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Wood finishing without the tears
By Ray Lewhite.

The importance of wood being clean and dry before application of a new finish. If by any chance your wood has been in a particularly damp atmosphere - for instance in a outside shed - bring it into a warm room for at least a few hours, or if possible for a few days before applying the finish. Most finishes should be applied in a fairly warm room and best results will be obtained if the wood is also at room temperature.

Stoppers and fillers

Stopping and Staining
Before a clear finish is used, wood is usually stained and it is sometimes filled with a grain filler. However, before this stage is reached, examine the wood to see if there are any holes or cracks which need to be dealt with.
These should be stopped with a 'stopper' and various proprietary types are available in several shades. Plastic wood is also very suitable although quiet often it can only be obtained in three or four shades. Use a colour as near as possible to the wood itself. The stopper should be forced as far as possible into small holes or cracks with a pointed tool. When dealing with large holes or with bruises, apply the stopper in thin layers and let each layer dry before applying the next. Before each layer dries make a light cut across it with a sharp point to give a 'key' to assist the adhesion of the next layer.
Always finish off by applying a layer above the surface as most stoppers shrink. When the stopper is completely hard, rub off the surplus with fine sandpaper, so that the level of the stopping corresponds with that of the wood around it (see illustration).
As an alternative, plaster and the cellulose fillers can be used for stopping. It is desirable, however, when working on all except the lightest woods to colour them to correspond with the colour of the wood.
Water stains and spirit stains can be substituted for the water normally added to plaster or cellulose fillers, and the resultant mixture used as a stopper with quiet reasonable results, but when matching dark woods quiet a strong stain is needed to darken the powder sufficiently.


Stopping and Staining
The next stage is to stain the wood. The full beauty of the grain of the wood is brough out by staining. It is also often necessary to stain to match different types of wood in the same article to each other, or if you wish to match the shades of the piece of furniture to another.
Most handymen will find water stains the easiest to use, as they can be washed out if a mistake is made. Unfortunately they are fairly slow drying and tend to raise the fibres of the wood. This latter difficulty can usually be prevented by going over the surface before staining with a damp cloth. This will cause most the fibres to rise. The surface is then allowed to dry and then rubbed down with fine sandpaper before the stain is applied.
Stopping and Staining
Spirit stains can also be used but as these dry more quickly than water stains, they must be applied very quickly to ensure a even result.
Both these types of stain can be obtained in the form of water-soluble or spirit soluble crystals or powders, in packets or bottles at handycraft or paint merchants. Don't try and mix the different types together, or to dissolve them in the wrong liquid. Just follow the directions on the package and your stain is ready for use. Stains more than often come ready mixed.
Try a little of the stain on a corner. The colour on the surface whilst still wet indicates the approximate tone of your final result when a clear finish is applied over the stain. If you like the colour, then carry on - if not, adjust it by diluting or by intermixing with stains of a similar type, making sure you get the result that you want.
Stopping and Staining
You must note, however, that the same stain will produce different results on different types of wood, so if you have more than one type of wood in your article, for instance a mixture of hardwood and plywood, you may find it necessary to dilute the stain for use on some parts but other sections may need two or three applications of stain.
Whether you use water or spirit stain the application is fairly simple. The aim should be to brush the stain over the whole surface as quickly as possible.
Starting along one side of the article brush the stain in one direction, then brush the next strip in the same direction, and so on. In this way each area that is brushed will meet up with the previous area before it is dry. Quickly wipe off surplus liquid stain with a piece of rag, in the direction of the grain. Practice these points on an old piece of wood first as mistakes at this stage will produce patchy results.
Many people prefer to apply the stain by rag only : this is quiet satisfactory, but it needs a little practice.
When the stain is fairly dry, place the article in a well-lit place and view from all angles to make sure that an even result has been achieved. You may find that you have missed staining a portion or in some places the colour might be uneven due to variations in the density of the wood itself. These portions should receive further applications of stain until an even tone is produced overall.
Allow water stains to dry for at least 12 hours before applying a finish, and spirit stains for at least four hours, although it is best to leave them also for 12 hours.

Wood dyes

Stopping and Staining
Wood dyes are available in a wide range of shades and these will be found suitable for application prior to finishing with wax or wood-seals. They should not however be used under varnishes, synthetic lacquers or plastic finishes unless a test is first made to ensure that the results are satisfactory.
After staining wood is often 'filled' with a grain filler. The idea is to choke the grain of the wood, particularly if it is very open, and thus make it easier to obtain a smooth finish on top. However, the use of grain fillers without considerable practice often produces patchiness of colour and uneven filing, and some fillers will delay the drying of finishes applied on top. The answer for the handyman, therefore is to miss out the grain filler and to apply more of the finishing material.

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