Mark (TheCraftsmansPath.com) on March 4th, 2008

With the bulk of the construction on the table complete, it was time to move on to the detailing tasks and finish work.

I spent a considerable amount of time scraping and sanding all of the parts of the table. There were areas on the legs where the knees transition into the posts that needed some cleanup. I carefully worked these first with a card scraper and then followed up with hand sanding. Of course, the rest of the table also required a bit of sanding as well. Because all of the parts had previously been smoothed with a plane and/or and scraped, my sanding schedule for the table started with 150 grit and finished with 180 grit. I tried going to 220 grit but, it seemed to be burnishing the Cherry so, I do not think I will continue to that fine a grit. When all of the sanding is complete, I will give the table a thorough vacuuming and then a final rub down with Naptha to remove all traces of sanding dust and to determine if any areas need further attention.

Queen_Anne_Side_Table.JPGIn the picture (click for larger view) you can see the Queen Anne Side Table in its current state. All that remains for the construction is to put a decorative edge on the top, attach the top to the base and add the hardware. Speaking of hardware, I recently ordered a set of drawer pulls and a matching escutcheon from Horton Brasses. The style is reminiscent of the hardware typically on antique Queen Anne furniture and should work nicely on this piece.

I have also started to consider how I will finish the table. Most Queen Anne furniture that you see is stained dark. Generally for Cherry, I like to use a natural finish allowing the wood to oxidize over time with exposure to sunlight, darkening naturally to a rich patina. However, for this table I am considering adding just a slight bit of coloring with Garnet shellac to even out the tone all of the components.

A quick primer on shellac:

Shellac is a universal binder and a very good finish in its own right. The substance is made from refining and drying the secretions of the Lac bug which is found in India and Asia. Essentially, any finish will adhere to shellac and shellac will adhere to almost anything. Additionally, shellac serves as a perfect sealer between different stages of the finishing process. For example if a dye or stain is used and then sealed with shellac, none of the dye or stain will be removed when the topcoat is applied. One important thing to realize is that only dewaxed shellac will support all topcoats. Most pre-mixed shellacs (aside from Zinsser Seal-Coat) contain wax and will cause problems with adhesion when another topcoat is applied. Shellac that is purchased as dry flakes is dewaxed and must be dissolved in denatured alcohol to produce the finish. Because alcohol is used as the solvent, shellac has the benefit of drying in minutes. Also, shellac has the properties of dissolving into previous coats effectively creating one single thicker coat when multiple coats are applied.

Shellac solutions can be mixed to different strengths or concentrations. This is referred to as the “cut” of the shellac – the premixed stuff is usually about a 3 lb. cut which would equate to 3lbs. of shellac flakes by weight mixed in 1 gallon of alcohol. I usually mix to around a 1 or 1 1/2 lb. cut. This produces a good workable consistency and fairly light coats. I only mix what I will use within about 6 months because shellac in the liquid form has a limited shelf life after which it will have a tendency to not dry or harden. For me, this means a 1 lb. cut is 2 oz. of shellac flakes (by weight) mixed with 16 oz. of alcohol (by volume).

Shellac_and_Alcohol.JPGWeighing_Shellac.JPGCrushing_Shellac.JPGThere is nothing real scientific about mixing shellac – it will work no matter what strength you mix it to. It’s easier if the flakes are ground to a fine consistency before dissolving in the alcohol. Using an old coffee grinder would work well, or you can do what I do – put the flakes in a plastic bag, seal it and then hit it with a rubber mallet until you have very fine pieces left. Put the alcohol in a glass jar, add the shellac and seal the jar. Swirl the mixture around every half hour or so for about the first four hours and then let it sit over night. The next day it should be ready to use. The last step before use is to strain the shellac mixture through paint strainer or coffee filter to remove any impurities left after the refining process.

Finish_Samples.JPGI took some time to create some finish sample boards from scrap Cherry following the same sanding schedule as the table. On the left half of the top board I used Watco Natural Danish Oil followed by two coats of Garnet shellac and then a top coat of General Finishes Arm-R-Seal. The other half of that board did not receive the Watco. On the lower board I used Boiled Linseed Oil followed by the same sequence of Shellac and Arm-R-Seal with the right half of the board not receiving the BLO. Sorry for the picture – it does not really show the variations too well. I am considering the using BLO/shellac sequence because it is not showing the blotching that the Watco seems to. Some of the Cherry on this table is a bit curly and may be prone to blotching – I do not want to obscure any of the curl in the boards.

It’s very easy at this stage of a project to speed through the final finish preparation steps and finish process in an attempt to get the thing out of the shop. I always find myself battling this. In the long run it’s always best to spend the necessary time to prepare the surfaces as well as possible and to test all of the finish steps to assure a desired end result. Of course, this takes more time and delays moving on to the next project but, in the end it yields the best results.

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5 Responses to “Queen Anne Side Table: Contemplating the finish”

  1. hah i really feel you on the, “It’s very easy at this stage of a project to speed through the final finish preparation steps and finish process in an attempt to get the thing out of the shop”, bit. I’m currently working on a workbench and am pre-finishing the base members. god damn, i just want the sucker to be finished so i can glue it together and get the rest fo the bench crackin’. but im taking my time and it seems to be paying off! by the way the side-table is beautiful!

  2. Nick,

    Thanks for stopping by the site and for the complements on the table.

    I guess all I can say on the workbench is “stick with it!” It will all pay off in the end and you’ll be happy first, that you built a proper bench, and second, that you took your time to do it right.

    Good luck and please continue to visit the site.

    –Mark

  3. Mark –

    Just catching up on your recent post. The Queen Anne Side Table looks awesome! Excellent work. You offer sage words of wisdom regarding finishing.

  4. David,

    Thanks! The finishing process will take a bit of time to complete but, I’m hopeful that it will look good when completed.

    I think we have all looked at one of our finished projects after the fact and wished we had spent just a little more time on that final step before moving on. Having said that, it’s time for me to start thinking of what is next in the shop – I’ll be posting about that soon!

    –Mark

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