I’ve been a full-time professional woodworker since 1985. The key to achieving a great finish is three-fold; sanding the sequence, removing all lint and dust, and having a solution that you can build easily, bringing out the natural beauty of the wood and allowing easy touch-ups or re-coating if necessary.
Over 30 years ago a friend who grew up in Maine around boats told me that the boat builders would use pre-finish solutions before applying their bright work spar varnish to the boat’s woodwork. This got me thinking and I started experimenting with different ratios, and since the ingredients are common and not expensive I was able to experiment until I found the perfect mix. The key breakthrough for me was the Japan drier, which eliminated stickiness. So I want to share the best wood finish I know of to-date.
I never use polyurethane finishes, ever. I don’t like the look of a beautiful wood covered with plastic. For over 20 years I used popular polymerized tung oil finish until I started having major issues with it. Not to mention, I never liked breathing in the powerful mineral spirits fumes, I don’t miss that one bit.
When I finish wood, I start by flooding the wood fibers with my old-school concoction, and then remove any excess. One application is all it needs. The concoction penetrates into the wood fibers creating a base coat so the subsequent top coats build more quickly. I love Murdoch’s Hard Oil for my top coat. I apply multiple layers to build the finish to my liking. By using my old-school inexpensive concoction first I use less finish and consequently save money.
CONCOCTION RECIPE (Commonly found ingredients, very low VOC)
40% Linseed Oil
10% Japan Drier
*Use a good-sized clean jar, the percentages listed above do not have to be exact.
I like using Klean Strip Boiled Linseed Oil, Klean Strip Turpentine and Klean Strip Japan Drier. And for the varnish, I use Sutherland Welles Wiping Varnish, High Lustre 50-50%. NOTE: You can find these and many more of my favorite products I use in my Amazon Store, ShopAskWoodman.com. (NOTE: Sutherland Welles is not available on Amazon. I purchase it directly from their website, SutherlandWelles.com
IMPORTANT TIP: I highly recommend warming up the concoction before you apply. The only way safe way to do this is to put the jar of liquid into a bucket of warm water. It makes a huge difference in how the concoction absorbs into the wood fibers. Do not warm up on a flame.
SUTHERLAND WELLE’S MURDOCH’S HARD OIL (Made in Vermont)
• Low VOC
• Easy to apply
• Make with a Botanical Polymerized Tung Oil
• Uses a natural citrus solvent (I love the smell, feels like I’m in an orange grove!)
• Sustainable and Green U.S. Company founded in 1965. Read more about the company’s history here.
MAKE YOUR OWN INEXPENSIVE APPLICATOR: Adios foam brushes as well as all the other applicator finishing products on the market. I apply both the pre-finish concoction and the Sutherland Welles Hard Oil finish top coat with my pantyhose method. It’s inexpensive and I haven’t found anything that works better. Many times I use panty holes by itself to apply finish. But when I need to put a lot of finish on I will put a cotton rag inside the panty hose and knot it. The cotton absorbs the finish, and the pantyhose prevents the lint from the rag from embedding into your finish.