The Big Think

March 19, 2006

Bookcase Almost Done

Filed under: Woodworking — jasony @ 9:48 pm

You thought I forgot, didn’t you? Yes, the bookcase has been on hold while Sing craziness took me for a few months. I’ve been back at it on the finishing stage for a few weeks now. I tried about 10 different finishes (various combinations of stain/dye/poly/shellac) and finally settled on a concoction of wood dye (10% brown, 90% red mahogany), stain (minwax red mahogany), and shellac. The first coat of dye was terrifying. The beautiful quartersawn wood of my painstakingly built bookcase got all splotchy and waaaay too red looking. But I knew that it would turn out like the sample. Still, it was a scary thing.

I let the dye dry for a few days and then came back and put on a flood coat of stain. What a huge difference. The stain took all of the blotchiness of the dye and evened it out, and it imparted a gorgeous red/brown color. It took a good four or five days for the stain to dry enough for me to go on to step three. While it was drying I kept having to go out and babysit the thing every few hours. The open grained red oak would “weep” little dots of stain. It looked like it was sprouting measles. I had to wipe these offending spots off before they dried. It was amazing how much excess stain that wood held.

When the stain was finally dry I started the final finish coat- a 3/1 “cut” of shellac padded on. It’s called a French Polish when it’s put on like this and, let me tell you, the results are pretty spectacular. The wood pops out and achieves this unbelievable three-dimensional grain. It’s really beautiful. I’m on my fifth coat of shellac and will probably do one or two more. There are a few spots that I have to fix because shellac dries so fast (a few minutes) that it’s easy to have streaks or dry looking spots. Fortunately, it’s a very forgiving finish. I’m a bit hung up on the last step. What you’re supposed to do with shellac is build up several thin coats and then sand away the top few (without digging down into the wood). Then you use progressively finer sandpaper and steel wool to get it very even and smooth. Finally, you polish the finish with rottenstone or some other polishing compound, and finish off with wax. It’s very time consuming and I’ve never done it before, so I’m a bit intimidated. The finish looks pretty nice right now, but part of me would feel like I had run a marathon and stopped at mile 26 if I quit now. I have some more reading and searching online, and a few more questions to ask the finishing experts, before I’m ready to reveal it to the world.

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