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The Key To A Great Finish Is Surface Preparation
No matter what your current woodworking project may be, whether it is a built-in bookshelf or a simple jewelry box, to create a truly beautiful piece you must put on a proper finish. To create that lovely finish, it is necessary to prepare the surface properly. This doesn't mean you need to spend a large amount of time preparing it, however. You should divide surface preparation into three distinct stages for the most efficiency. Each stage will use different tools and methods of preparation. In the first and second stages, you will use abrasive tools like planes, scrapers and sandpaper. In the third stage, you will be using fillers and wood putty.
The first stage is the initial preparation. This is where you will be removing the majority of the material from your project. A wood plane is a very efficient tool for this stage. Planes will remove any marks left from machining your pieces of wood. Today, with the heavy use of power sanders, many people don't use wood planes anymore. This is really a sad state of affairs, since nothing evens out a surface like a plane. Power sanders tend to leave hills and valleys depending on the wood. Another old tool, the scraper, is a good tool to use at this stage. Scrapers were used before the invention of sandpaper, and it can actually still be used in place of sandpaper once you learn how to use it properly. Another benefit of using a scraper is it is easy to master, even for a beginner. Cabinet scrapers are adept at removing marks made by your power tools and can also level the surface nicely. A scraper is fairly simple to use. Simply push the scraper away from you while exerting downward pressure at the same time. It goes without saying that the piece you are working on should be held steady when you are using a scraper. The scraper should be kept sharp. You can tell when it needs attention... a sharp scraper will make very fine shavings, while a dull one will produce dust.
Today, sanding is the most popular way to smooth wood before putting on your finish. Sanding can be done manually or with a power sander. Power sanders vary from a simple palm sander to a large disc sander. Many woodworkers don't like to sand, and they dread having to do it. But sanding does not need to be a step to dread. If you follow easy steps in the proper order, it is very easy and efficient. Before sanding, be sure to remove any dried glue, since the glue will gum up your sandpaper. Sandpaper comes in many grits, from coarse to extremely fine. Start with a coarser paper if you have scratches from your power tools on your project. Then move on to a smaller grit. The smaller the grit, the higher number will be assigned to the sandpaper.
With all the machines available for sanding today, you may be surprised to hear of anyone doing manual sanding anymore. Hand sanding is a wonderful way to get a nice flat surface, however as well as being a great way to learn how to sand. If you start with a lower grit paper and sand in the direction of the wood grain, you can get a better finish than if you use an orbital sander, which sands in all directions. Directional sanding gives you the freedom to only remove what needs to be removed. Once you begin sanding, you'll move progressively from a coarser grit to a finer grit to the finest grit. This creates a smooth sheen to the surface of the wood. Don't skip grit sizes... if you do you'll waste a lot of time sanding out scratches from the coarser grits.
The easiest way to tell when you've removed all the scratches from your project is to wipe a light coating of mineral spirits over the wood. This will allow any imperfections or scratches left on the wood. Once you know where they are, you can easily work on removing them.
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