain off. For the same reason, I also stuff the holes that will receive these parts with small pieces of paper towel to keep the stain out. Then, when I'm ready to assemble the piece, I pull off the masking tape and paper towel. These critical areas are then clean, unsealed and ready to accept the glue.

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Topcoating

1

Avoiding bubbles in top coats

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Q

I sometimes get bubbles in my finish. What am I doing wrong?

A

There are three sources of the air bubbles. The first one can be in your brush. If you're using a foam brush to put on a finish, you are actually putting air into the finish, so eliminate foam brushes from your list of tools for applying a finish. Foam brushes are great for applying a stain, but you need to go to a bristle brush for applying a finish.

If you do have to stain it, I would strongly recommend two coats of Minwax® Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner. This is going to help even out the absorption of the stain. Apply Minwax® Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner and let it soak in for 5 to 15 minutes (usually 15 minutes), removing any excess. Apply second coat accordingly.

Finally, don't try to make maple look like walnut or some other darker wood. If you want a walnut bookcase or a walnut coffee table, buy walnut. If you are going to stain maple, stain it with one of the lighter colors - Minwax® Wood Finish Golden Pecan or Minwax® Wood Finish Golden Oak. Lighter colors won't tend to show the blotchiness as much.

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2

Protecting interior window trim from weather conditions

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Q

What is the best finish for wooden windows, especially in a climate with a lot of rain and humidity?

A

Whether it's Wisconsin or Florida, moisture, wind, and sunlight all add up to windowsills taking a lot of abuse. We're talking about the interior windowsills here. If you put on standard Minwax® Fast-Drying Polyurethane, the combination of sunlight coming through the glass, UV rays, and occasional moisture is going to wear out the polyurethane on the windowsills faster than on the rest of the interior of the house. So when it comes to windowsills, I generally switch from the standard Minwax® Fast-Drying Polyurethane to another Minwax® product called Helmsman® Spar Urethane. Helmsman® is an interior or exterior spar urethane, which means it's got more resistance to UV and moisture, and it's a great finish to put on a windowsill because there is no difference in appearance between it and the rest of the boards you've done in the regular polyurethane.

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3

Recommended finishes for cherry wood

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Q

What is your preferred method for finishing cherry wood, particularly on a child's table?

A

Cherry is one of my favorite woods. It actually falls into the same category as maple in that cherry doesn't absorb a stain very well. Unlike maple, cherry's got a beautiful reddish color to it that actually turns more toward brown as it ages. More often than not, people don't stain cherry - they just allow the natural color to come through. My favorite finish for cherry is a hand-rubbed finish. In this case, since the table is going to be used by a child, I recommend the Minwax® Wipe-On Poly. You get that hand rubbed effect and the polyurethane that is added by the Minwax® Wipe-On Poly gives it more durability than your other rub-on oils, such as tung oil or antique oil. Both of them are great oils, but since this is going to receive some extra hard use, I would go with the Minwax® Wipe-On Poly. It gives you the hand rubbed look, yet you get the same durability and protection as you would with polyurethanes.

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4

Water-based vs. oil-based polyurethane

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Q

Do you have any preferences on water-based versus the traditional oil-based clear protective finishes?

A

It's not a matter of choosing one or the other and using only that one, because that limits you. You should pick whether you're going to use oil-based or water-based with other criteria in mind than just whether you think you're an oil-based person or a water-based person. For instance, if you're working inside and you can't ventilate very well (during winter time, for example), then the water-based has the advantage that you don't have to ventilate. When you're working on large surfaces though, and you need a good long working time, I prefer the oil-based finishes because the stains don't set up as quickly. You get about 15 minutes of working time with the oil-based stains before you have to wipe them off compared to 1 to 3 minutes with the water-based stains. So in addition to whether or not you can ventilate, the size of your project is going to have some determination on which one you choose.

Color also becomes a factor. If you would like to use one of the Minwax® Water Based Wood Stain colors, then I would go with a water-based clear protective finish such as Minwax® Polycrylic® Protective Finish, over the top of it. So let your projects and your circumstances help you determine whether or not you're going to use water-based or oil-based and don't limit yourself to using one or the other on every one of your projects.

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5

Wipe-on vs. brush-on polyurethane

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Q

What is your take on the differences between wipe-on versus brush-on polyurethane?

