Steel Wool and Satin Finishes

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ErnieM

Ernie
Corporate Member
Hi all,

I've always had a problem with satin finishes. Currently, I'm working on a harpsichord that will have walnut keys instead of my usual ebony. I've never really cared for finish materials that have flattening agents to kill the gloss as they always look cloudy to me. On the other hand, using a gloss finish and rubbing with steel wool seems to do the same thing. The colors in the wood seem to lose all of their vibrancy. I need to have a certain level of protection on a keyboard due to the oily nature of people's fingers on the keys - but I really don't like keys finished with poly or anything else that will make them look like a row of plastic party spoons.

So here's what I'm looking for:

1. A finish and/or procedure that will make the wood look like wood (but not dead flat)
2. A way to keep the vibrancy of the colors without keeping the gloss.
3. Something that will afford some protection against oily hands.

I should mention that sanding is not an option (or at least not much of it) as the keys are hand shaped and the scored lines must remain crisp. Here's a photo of a few sample keys. They were darkened with a coat of dark walnut Watco Danish Oil and have one coat of Formby's Tung Oil Satin.





Any ideas?

Ernie
 

stave

New User
stave
I use lacquer with multiple coats to build. It is durable, easy to repair and can be either bought in a satin or buffed down. Mohawk makes a product called Woolube (I will check the name) that is used with water and steel wool that cuts the sheen and gives a wonderful feel to the wood. I use it straight with a polyester rag on small things like you are talking about. It works really well, nice sheen and great feel...and the wood looks like wood. Hope this helps.

Stave
 

ErnieM

Ernie
Corporate Member
I use lacquer with multiple coats to build. It is durable, easy to repair and can be either bought in a satin or buffed down. Mohawk makes a product called Woolube (I will check the name) that is used with water and steel wool that cuts the sheen and gives a wonderful feel to the wood. I use it straight with a polyester rag on small things like you are talking about. It works really well, nice sheen and great feel...and the wood looks like wood. Hope this helps.

Stave
Thanks Stave - I don't want to use multiple coats for fear of filling the grooves cut into the keytops. However, the Wool-Lube (which is a Behlin product) is something I had forgotten about. I do have a bottle of it in the shop and I tried it on a sample. Used with steel wool, it killed too much of the gloss, but applied with a cloth it was pretty nice. The wood looks like wood and it does feel beautifully smooth. I'm gonna play with it some more to see if I can control the amount of gloss. Thanks for the tip.

Ernie
 

TBradley190

New User
Tim
I use semi-gloss poly then I apply minwax with 4/0 steel wool then immediatly buff it with a cotton cloth and I get a satin shine that's slick as glass( and no plastic look, can' stand that). I do this on just about everything but cedar and have gotten good results....JMO


Tim
 

ErnieM

Ernie
Corporate Member
I use semi-gloss poly then I apply minwax with 4/0 steel wool then immediatly buff it with a cotton cloth and I get a satin shine that's slick as glass( and no plastic look, can' stand that). I do this on just about everything but cedar and have gotten good results....JMO


Tim
Tim - you hit on one of my problems. The "slick as glass" is a problem on a keyboard. For some reason, players don't like their fingers slipping off the keys :dontknow::gar-La;. Finding the right balance of looks and feel is difficult. The finishes that look right feel lousy and the finishes that look lousy feel nice.

Ernie
 

Tarhead

Mark
Corporate Member
What about Tru-Oil? Gun owners and guitar players like the feel it gives to gun stocks and guitar necks. It needs to be built in multiple layers and can be buffed and polished to the level of sheen you desire.
 

Hardcharger14

New User
Steve
What about Tru-Oil? Gun owners and guitar players like the feel it gives to gun stocks and guitar necks. It needs to be built in multiple layers and can be buffed and polished to the level of sheen you desire.
I use semi-gloss poly then I apply minwax with 4/0 steel wool then immediatly buff it with a cotton cloth and I get a satin shine that's slick as glass( and no plastic look, can' stand that). I do this on just about everything but cedar and have gotten good results....JMO


