Sunday, March 30, 2014

Finishing The Clock

Finishing pine is a precarious adventure. There are a lot of ways to go wrong in  the process and most woodworkers cut their woodworking teeth on pine and have made most of the mistakes one can make attempting to finish this blotch prone material. For this reason it requires a lot more effort than other woods. 

During my time of making furniture for a living, potential clients were always confused by the idea that making a piece from pine did not result in a cheaper overall price. Whatever was saved in materials cost was spent in the additional labor of the required finishing process.

Rule #1 when finishing pine. (1) You can't make pine look like another wood. End of story, no discussion required. If you attempt to make pine look like another wood you will look like an idiot. If you want to your project to look like walnut, make it from walnut. If you make your project from pine then other rules apply.

Distressing. (2) Pine is soft and will get beat up. It can happen now or later. You have some control over now. If your project gets a few dings and bumps during the build process don't worry about repairing them. Go with it. It's a natural thing and it will keep you from worrying about subsequent dings and knocks it will received once in service. You can enhance the distressing as it occurs with Old English scratch cover for dark woods.

(3) It's terribly blotch prone. If you are going to apply color of any kind you will need to take measures to control blotching. It's not a matter of "will it blotch". It's a matter of where and how much.

(4)  For vivid consistent color with clarity of grain, build your color in gradual layers. Otherwise you will mask the grain of the wood with thick layers of pigmented stain. If you're gonna apply thick layers of pigmented stain you will most probably have adhesion problems with your top coat and you would be just as well to paint the piece.

(5) Painting a pine piece is a very viable option and there are several ways to give a painted finish the look of age, but that's another subject for another blog post.

Step one. Apply a stain blocker. Some use a thinned coat of shellac as a stain absorption controller. The application will need to be consistent which is not always an easy thing for people without a lot of prior finishing experience. I use a solution that consist of 2 parts tung oil finish and 1 part lacquer thinner. I apply this liberally and reapply in areas that seem to absorb it. Especially areas around knots and like features. Remove the excess and you have a very consistent application. I let this settle into the wood for about 30 minutes and then I applied a Transtint dye of Honey Amber. See picture above. It's very yellow but it gives you an even undercoat color from which to begin.

When the dye was quite dry I applied an oil pigmented stain. I typically am not a fan of Minwax stains. I think they're cheaply made and don't contain as much pigment as a professional wiping stain. In this case I thought this might work to my advantage in trying to achieve an aged look on the pine. The color used was Provincial. In the picture below you will see the result. It was browner than I imagined it would be and at this point I figured worst case I'll have to paint  the thing. So I went forward confidently.

 I knew a couple coats of shellac would make a big difference. To this point the only dramatic color change was with the Transtint dye. This is as it should be. I sprayed all the parts with two coats of a 1 1/2 pound cut of garnet shellac. This toned down some of the brown from the stain and gave the parts an amber cast as you can see in the picture below.

The next evening I lightly sanded the parts with 400 grit sandpaper and rubbed them down with maroon Scotchbrite. I then applied a light glaze of a Sherwin Williams fruitwood stain. The next day I sprayed the parts with 2 more coats of garnet shellac.

For a piece that will hang on the wall and not see hard use, garnet shellac is a great finish. If you get heavy handed with this material it will window pane around the edges. This is why I like a lighter cut. I let the shellac cure for 3 days.

The rub out process was simple. I lightly wet sanded the parts using soapy water and 400 grit paper. I then rubbed the surfaces down thoroughly with #0000 steel wool. I wiped off the residue and then went over the parts with Old English scratch cover for dark woods. This colors any residue left that might show up a light color when thoroughly dry. Installing the  frame for the movement and cross shelf for mounting the coil gong was fiddly and I didn't take pictures of that process. The Hermele movement is a pendulum driven 14 day movement that chimes the hours and once on the half hour. I think this is very appropriate for a Shaker styled clock.

I finished the pine back boards with a couple of coats of clear lacquer. I like the contrast of the case to the back boards when I open the case.

The end result did not end up being the finish I pictured in my mind when I started. If I were to repeat the process there are some things I would do differently. However I'm very pleased with the results and consider the end result a happy accident. We learn as we build. I was once told "when you quit learning, you start dying".  I prefer learning.

In summary, the yellow base color plays nicely with the amber and reddish color of the shellac and the other color steps. It gives the piece nice visual activity and I've actually used this same honey amber dye on walnut and then wiped it with a dark walnut stain. It worked well and was a very interesting look. I'm of the opinion that garnet shellac gives the piece a look that clear lacquer or other top coats could never achieve.

If you think this was a very involved finishing process you're correct. I don't think the effort required to build the piece deserved any less.



  1. Really nice looking result. Makes me want to try some pine.

  2. Ron, what did you mix the Trans Tint with? I'm guessing it was a solvent and not water, I can't imaging a water-based dye working well with an oil-staurated surface. I could be wrong, just seems unlikely to me.

  3. I mixed the Transtint with distilled water (bottled water). It was not a problem and the tung oil thinner probably helped keep the grain from raising.

  4. My mistake. I meant to say the tung oil thinner mix.