A

Well, it's like having two brothers in the same family. They're both going to give you good protection but the application is completely different. Let's start with the more traditional brush on. Typically with a brush on Minwax® Fast-Drying Polyurethane, most of your projects, whether it be furniture, unfinished furniture, or cabinets, will require applying two coats of finish, because you are laying on a thicker coat than you would if you were just rubbing it on. I like to give each coat overnight to dry. One of the worst mistakes you can make with finishing is to put a second coat on before the first coat has totally dried. The finish depends on air and there is some evaporation that goes on, so if you put a second coat on top of the first coat that is not completely dry, you're shutting off the air and that first coat won't ever completely harden. So you always want to make sure that your first coat is completely dry before you put a second coat on there.

With the Minwax® Wipe-On Poly, you're putting it on with a rag. You're putting on a thinner coat, but you can generally go back in about two to three hours for your second coat, two to three more hours for your third coat, etc. To get the ultimate protection with the Minwax® Wipe-On Poly, I generally use 4 or 5 coats, but I can do those all in one day. Whereas with the brush on, it's going to take two days, even though you're only putting on two coats.

It really comes down to a matter of personal preference, because when you're all done, you're still going to have good polyurethane protection. The wipe on is going to give you more of a hand rubbed look, while the brush on is going to give you a slightly heavier coating, it's going to build more on top of the surface. When it comes down to durability, the two coats of brush on are going to be a little bit stronger and a little bit more durable than the Minwax® Wipe-On Poly. So if it's something that's going to receive a lot of use and abuse, I'll go for the brush on polyurethane. If it's something I want to give more of a hand rubbed look, and it's not going to take a lot of abuse, then I'm going to have to reach for the Minwax® Wipe-On Poly.

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6

Recommended finishes for purple heart

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Q

What finish do you recommend for Purple Heart?

A

Purple Heart has a common characteristic with a lot of more exotic woods: it has a high natural oil content. Teak is another wood that we're probably more familiar with that has a lot of its own natural oils. You'll know it from working with it: when you're cutting or sanding it, it will just have a more oily appearance. The thing that I've learned over the years is that the best thing you can add to oil, is more oil. So I'll tend to use one of the 3 Minwax® wipe-on oils: the Minwax® Tung Oil, the Minwax® Antique Oil, or the Minwax® Wipe-On Poly.

There isn't a significant difference in appearance between the three. Minwax® Antique Oil will always give you a more satin effect, so if I'm working with an antique or something that I want to look older, I'll often use the antique oil. The Minwax® Tung Oil offers not so much of a satin effect, and the Minwax® Wipe-On Poly gives you the ability to do a high gloss finish if that's what you're looking for, or you can go with a satin look as well with the Minwax® Wipe-On Poly. I would go with one of the three penetrating oils versus a brush on finish. One of the concerns with a wood that has a lot of natural oil is that the brush on oil is not going to be compatible with the natural oil in the wood. Or perhaps it just doesn't have enough empty pores to cling to and it might have a tendency to chip or peel off down the road. So when you're working with an oily wood, add more oil to it.

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7

Coating a heavily used table top

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Q

What is the best finish for a heavily used table that will be exposed to food and water spills?

A

Ten times out of ten I would go for a brush on version, such as Minwax® Fast-Drying Polyurethane. I would brush on either two or three coats, the third coat depends on whether or not the second coat gives you a nice even sheen.

One of the many reasons that I like the Minwax® Fast-Drying Polyurethane is that if 6 months or 6 years later I walk into the room and realize that the finish is starting to look a little worn, I can take Minwax® Wipe-On Poly and apply a thin coat over the top of the original brush on poly without having to get out a brush. You just open up the can, pour it on, work it in with a soft rag, let it soak in for a few minutes and then wipe it off. Two hours later it's dry and your table looks like you refinished it but all you did was really just add another coat of polyurethane using a rag, so I would go with Minwax® Fast-Drying Polyurethane and then keep the Minwax® Wipe-On Poly on hand for touch-ups as needed.

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8

Avoiding and removing fish eyes in the finish

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Q

How would I handle fish eyes in my finish?

A

For those who are unfamiliar with this term, a fish eye got its name because it's a crater in the finish about the size of a fish eye. It's caused by having any sort of a contaminant on the wood that the finish won't stick to. I remember one time carrying a piece of furniture from my shop into the spray booth and a drip of sweat off the end of my nose dripped onto the wood. I took my sleeve and I thought I wiped it off, but obviously there was some oil in that sweat and when I sprayed lacquer on, I got this beautiful fish eye right over where that drop of oily sweat landed on the wood. So any time you have a contaminant on the wood (it can be wax or silicone from aerosol polishes), the finish will group around it, creating a crater instead of drying over the top of it, and it's called a fish eye.