Tim
Tim, A little more detail in application please. Do you apply the minwax over the dry semigloss ?? I am replacing fan blades on a old ( 1976 ) brass plated ,cast iron, Hunter Fan. ( It fell ( door blew open during a storm ), broke two blades ) No replacements available, so I found some cabinet grade 3/16" maple plywood and made blades, the originals were solid wood. All has gone well up to finishing. I stained the maple dark cherry ( looks OK )and used a poly semigloss finish coat . Both Cabot products . The blades look like plastic. Being I am this far along, your suggestion may be my solution. Tarhead. I have used Tru oil on stocks with success, wish I had used it on the blades. Steve Mc
 

TBradley190

New User
Tim
Tim, A little more detail in application please. Do you apply the minwax over the dry semigloss ?? I am replacing fan blades on a old ( 1976 ) brass plated ,cast iron, Hunter Fan. ( It fell ( door blew open during a storm ), broke two blades ) No replacements available, so I found some cabinet grade 3/16" maple plywood and made blades, the originals were solid wood. All has gone well up to finishing. I stained the maple dark cherry ( looks OK )and used a poly semigloss finish coat . Both Cabot products . The blades look like plastic. Being I am this far along, your suggestion may be my solution. Tarhead. I have used Tru oil on stocks with success, wish I had used it on the blades. Steve Mc
Steve, I normally wait atleast 48 hours before I buff it out. For best results I put a minimum of two coats of poly, sometimes three, but it depends on what kind of piece it is. Then I use 4/0 steel wool as my wax applicator, rubbing with the grain and a little elbow grease. I only do a small section at a time because I don't want the wax to completely dry before I buff it with a clean dry cotton cloth. In your case with the fan blades you can prolly do the whole side at one time. I like this look because it gives a deeper shine and it's slick enough that a dust cloth wipes over if easy ( which my wife loves). Worst case if you don't like it you can wipe it down w/ mineral spirits and poly it again. Good luck with it!!!
Tim
 

mlzettl

Matt
Corporate Member
Ernie,

I use a product called BioPoly NT from a company in Asheville called Earthpaint. Basically, it is a combination of pine resin, linseed oil, and a citrus based solvent. You brush or wipe it on, then wipe it off immediately. The pine resin eventually hardens, producing a very durable finish that is still easily repairable. There is essentially no build up. It can be handled immediately after wiping it off. On dense, oily, close grained woods one application is sufficient. For more porous woods, I will do two or three applications spaced a day apart. It is the consistency of maple syrup, and a little difficult to work with for some, although I don't find it a problem.

I have been using this almost exclusively on my furniture for the past several years. Depending upon the wood and the number of coats, it will leave a satin up to a semigloss sheen. I like it because it combines the grain enhancing properties of an oil finish, but with better durability. One added bonus is that it is entirely environmentally friendly, with no VOC's, and has a pleasant, citrus like smell.

Maybe I'll take a M/C ride and run some up to you. Do you have a deadline?

Matt
 

Bas

Recovering tool addict
Bas
Corporate Member
As simplistic as this sounds, have you ever tried Waterlox Original Sealer/ Finish? It has a nice sheen to it without being glossy, it starts as semi-gloss but the sheen moves more toward satin after a few weeks. It's easy to apply (wipe-on, no wipe-off), and you don't need to sand between coats. I typically apply 3-4 coats, and give it a very light sanding with 320 grit before the last coat just to remove any dust nibs. It gives that in-the-wood look, but with a lot more durability.

I think Waterlox looks really good on tight-grained woods such as cherry and walnut. With oak, the open pores take an extra 1-2 coats to get the right sheen, and that's a bit too thick for my taste. A pore filler could solve that problem, but I know nothing about that.
 

mlzettl

Matt
Corporate Member
Bas' suggestion of Waterlox has merit. I have used a lot of this over the years, and there is much to recommend it. I personally use it as a wipe on/wipe off finish as opposed to just wiping it on, but that is a matter of personal preference. His comments on closed vs. open grained woods mirror my experience. It is a tried and true finish, has been around for many, many years, and there is a reason for that.

Thanks for bringing that option into the discussion, Bas.

Matt
 

ErnieM

Ernie
Corporate Member
Wow! - Thanks for all of these great recommendations.

Bas - Your suggestion doesn't sound simplistic to me as I've never tried WaterLox. Sometimes, when you do something long enough, a person can get in a rut and use the same products over and over again without investigating any alternatives. I guess that's when learning ends and routine takes over. I'll certainly try WaterLox.

