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How Do You Finish your Wood?

The two questions I am most often asked when I am at a show and people look at my items are, “How do you finish your wood?” or “What do you use to finish your wood?” They usually ask about my pens.

Over time I have used several types of finish and experimented with a few others, but I have settled on a specific type.

Before any finishing product hits the wood…

The finishing process begins way before any drop of liquid comes into contact with the wood. I don’t remember where I heard this but the words ring true in my head anytime I am working with a piece of wood.

Your finish only looks as good as your sanding

This makes a huge impact on how your finished piece turns out visually. If your wood is roughly sanded, and there are sand lines through the wood, no amount of finish is going to make that look good.

I sand at a slow speed with the lathe running around 500 rpm’s. This allows no heat to build up and to not have the sandpaper load. Generally I start out with a 220 grit paper and work my way up to 1200 grit sandpaper. This gives the wood a soft silky feel. Also between grits I reverse the lathe and sand with the grain to remove and sanding lines.

Once I am done sanding, I use a soft cloth I to wipe the wood down with Denatured Alcohol (DA) to remove any dust prior to applying the finish. DA cleans the woods and dries quickly without penetrating the wood like water can.

My homemade sandpaper dispenser
My homemade sandpaper dispenser

What about wood stains?

Wood stain is something I don’t use right now. As I tend to work with either exotic or reclaimed/recycled wood I want the natural grain and beauty of the wood to come through. Wood stains can mask that.

Exotic woods like Bocote, Cocobolo, Olivewood, etc. have their own beauty which would be a shame to hide behind a wood stain. My personal opinion is not to hide what nature created.

As for the reclaimed and recycled wood, when I begin turning it, it’s like unwrapping a present. You never know what you are going to find inside until you start peeling back the layers. I have begun turning what looked to be a bland piece of wood but once I began I uncovered hidden inclusions, wood knots, and some gorgeous grain patterns.

When working with wood, it’s like uncovering hidden treasure.

When it’s time to finish the wood…

As I said before I have played around with several types of finishes especially with my pens. From Friction polish, which is commonly a combination of Shellac, Denatured Alcohol, and Boiled Linseed oil, to various paste wax finishes and even Walnut Oil finish. While they are nice, they weren’t quite what I wanted as a finish especially with the pens.

The finish I ended up using and sticking with for my pens is Cyanoacrylate glue which is more commonly known as Super Glue. It creates a hard and durable coating that allows the beauty of the wood to come through while giving it a high gloss shine.

Even with this I have tried several different types and my CA of choice is Titebond. This brand has a good working time, dries fairly quickly, and holds up well.

There are two types of CA finish that can go onto the pens. I start out with five coats of thin CA. This soaks into the wood, and as the name implies, it is very thin and has incredible wicking properties. This comes in handy with woods like Zebrawood or Paduak which are naturally open grained and can have small natural voids in the wood that need to be filled.

Once the thin CA is applied, then I move on to Medium CA, which I apply about ten coats of. It builds a hard shell around the pen barrel which not only looks good but creates a protective barrier. Once this is fully dried and hardened, no matter how much you handle your pen, take it in or out of a purse the shine will always be there.

Titebond CA glue for finish or as it is more commonly known as Super Glue
Titebond CA glue for finish or as it is more commonly known as Super Glue

Hands off!

For a while I had a love/hate relationship with CA finish and it frustrated me to no end.

On occasion I would get a what looked to be smoky spots appearing on the blank when I would start polishing them. In order to figure out what was going on I did several things.

  • I bought fresh CA thinking it had gone bad.
  • I tried it with and without accelerator (which cures the CA faster).
  • Thinking it had something to do with the Florida heat and humidity, I tried playing around with applying it at different times of the day.

In the end I was fingered as the culprit.

Between each coat of CA you have to let it dry completely before going on to the next. I touched it with my finger to test the dryness. If it hadn’t dried enough, I would feel the tackiness on my finger.

What I didn’t realize was that when I did this it was also transferring oils from my skin to the finish which would then appear as a smoky spot when I started wet polishing.

So now between coats my new mantra is, “Hands off!”

An example of the smoky spots I would find in the finish from time to time.
An example of the smoky spots I would find in the finish from time to time.

Time to polish and buff…

Once the coats of CA are finished, and it has dried, there are still two more steps before I’m done.

