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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
A recent thread here got me thinking about wood finishes because it seems that there are just about as many opinions about various brands as there are woodworkers, and I began to wonder (I seem to do that more as I get older) if I'm missing something.

Here's what I'm getting at. As I look through my accumulated containers of oils, stains, varnishes & shellacs, I realize that I don't have a lot of any particular brand of stuff. It's a real eclectic mix, and I've used it all at one time or another and I've never developed any particular affinity for any one brand. Whether it's a major brand or a "hardware store" brand, my results have been pretty much the same.

The only thing that seems to make any difference to me is the application process. If I try to apply all brands in the same way, I see differences in the result, but if I adjust to the product, I've never been disappointed in the result. I've experimented, I've mixed, I've played with combinations of products & brands (regardless of what manufacturers tell you, there's a lot more compatibility out there than they'll admit).

Now I suppose that I should consider the possibility that I'm just not good [bright, talented, skilled...pick the adjective you prefer] enough notice what is obvious to real woodworkers. That certainly is a possibility here; one that I really don't mind having pointed out to me, by the way...I have pretty thick skin.

So, where's all this going??? I guess I'm just interested in encouraging a bit of lively discussion on this subject so that I can learn more woodworking stuff.
 

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I certainly welcome the general discussion but bring a somewhat-unqualified opinion to the table. I'm quite competent in a variety of tradework, but finishing is not one of them (yet, I hope).

I agree completely with your comment about the application of a finish having much to do with the final outcome. I'm personally interested to learn the pros/cons of different types of finishes - i.e. standard brush-on finishes versus wipe-on or gel, etc.
 

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I personally like Varthane brand for stains and MinWax for Poly/clear. I don't really have any reasoning behind this other than Varthane colors are more closely matched to the chip color on the can usually and I like their selections better.
 

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I pick the type of finish and typically the brand based on what I'm finishing. For instance I just completed a small walnut box. It was finished with three coats of natural danish oil. The brand I prefer for danish oil is Watco mainly because I'm familiar with it, it's readily available around me and most importantly I'm very happy with the results I've always got from it. Some drawer boxes that I recently finished needed bettter protection so I used satin poly. Minwax is what I used again mostly because of availability, familiarity and results.

I believe one of the most important parts of finishing is picking the product that is most appropriate for the application. What brand you use will probably boil down to the things I mentioned above. Having said that, I'm always open to trying something new, but the first attempt won't be on that hand cut dovetailed jewelry box I spent so many hours on.
 

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I suppose a lot will depend on if you are going to stain/finish by hand or spray. In either case, I've found many of the "readily available" - or big box brands like Minwax, Watco, Deft, Varthane etc., are all fairly similar. Not bad by any stretch of the imagination. However, once you get into more professional stuff like Mowhawk, ML Campbell, Sherwin Williams to name only a few.... the differences in ease of use and professional results are substantial. At least they have been for me. I also have enjoyed very much working with the General Finishes products that I've tried.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Now, that's what I was looking for. I've never used what might be classified as "high end" stuff, so I don't have a standard of comparison. I'm wondering. for you guys who use the really good stuff, what kinds of specific differences you see...like how does it apply differently, or is the look somehow better in some way. If I'm going to spend up for something, it would be helpful to why, since I've always been happy so far with the results. (Maybe I just don't know how happy i could be)
 

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I have used just about everything over the last 35 years of restoring fine antiques. I believe that I could get the same beautiful finish from a can of general as I could with a can of minwax. I have found that brand of finish to me is not nearly so important as things like viscosity, humidity, temperature, brush type, prep work, dust control and a countless number of other things.
 

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Although my cabinet looks a lot like yours, different products for different projects or applications, a brand I've used a couple of times for staining, and just recently for top coat is SamaN. We have had the stains here in Canada for several years, but I've only notice the finish coats recently.

The stain is awesome to work with. I used the top coat on a project a couple of months ago, and I was really impressed with the results.

here's ther website.
http://www.saman.ca/

Having said that, I'm currently using more Tung and Teak oils than anything else.
 

