The Final First

The finishing regime evolved from the time my, then pregnant, wife peered over my shoulder in the pre-Pinterest/Instagram days of searching the internet. I had saved a bunch of Google image searches to a Word document and we both agreed upon this seven drawer design (you could cut the naivete with a knife). The convertible crib we’d bought for the nursery was that espresso stain all the kids were using those days. Our plan was to buy some nice wood, say cherry, and then stain it to closely match the crib.

I reached out to Marc Spagnuolo for some advice on how to stain cherry. Looking back, I can faintly hear Marc chuckling as he read my question. It must’ve been the 100th time he’d seen it by then. He encouraged me to not stain the cherry and explained that staining nearly any wood is equally difficult. Looking back, I can now faintly hear the woodworking angels rejoicing in the hallelujah chorus.

As other projects came and went I started falling in love with the ease and comfort of the simple wiping varnish described in this video by Marc. I’m still quite fond of this technique and regularly employ General Finishes Arm-R-Seal. However, I started really digging into the tenets of what Chris Schwarz teaches in the Anarchist Tool Chest and through the Lost Art Press blog. The underlying philosophy is to seek knowledge yourself and ensure your work falls in line the with the things you believe.

Fast forward to April 2017. I posted on Instagram that I was thinking of using amber shellac and then topcoating with Arm-R-Seal. I got some encouragement to simply use shellac with a top coat of homemade wax since the dresser doesn’t take the same beating as dining room table. I was torn because I wanted this project done and the last thing I wanted to do was get the supplies for homemade wax and figure out that process. Conversely, the other things bugging me was that April in Ohio is not yet the month to start finishing furniture outside or in the garage. I didn’t really want to let the fumes from the wiping varnish flash off in the basement right next to my actively running furnace. Fortunately, my friend Brian had some lying around and invited me over for a lesson. I’d come this far with so many firsts: what was one more? I started with the amber shellac thin 50% from the can.

Like many other first, this one was not without it’s trials and tribulations. I applied the wax per the instructions I’d read and what Brian had taught me. However, there was a subtle, leftover “waxiness” to the finish even after a full day of curing. I’d see smudges and fingerprints on all the surfaces.

I’m normally a “finish the finish” guy and buff out the final coat of Arm-R-Seal with a high grit Festool Platin pad using 50/50 mix of mineral oil and mineral spirits. In my head, this is finish should be: a plastic, smooth finish. I was disappointed and did some digging by posing a question to Chris about what to expect. He reassured me that a wax finish was supposed to be smooth. I took matters into my own hands and tried to remove some of the wax with mineral spirits and a good buffing with the Platin.

This process did tone down the waxiness but the feel was still a bit different; a first if you will. At this point, I let myself go and figured I’d live with this finish and see how it holds up. My next first might be removing wax from a piece and starting anew. With my mind at ease, I installed the top, signed one of the drawers, and admired the dresser for awhile.

The next morning before school, I took my daughter downstairs show it off. Her excitement was intoxicating; proving once and for all, this long, drawn-out, series of firsts was worth every venturing into places unknown.


About Shawn Nichols

Heady. Phishy. Woodworker
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6 Responses to The Final First

  1. Marilyn says:

    That turned out so nicely!


  2. tombuhl says:

    Not to pressure you, Shawn, but is there an encore planned or pondered?


    • I’m assuming you’re referring to my other daughter and her need to store clothes. If that’s the case, then no, there aren’t plans right now. I have to start working on the dining room table we emailed about ages ago. If I had to build her one, I’d definitely start with a plan. While trying to build this one I researched a lot of dressers. I really like a few in Bill Hylton’s Chest of Drawers and I also enjoyed one published by FWW from Mike Pekovich.

      Or did you mean something else?


      • tombuhl says:

        I was thinking, your next woodworking project. Guess it is the dining room table. Dressers are to my mind, a once every ten years kind of build…or if it takes ten years to build, then perhaps once every twenty years would suffice.
        I seem to alternate larger projects with a smaller item or two to balance out my life a bit.
        Seeing Marilyn’s logo on your comments made me smile. You keep good company, Shawn.


      • Got it. Yes, the next big one is the dining room table; don’t worry, you’ll be helping.

        Nowadays I always have a few in the bag. I need to put a topcoat on a small adirondack chair for my youngest (tonight!) and I have parts milled up for a Japanese Toolbox (just like Marilyn) for my oldest daughter. This way I can work on big things at home and small things when I volunteer at my woodworking club.

        I’m forever impressed with the folks visiting my corner of the internet. I must be doing something right.


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