The Brush Off

Yesterday morning while I was getting my caffeine levels to the proper level and mentally reviewing my next steps on finishing the Thorsen table I read Ralph Boumenot’s review of a new finishing DVD.  The DVD, produced by Popular Woodworking features Don Williams covering Historic Finishes.

What caught my interest was the use of narrow artist’s brushes to apply Shellac.  I hadn’t really realized it, but the part of finishing that was making me nervous was getting the Shellac on.  I usually use a pad to apply shellac, but that doesn’t work well where there is a step in the surface or an inside corner.  The pad either doesn’t reach or causes a puddle.

So, I ran out and bought a couple of artist’s brushes.  A #12 flat and another small teardrop shaped one for getting into details.

Two artist's brushes to be put to the test

Two artist’s brushes to be put to the test

Both brushes worked well.  The small brush was great for getting into the pierced areas to lay down a couple of coats of Garnet Shellac.

Applying Shellac to the pierced areas

Applying Shellac to the pierced areas

I still had some issues with getting the Shellac on evenly in spots, but overall the brushes worked out well.  It took a long time to get two coats on all the surfaces though.

Base done

Base done

But I ran into a problem with the top.  I think the #12 brush might be too small for the larger surface area, it was hard to get the finish on evenly.

Top with two coats of finish

Top with two coats of finish

I did OK, but then when I went to rub it out with steel wool I somehow rubbed through the Shellac and ended up with several light spots.  I tried to apply more Shellac and blend the spots in, but ti wasn’t working, and just made more of a mess.  Finally I poured alcohol over the entire thing and scrubbed the shellac off with 0000 steel wool in frustration.  Since the dye was too light now I re-applied the dye and will have to keep working this through the week to get the top finished.

I hate screwing up like that, but I expect I’ll be able to refinish it and get it right.  I’m thinking that I might try spraying shellac in the future, at least for big flat parts like the table top.  Not for this project though, I don’t want to introduce any more variables in the equation.

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4 thoughts on “The Brush Off

  1. That is a great looking top. The ribbon strip really popped out.

  2. Ahh .. nerve racking. Finishing and glues seem to be that way. Sigh ..

    You’ve figured it out and it looks really awesome.

  3. I saw Don Williams demonstrate with his little brushes at WIA and his results are very good, but it seems to me that the results both with the brushes and with padding depend on a very light cut of shellac (like 1 lb or so), which allows the finish to flow out a bit before streaks can form, and this also helps to get into corners. So, I’m not yet convinced that padding won’t work as well. That said, my own padding technique is very much a work in progress, and whenever I pad on shellac I think back to the few times I was able to spray shellac and got perfect results even as a total neophyte.

    I have learned that patience is key to working with shellac. Yes it seems to dry fast enough to rub out in an hour or two, but overnight the film shrinks back, and many minor streaks and imperfections disappear completely. The so-so job you walked away from the day before looks a lot better than you remember. I read some older french-polishing instructions which describe letting the finish ‘sink’, but it took me a while to learn to leave a coat of finish overnight before deciding how much rubbing out it needs. probably you already know this- I’m just horribly impatient about finishing.

    • John – I’m learning. After rubbing through the shellac on the top (and stripping it back off) I am letting the base sit a couple of days. After thinking about it more I may actually break out my spray guns to do the top this time. The last thing I sprayed was an orange metal flake chopper gas tank, so I’d better make sure the gun is absolutely clean first.

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