Matt - The finish from Earth Paints sounds fabulous. Having seen your furniture in person, I know that the cloudiness I spoke of is not at all present on your work. I'm anxious to try this finish. On their website it shows the product in many different colors. I assume you use the clear finish - is this right? As to a deadline, there isn't one as this instrument is for one of my daughters. However, I have the keys almost finished now, but I'm thinking of a walnut stand so I can try the finish on that. Any visit from you is always welcome - with or without a can of finish.

Thanks to all.

Ernie
 

Bas

Recovering tool addict
Bas
Corporate Member
Reposting some of Howard Acheson's guidance on wipe-on varnishes. Waterlox is already thinned, so it's good to go out of the can. The razor blade technique was an eye-opener to me, it really helps getting a perfectly smooth finish. I might even start believing those folks that advice you to scrape/ plane instead of sanding...


Here is the proper technique for applying a thinned wiping-on finish. Note that wiping on a finish is a totally different technique from applying a finish with a brush. You are not just substituting a cloth or towel for a brush.

Here is something that should help. A friend of mine who was/is the guru of wipe-on finishing put it together years ago and it has worked well for many.

There are a number of suggested application regimens that are totally subjective. The number of coats in a given day, the % of cut on various coats, which coat to sand after, when to use the blade and a whole host of other practices are all minor differences between finishers. There are some things that I consider sacred when applying a wipe-on finish.

First, you can use any full strength oil based clear finish. Polyurethane varnish or non-poly varnish is fine.

If you are making your own wipe-on the mix is scientific - thin. I suggest 50/50 with mineral spirits because it is easier to type than any other ratio and easy to remember. Some finish formulators have jumped on the bandwagon and you can now get "wipe on" finish pre-mixed. If you use a pre-mixed, thinning is generally not necessary. But making your own is cheaper and you know what's in it.

The number of coats in a given day is not important. Important is to apply a wet coat with an applicator and merely get it on. Think of a 16 year old kid working as a busboy at Denny's you have sent over to wipe off a table. Sort of swirl the the material on like you would if you were applying a paste wax. Don't attempt straight strokes. The applicator should be wet but not soaked. The applicator can be a non-embossed paper towel, half a T-shirt sleeve or that one sock left after a load of washing. Then leave it alone. The surface should not be glossy or wet looking. If you have missed a spot, ignore it - you will get it on the next coat. If you try and fix a missed spot you will leave a mark in the finish.

Timing for a second coat involves the pinkie test. Touch the surface with your pinkie. If nothing comes off you are ready for another coat. If was tacky 5 minutes ago but not now, apply your next coat just as you applied the previous coat. Remember, you are wet wiping not flooding. After applying the second coat, let it fully dry for 48 hours. Using 320 paper and a sanding block lightly sand the surface flat. Now, begin applying more coats. Do not sand between coats unless you have allowed more than 24 hours to elapse since the prior coat. The number of coats is not critical - there is no critical or right number to apply. For those who need a rule, four more coats on non-critical surfaces or six more coats on surfaces that will get abraded seems to work.

After your last coat has dried at least over night you will have boogers in the surface. You should not have marks in the surface because you ignored application flaws. You may have dust, lint and, if you live in Texas, bug legs. Use a utility knife blade at this point. Hold it between your thumb and forefinger, near the vertical, and gently scrape the surface. Gentle is the important word - no harder than you would scrape your face. If you start scraping aggressively you will leave small cut marks in the surface. After you have scraped to the baby butt stage gently abrade the surface with 320 dry paper or a gray ScotchBrite. Clean off the surface. Now, leave the area for two hours and change your clothes. Apply your last coat with a bit more care than the previous coats and walk away.

An anal person is going to have a tough time with this process. Missed spots have to be ignored. Wet wipe, don't flood. Scraping to babies butt smooth means scraping no harder than scraping a babies butt. Ignoring any of these will leave marks that are tough to get out. Getting these marks out requires some aggressive sanding to flatten out the surface and starting over.

Jim Kul
l

Finally, It works better to use a gloss varnish for all coats except the last. The flatteners in semi-gloss and satin tend to rapidly fall out of suspension when the finish is highly thinned. If you want a non-gloss finish, use it only on the final coat or two and be sure to stir the material frequently or you will end up with cloudy streaks.
 
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