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I've used only minwax products, only because of availability.I prefer not to stain and just poly or spar depending on what the piece is used for. Sometimes a customer wants a certain stain and I find staining light woods dark is a PITA,it may be just my inexperience.
also found applying poly right out of the can was too much work, thinning it down with mineral spirits and wiping it on saved a lot of sanding.
I found this book to be very helpful.Understanding wood finishing, by Bob Flexner
 

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Way back we used to have "Penetrating" stains, however the EPA and CARB have fixed that. The stains that we have today tend to just "Hang" on the surface and are much more difficult to use.

Today it seems that everything is going the water based route.

I have tried several water based stains with dismal results. The results with oil based stains are not a lot better.

Then along came water based gel stains. These are very easy to use and the results are impressive. When I am forced to stain, I have converted to using these WB gel stains.

Brands? Lately I've been using General Finishes WB gel stains with good results.

As for polyurethane finishes I've been a long time MinWax user. I prefer the oil based variety however Minwax has a "Oil Modified" polyurethane that is water based and is rather good. I don't know if the Oil Modified variety is available outside of California. HOWEVER for the flow out and thinning capabilities and being able to use a rag to apply, Oil Based is still my preference when I can get it.

BTW - While all water is H2O, drinking water contains an infinite variety of dissolved solids, etc. I highly recommend using distilled water to thin any water based product. The cost of WB products today are in the range of $40 to $80 a gallon. Why take the chance of ruining the product with tap water when distilled water is less than $2 a gallon?
 

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Thanks for the thread Tom!
I read it in hopes of learning which products to choose. I used to stain and finish Hardwood floors (A long time ago.)
Unfortunately I can't recall the brands. I've painted interior and exterior, Cabinets and Furniture and I'll throw some Auto painting in too.
Now I'm heading into Furniture Restoration for retirement. I'll buy a quart of a name brand and play with something from a yard sale. I just tried some Minwax Poly spray on a cigar box and it didn't pass the test. Will be using a brush.
I think I'll do more research. I'll buy a small can of "Deft" and "Cabot" to see if I can get the finish I'm looking for. I buy used Cigar boxes from a Smoke Shop for a couple bucks to play with. See what drags out the best.
 

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A recent thread here got me thinking about wood finishes because it seems that there are just about as many opinions about various brands as there are woodworkers, and I began to wonder (I seem to do that more as I get older) if I'm missing something.

Here's what I'm getting at. As I look through my accumulated containers of oils, stains, varnishes & shellacs, I realize that I don't have a lot of any particular brand of stuff. It's a real eclectic mix, and I've used it all at one time or another and I've never developed any particular affinity for any one brand. Whether it's a major brand or a "hardware store" brand, my results have been pretty much the same.

The only thing that seems to make any difference to me is the application process. If I try to apply all brands in the same way, I see differences in the result, but if I adjust to the product, I've never been disappointed in the result. I've experimented, I've mixed, I've played with combinations of products & brands (regardless of what manufacturers tell you, there's a lot more compatibility out there than they'll admit).

Now I suppose that I should consider the possibility that I'm just not good [bright, talented, skilled...pick the adjective you prefer] enough notice what is obvious to real woodworkers. That certainly is a possibility here; one that I really don't mind having pointed out to me, by the way...I have pretty thick skin.

So, where's all this going??? I guess I'm just interested in encouraging a bit of lively discussion on this subject so that I can learn more woodworking stuff.
My finish choice usually depends on the look I am going for, and durability level required. I do try to stay with low VOC when possible and generally spray most of my pieces. I spray with a 4 stage turbine hvlp. For wood tones I prefer aniline dyes and usually apply them mixed with shellac. I mix my shellac from flakes. For pigmented translucent I use water based stains. For clear over stain I like Target Coatings EM6000 production lacquer. For items that need increased durability such as drawer boxes, tables I like Target pre-cat conversion varnish. For durability clear over pigment I like Target Coatings Super Clear urethane. For enamel finishes, casework, I like to use BM Advance.
 
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