Finishing Trials

I'm a typical Woodworker in that I give the build much more time, consideration and love than the finish. That's not to say I don't care at all about finishing, just that it's a necessary chore, not a joy.

A fresh coat of Arm-R-Seal on Lill's Quilt Rack.

Typically I use shellac or Arm-R-Seal. I've gotten relatively proficient at applying both with a rag. Thankfully I've not yet ruined a project by applying finish.

Since the Wood Talk boys recommended spray lacquer to me in response to a question about finishing a Christmas present which never got built, I've been eager to try it. A few weeks ago, when I build five (5) of the Drunken Woodworker'sSucculent Planters I was finally able to use spray lacquer and it was a joy. Quick, neat and clear.

The spray lacquer worked wonderfully.

In light of this new finish I gave pause when finishing my latest project, a simple, single board backpack rack for my three (3) kids. The board is spalted maple, with a subtle splating pattern which runs along one edge. The board has cooler tones and I do not want to turn them amber with finish.

To make sure the spray lacquer provides the results I wanted I took the cutoff from the board and taped off four (4) sections. I tried Deft Spray Lacquer, Watco Spray Lacquer, Minwax Polycrylic (another Wood Talk suggestion for cool tones) and Bulls Eye Clear Spray Shellac (I already hand some on hand).
Clockwise from the upper left:
Polycrylic, Shellac, Watco Lacquer, Deft Lacquer.

What I found was that the clear shellac still added an amber tone. The Polycrylic had a nice, cool tone, though even  the light, spray can application raised the grain. It was the only finish I tested which had to be sanded between coats.

The two (2) Lacquers were equal in their final results. Though the Watco Lacquer built faster, the Deft won out because it had an oval (rather than circular) spray pattern which made it slightly easier to apply.

The Deft Lacquer was clear, cool & easy to apply.

When I took the sample board in to show my wife, she replied that she thought it would be blue, like my son’s stool. I went back to the shop and ran more finish tests on the back of the test board. I put one (1) coat of blue dye on one half and two (2) coats on the other half. Then I divided it with tape perpendicular to the dye division and put Deft lacquer on one half and Watco on the other. Again the lacquers were even in final appearance. The blue however, did not work. While it accentuated the grain of the Douglas Fir in my son’s stool, it masks the beauty of the spalted maple.

The blue was cool, but not for spalted maple.

Though it took the better part of a week to apply all the test finishes, I’m glad I did. I’ll be spending part of my Father’s day finishing the backpack rack and I’m now confident I’ll get a finish I’m happy with.

Tomorrow the lacquer will finish up this project.

Don't forget about the +Modern Woodworkers Association Podcast. We talk woodworking with Guests from around the world of woodworking every other week. Subscribe to the RSS feed or iTunes today.