First there is the wet sanding/polishing. For this I use pads called Micro Mesh. They run from 1500 grit up to 12,000 grit.

When the CA dries, it is not always smooth or even. The Micro Mesh pads takes care of that. I soak the pads in water as they have a sponge-like quality. With the lathe running at 500-600 rpm’s I wet-sand the blanks. The trick with these is to keep them wet and not to let the pads dry out.

As you polish with them, a slurry forms. Between each grit, wipe off the slurry with a soft paper towel.

Once I have gone through all the grits with the Micro Mesh, then the blanks come off the lathe and are ready for the buffing wheel. The wheels I use are cotton, and one is coated with Tripoli powder. With the lathe running at about 2700 rpm’s, I buff out the blank on the wheel with the Tripoli powder. Once that’s done, then I move on to the clean cotton wheel.

When it’s done, the blank pops and shines, and it’s then ready to assemble.

Fini

While this process may seem time consuming, it’s well worth the end results. It produces a pen with a luxurious finish that will last a lifetime.

 

Here are a few examples of my pens done with a CA finish.

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Hidden Beauty of Reclaimed Wood

It was just a bit over a year ago that I added some pieces of recycled/reclaimed Florida Live Oak and Eucalyptus to my wood selection. A lot has happened in that year. From the Oak, I turned some small live edge bowls. With the Eucalyptus, I turned bowls and bowls that are also tea light holders, as well as a few other items like shaving kits and pens. What I thought was just a passing fancy, using what would have been discarded wood, has now turned into a passion.

Reclaimed Eucalyptus wood bowl
Eucalyptus Bowl with tea light candle holder in the center.
Reclaimed Florida Live Oak Natural Edge Bowl
Live edge Florida Live Oak Bowl (Bark retained on the wood)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Since those early days, I have expanded my search for reclaimed and recycled wood to work with. I call it Urban Harvesting. Wood that is otherwise headed for the dump or even the burn pile is what I seek out. Even wood that has outlived its purpose in one form or another, I look for and seek ways to transform it on my lathe. Random logs and planks that to most would seem unsightly and even ugly are what I find. The only drawback is that my storage space is limited.

 

Currently around my work area I have a number of different species: Florida Red Maple, Sycamore, Slash Pine, Australian Pine, Florida Live Oak, and Eucalyptus. I even have some Northern Birch from my home state of (upstate) New York that had fallen during the winter. And some of my new wood was gathered from Hurricane Irma this past September.

Recalimed wood wating to be used
Various woods in my shop

Inside each piece of wood is a secret waiting to be revealed. It is hidden away beneath the bark just waiting to be exposed.

What makes this wood even more spectacular is that it isn’t perfect. The hidden beauty that lies beneath has flaws and imperfections which add to the character of the finished piece. Yes I could go to a local lumber yard and buy a perfectly milled piece of wood. And it, too, has beauty in it; from the grain, the color, and the texture of the wood. Just like life isn’t always perfect, neither is this wood. From discolorations, inclusions, crotch wood where several branches met in the trunk, to spalting where bacteria in the wood left unusual patterns and grain in the wood.

All this forms to tell the story of years where the rain fell in plenty. It speaks of years when there was little to no rainfall. Winds that blew and did its best to bend branches as the tree battled the elements. It speaks of lightning, heat, freezing temperatures, and insects and disease.

Reclaimed bowl blanks
Portions of the logs cut and ready for the lathe.

Once I put the wood on my lathe and begin turning it, slowly but surely removing the rough exterior, what lies beneath is exposed to the light of day. All the hidden beauty that lies beneath is brought out. As I work with my chisels and the shavings fly and the wood transforms like a butterfly that was once a caterpillar.
There are times I have a clear vision of what I want the wood to be when I am done. Other times the wood seems to have its own idea of how it wants to look.

Regardless of that, in the end what is born of it, is something unique.

I have found a passion in this wood that others would discard. My limitations are only bound at this point to the amount of wood I can store at a time and the size of the wood I can turn on my midi lathe.

 

In these series of pictures you can see the evolution from a rough log and how a portion of the wood becomes two bowls.
Click on the first image to view a full sized gallery.

 

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The Summer Heat is on in the Shop

It’s summer time here in Florida, and it’s hot, hot, hot, and oh yeah a bit humid to boot.

