Rob begins the process of finishing his coffee table
In the commercial cabinetmaking world, which I was a part of for a short time, a completely different approach is adopted to finishing work. The job is assembled, glued, detail sanded and then finished by spraying with a few (or as many as needed) coats of lacquer. This means that the project can be shipped away from the maker’s bench fairly quickly, allowing him or her to start on the next job.

‘Time is money’ and the old, oft used expression applies just as much in the rarefied world of top class cabinet making as it does in any other profession. But the amateur, pottering away in his garage or shed at the bottom of the garden, isn’t under the same pressures as the professional, particularly when it comes to finishing.

Spraying with lacquer is a difficult, skilled art and usually takes up a lot of space in the form of a dedicated spray booth or even room (for large pieces) complete with extraction equipment and specialist H&S gear for the operator – something which is generally not available to the amateur.

A different approach needs be taken if you can’t spray finish, which is to polish all the components individually and then glue together, and that takes time, space and a lot more effort.

To finish each section of the coffee table I used my Veritas Bevel-Up Smoother to take whispery, ethereal shavings and any slight tear-out in the mahogany can be removed with either a card scraper or one of my favourite tools, the Lie-Nielsen No.212 Scraper Plane.

Cleaning up rebate
Cleaning up rebate

The rebate is difficult to clean up, but if a piece of 220g sandpaper is stuck to a square block and the waste trimmed off with a craft knife, a precision sander can be made quite easily, which is a useful bit of workshop kit for cleaning up this sort of thing. Sanding follows, starting with 220g and finishing with 320g, finally softening all the hard edges with some worn 320g paper. The curved outside faces of the legs were sanded initially to profile with 120g paper supported in a concave shaped cork block.

Ready for polish
Ready for polish

With all the sanding done, it’s time to mask off the joints and apply the finish of choice, which is a viper’s nest in itself and worthy of several Blog entries. ‘Simple’ usually always works best and for several years, I’ve been using ‘hardwax oil’, which is easy to apply and only requires two thin, with the emphasis on thin, brush coats. I’ve used a satin hardwax finish on this table, but if you prefer a matt finish then I recommend Osmo-Polyx, which will soon be in stock. Whatever finish is chosen, it’s important to de-nib between each coat with worn 320g and then apply a good quality wax polish with a grey Webrex pad, finally polishing with a soft duster.

Then comes the gluing…

  • Alex Jeffries

    Osmo anything is usually excellent. Recently I discovered Manns top oil. A very nice finish from that as well and seems to be heat resistant so far on my kitchen table.

    • Rob Stoakley

      The finish shown in the pic is Fiddes Satin which isn’t too bad but can be a bit ‘gloopy’ after a time…needs to be thinned with a bit of white spirit. I can’t exactly say ‘why’ I prefer Osmo-Polyx, it just seems to go on better. Whichever way you slice it, it’s great stuff.

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