Finishing enhances the appearance of furniture and protects it from moisture and other damage. The way in which a piece is finished can also be an indication of the quality of workmanship. Pieces that simply have a thin coat of varnish to seal the wood, are probably not built with the quality of a piece that has a hand polished, smooth surface. Finishing is rubbing a material into the cellular structure of the wood to enhance the grain, figure and color of the wood, and then sealing the surface.
Wood can be finished in two ways, either by staining or by bleaching. The two most common types of stains are water based stain and oil based stain. Water based stains are slow drying and penetrate easily. However, water based stains need to be wetsanded first or there is a danger of raising the grain. Oil based stains are faster drying but still penetrate well and provide excellent coverage. Oil based stains should be sealed before applying varnish, or the stain may start to dissolve.
Staining is, as the name implies, is simply coloring a piece of wood with a pigment. However, the process of staining is more involved. The surface of the wood must be smooth, and dust and grease free. This is usally accomplished by sanding. Stain is generally applied with a sprayer which allows a more even coating, but it can also be applied with a brush or cloth. A cloth is generally used for turned and carved members, and marquetry and inlay. Woods such as mahogany, walnut and oak should always have a grain filler applied to prevent pitting. This can be done by rubbing either varnish or a grain filler into the pores of the wood and then lightly sanding with very fine grade sandpapaer, with the grain. The wood is generally filled after staining to prevent uneven patches. Once the stain has dried, it is sealed with several coats of varnish or lacquer which are worked into the grain, or with successive applications of oil stain sealer. After each coat of sealer, the surface is lightly sanded with very fine grade sandpaper. Both varnish and lacquer can range from high gloss to matte finishes. The surface can be polished by using a polishing compound and steel wool.
Bleached wood finishes are a three part process that involves applying a coat of bleach to the wood, and after twenty to thirty minutes washing it with a neutralizer, and then washing it with water. After it is thoroughly dry, a coat of varnish, lacquer or polish is applied and rubbed in to seal the wood.
Fine furniture is distinguished by the time and care taken to apply a finish that will resist moisture, damage and changes in temperature.
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