The best way to prevent it? Right before you are putting on your finish (let's say you're going to use an oil base finish), take a cloth moistened with mineral spirits, the solvent for oil base, and just wipe the top down. That way if there was any sort of contaminant, the mineral spirits would take it off. If you're using lacquer, you'd want to do the same thing using lacquer thinner to wipe it down, so that anything that may have fallen on there would be removed.

Fish eyes generally occur when people are using lacquer. Lacquer is a very sensitive finish - more sensitive than the polyurethanes. You don't get fish eyes very often with polyurethane, although you can. What do you do when it does happen? There's nothing you can do until the finish dries. Let it dry, then take your 220 sandpaper and sand the entire surface lightly - you're not trying to sand it all off. When you get to the area where the fish eye is, you've got to give it some extra attention and do two things. Sand it lightly but then still take a rag with some mineral spirits on it and clean that area very well. If that contaminant was still exposed, it'll be removed, so when you put your second coat, it will flow right over it and the fish eye will disappear.

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Floors

1

Refinishing a parquet floor

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Q

What is the easiest way to refinish a parquet floor? I'm assuming a floor sander cannot be used because of the alternating grain pattern.

A

"Parquet floor" means that the boards are laid in a geometric pattern so you don't have the grain running straight down the room. You cannot use a power sander for removing the finish from a parquet floor. You literally have to treat it like a piece of furniture. Imagine the room being a large antique tabletop! I would recommend to strip off the old finish. The type of finish is going to determine what type of chemical remover you're going to use. If it's an old house and you've got an old shellac or an old varnish finish, it may be that the Formby's® Furniture Refinisher will dissolve that and take it off, and you can do that using Scotchbrite® pads. They last a little bit longer and are not as messy as steel wool. But, if it is the more modern polyurethane finish, the furniture refinisher won't cut through it as well as the Formby's® Paint and Poly Remover.

I would recommend getting a small can of the Formby's® Furniture Refinisher first. Go over to one corner of the room or inside a closet, do a test, and see if the finish comes off easily just by putting the refinisher on a rag and rubbing a spot. If yes, then you can do it using Formby's® Furniture Refinisher.

If it doesn't make a dent in the finish, then you know that you've got polyurethane and you're going to need a paint and poly remover. Nevertheless, you'll take the same steps as if you are refinishing an antique. First you'll strip the old finish off, then sand the floor using a fine sandpaper, 180 or above. Note that if there's any finish left at all, the fine sandpaper is going to plug up very quickly and you're going to ruin a lot of sandpaper. Therefore, this is one of the circumstances where sometimes you're almost better off stripping it twice, so that you have very little sanding to do before you come back with a clear coat of finish to lock it all in and make the floor look beautiful. It's worth the extra effort because parquet floors are considered a sign of quality, both in terms of the amount of workmanship it took to make them originally, and the amount of work you have to put in to refinish them as well.

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2

Creating stenciled patterns

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Q

How can you stencil on a wood floor without the stain bleeding?

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The fist thing you have to do is to realize that you're not actually going to be putting the stain into the wood. This is one of those circumstances where we're going to break the rules. If you're going to stencil a floor, you want to put your first coat of the Minwax® Polyurethane for Floors on the bare wood, so you've actually sealed the wood.

Then I prefer to use Minwax® Gel Stain. A gel stain is an oil based stain that's heavier bodied than the typical Minwax® Wood Finish™ penetrating stain, which has a tendency to run a little bit more simply because it's designed to penetrate into the wood. In this case, we want to hold the stain on top of that first coat of finish and I prefer to use one of the Minwax® Gel Stain colors for that. Let the first coat dry, mask off the section if you are doing a straight line all the way around the room or doing a geometric pattern, lay it out with masking tape, and make sure your masking tape is pressed very well against the first coat of finish.

Then we are going to break another rule: you are not going to use a brush. When you use a brush to apply stain next to masking tape, the bristles of the brush are trying to force the stain underneath the masking tape. To avoid that, get a sea sponge. These are big, heavy open-pored sponges, better than just a household sponge. Put a little bit of the sea sponge into the stain, then dab off most of the stain onto a paper towel before you start dabbing it onto the area that you want to stencil. Put on your stain in a thin coat because if you get too much stain, it's going to run underneath your masking tape. Let it dry, then come back and dab on a little bit more. The nice thing about it is, you can determine how dark it's going to be by how many layers of stain you're putting on.