I’ve tried to not let it slow me down with regards to working in the shop, but I do have to work around the heat. During the month of July I got out early in the morning and worked till around noon. By that time of the day in July, the sun is high in the sky and the heat and humidity hangs from you. From the looks of it, August will be no different so it will be more early morning work in the shop till it gets too hot.

Still I have managed to turn out (no pun intended) some new items. In addition to trying to sneak in some summer turning in the shop, I have also spent some time cleaning and tuning up my lathe and other tools in preparation for fall.

The Eucalyptus by far has been my favorite wood to work with, both the ability to turn it as well as the color and grain of the wood which never ceases to amaze me. The colors of the wood range from a light brown along the outside to a deep reddish brown as you get deeper into the wood. Thus far I’ve been mainly making bowls with the Eucalyptus and even some bowls with candle holders in the center. They have been coming out very nicely.

I do have some of the Eucalyptus set aside that will be cut into spindles for other items such as pens, shaving sets, and even a bottle opener or two.

The Birch has been a pleasure to work with as well, and I have made some of that wood into tea light candle holders. While the Birch is a light colored wood, the spalting (coloring appearing in cut wood as it ages) has brought out some beautiful variations in the grain.

wooden bowls, bowls, candle holders
Eucalyptus bowls and candle holders

Also I have been playing around with making pen blanks. Using colored pencils I have set them into blanks and then turned them into pens. The effect is a splash of polka dots and color on the pens. It’s also another way to recycle something old and turn (pun completely intended) into something new.

Eucalyptus bowl and click pens
Eucalyptus Bowl and Slimline Pro click pens w/ colored pencils

Some planks of Cypress have also made their way into the shop that have been recovered from the local ship yard. I’ve cut a few into pieces that will be made into shallow bowls, and the rest of it is waiting to be cut either into spindles for magic wands and wine bottle toppers. I’ve really taken a liking to working with recovered and reclaimed wood as once you start digging into what looks like a tired old piece of wood you can uncover some hidden beauty.

Cypress planks
Cypress planks
Cypress bowl
Cypress bowl

In between that I have been lining up craft shows for the near future; including the August 4th First Friday in Tarpon Springs. Right on the heels of that I will be at Hippie Fest in Tarpon Springs on August 12th. These are both fun family craft shows with lots of great vendors, food, music, and crafts.

Other events in the Pinellas/Pasco area are also in the works and will be announced here and on my FaceBook page as they get closer.

Even though it has been a hot summer, I’ve been plugging away in the shop and look forward to seeing some of you out at the upcoming shows.

 

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The Beginning

It started one day with a passing comment while driving past a local wood shop: “I’ve always enjoyed wood working, just never had the opportunity to do much with it.”

A couple of months later I was given a gift card to a local Woodcraft store as a gift.

Not sure what to do with it I set it aside until I had some time on my hands and looked up their website. I was in awe of the tools, wood, and accessories but at that time I lived in an apartment and setting up any kind of shop was nothing but a dream.

As I poured over their website I saw they offered different woodworking classes. bowl making, band saw box making, salt and pepper mills, and pens.

Pens that caught my eye.

Looking at the different times they offered the class for pen making I made up my mind and signed up for a class.

A month and a half later I showed up to learn how to make a pen. The instructor asked me if I had any experience using a wood lathe, and I told him it had been many years; since high school wood shop.

He had me look over the display and pick out a pen and wood. After deciding on a pen style, I looked over the wood blanks. There were so many to choose from. How could I ever decide? Finally one caught my eye – a blank of Palm Red. I plucked it off the shelf and headed off to the classroom.

As I made the pen I lost track of time. Everything else around me faded and all that existed was that room, the lathe and the tools.

When class was over I had a fully functional pen that I had made.

I was hooked!

It was many months before I was able to do anything with what I had learned. The lease was coming up on the apartment and I needed to make a decision of what to do, resign the lease or look for something else.

The increase in the rent made my decision easy, and I started looking for a home to buy. I made sure the Realtor understood that a garage was a must for me.

Find a place we did and after doing some renovating and getting moved in I began putting together a shop, first came the midi-lathe, then bit by bit other tools, both hand and power.

That was just about two years ago now and what fun it has been. I learned so much along the way and am still learning but most of all having a great time doing it.

Here it is, the pen that tarted it all.
Here it is, the pen that started it all.