In addition, keep in mind you still want to see the grain of the wood coming through. The idea of stenciling is generally to give the appearance of having two different species of wood in the same floor. So if you've got an oak floor and you want to make it look like you had a border in walnut, then you'd use a darker Minwax® Gel Stain to give that impression. Once your stain has dried, peel off the masking tape, then sandwich the stain in with another coat of Minwax® Polyurethane for Floors. When you're all done, you're going to have one polyurethane layer on the floor, the layer of stain, and then another layer of finish, so your stencil is in a sandwich of two layers of Minwax® Polyurethane for Floors.

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3

Restoring a wood floor covered with linoleum

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Q

Under linoleum tiles I found a hardwood floor. Unfortunately, the linoleum was stuck down with glue and now there is quite a bit of old paper from the backing stuck to the wood. I have lifted up all the old tiles. What's my next step?

A

You've got to be very careful about what you're using as a solvent to remove that old glue, and you do want to use a solvent of some sort here. I usually start with mineral spirits, trying that first. Sometimes lacquer thinner will work. It just depends, and there is no way of predicting which solvent is going to work, because every company that made a different adhesive will have a different solvent for it. There's no way to know what that solvent is without experimenting.

This is one of those cases where you want to use a solvent and be sure you read the precautions on the can. Most solvents require good ventilation where you can have the doors and the windows open, set up a fan and have a steady stream of air blowing through. Wear a respirator and gloves, take safety precautions because the solvents used to dissolve those old glues can be toxic. They can work very effectively but you've got to take the necessary precautions to make sure that they don't cause any problems for you.

The other alternative of course would be sanding it off, but sanding paper is going to gum up with that old residue so quickly that you will have to spend a lot of money on sanding belts before you see any progress at all. So the answer is going to be: experiment with some different solvents, find the one that works, but do make sure you are reading and following all the safety precautions on whatever can of solvent you end up using.

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4

Recoating a cork floor

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Q

What is the best way to recoat a cork floor?

A

You could say cork is wood in one sense. It has the same properties, it is very porous. And cork is making a comeback now along with bamboo. The property of cork that makes it desirable for a floor is the fact that it has a little bit of sponginess to it. The cork itself though, as you know from just messing with cork, whether it's on wine or on something else, is not very durable, so it tends to wear down quickly. One place I wouldn't use it would be in an office with a chair with rollers on it, where you're rolling back and forth, because it will very quickly wear down.

Getting back to the question, you can use polyurethane with the same approach you would take to putting a finish on an oak or maple floor. I would use the Minwax® Polyurethane for Floors. You might find though that instead of the typical two coats, you might be putting on 3 or even 4 coats, depending on how open and how porous the cork is. If you see dull, dead spots when you stand at one end of the room looking towards a source of light at the opposite end, that means the Cork or the wood has absorbed all the finish in that spot and it needs more finish. This rule of thumb applies to any project you're working on. Look toward the strongest source of light. When you're doing any sort of finish work, you should always be facing the strongest source of light, whether that's through a window, a door, or a spotlight you've set up. You don't want the light coming over your shoulder - you want the light facing you so you can see any spots you missed, any runs or any drips. When you get it to the point where you see an even sheen all the way across the floor, then you know that you're done. This means that the last coat of finish is laying on top of the wood rather than being soaked down into it. But with cork that might be 3 or even 4 coats, just depending on how much is going to soak in.

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5

Sanding a wood floor for refinishing

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Q

My kitchen floor is made of oak and needs to be refinished, but I had a bad experience years ago with one of those heavy-duty floor sanders. I ended up covering that floor with a large rug. I really want to save money by doing this myself, but am worried that I'll ruin the floor with the sander once again. Do you have any suggestions?

A

I agree that wrestling one of those powerful sanders around the room is not my idea of a good time. Fortunately it's not your only option. If the floor has unsightly scratches, you can use a small sander to remove both the old finish and the scratches. You can rent either a standing orbital sander or a regular hand-held belt sander, both of which are easier to handle than the powerful standing floor sanders. These alternative sanders will require some extra time, but your floor will look just as beautiful-if not better-than one sanded with a floor sander.

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