Post details: Nordy Finishing Q&A


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Nordy Finishing Q&A

Nordy Finishing Q&A

Nordy Rockler founded Rockler Woodworking and Hardware in 1954. Over the last half century, Nordy has spent thousands of hours in the workshop, building projects and perfecting his finishing techniques. He's regarded as a finishing expert, and has developed a number of Rockler exclusive finishes. We recently met with Nordy to discuss the art of finishing and some of his favorite products.

Woodworkers often say that finishing is the part of the process they struggle with most. Do you share that struggle, and why do you think that is?Nordy: Years ago it was more of a struggle because there wasn't a variety of good products available. In the earliest times a person would just use an oil pigment, wipe on stain, maybe a coat of shellac as a sealer, and then a varnish, which maybe took 24 hours or more to dry. Because it was so slow to dry you'd get a lot of dust particles settling in it. Today we have such a multitude of products available it is much simpler, especially once you get familiar with the products and use the ones you like. Finishing is the culmination of doing a project. You can put a lot of time and money into the material, and you can botch the whole thing with a bad finishing job. Finishing is a critical part of the whole project.

When did you develop such a strong interest in finishing?
Nordy: Well, when we started the business. Finishes are a crucial part of doing woodworking, so it was just sort of a natural process that I became interested in it. Through looking at various lines and talking to different salespeople, I learned a lot about finishing. I tested a lot of products, and I still am today. To keep on top of it, you really have to keep on trying them and testing them.

What is the main key in getting a great finish on a woodworking project?
Nordy: Two things. First of all, you have to be very patient; don't rush it. And the crucial thing is to test it on some scrap wood and make sure you get the desired effect you really want. Another reason for testing is you have a schedule of finishing materials; test them all the way through the whole process, from beginning to end, and you will get a really good feel for what the end result will be.

How do you decide which finish to put on a particular piece?
Nordy: The type of project really dictates what type of finish you put on it. If you're building cabinets or a bookcase, an oil-type finish is very simple and pleasing, and very easy to repair. I wouldn't recommend an oil finish for a dining room table, because you need more protection. You need something harder, more durable, and waterproof. It all depends on what you're building. It also has to do with personal preference. Do you want a gloss, a semi-gloss, a flat finish? Does the piece need a lot of protection? Does the piece need to match another piece in the room? There's a lot of considerations.

Nordy Finishing Q&AWhat are the benefits of shellac and Rockler's shellac kits?
Nordy: Shellac is a different type of material, and not necessarily used as a top coat. It's a multi-purpose product. It was very popular in the 1700s, and a lot of the antiques were finished with it because that was the only finish available at the time. It has its advantages. It dries very fast and gives you a nice appearance. But it does have its drawbacks. It is not completely water resistant, and it can be brittle. Sometimes it's the finish you have to use, especially for the furniture restoration people who want to get a piece as close to the original as possible. The pre-mixed stuff you buy off the shelf in a hardware store has a limited shelf life. It's usually only good for six months after you open it up. If you buy shellac in flake form you can mix it yourself very easily just by mixing with denatured alcohol in different proportions. If you want to use it for a sealer, or wash coat, you use a thin solution, what they call a two-pound cut shellac. If you're using it as a top coat or finish you want it a little thicker, you want a four-pound cut. We came up with our new shellac kit because we had previously been selling it by the pound, which is a lot of shellac flake for the average consumer. So we packaged it into a smaller 2 oz. size, and they can make a two-, three- or four-pound cut, whichever they want, and it has a graduated scale on the container showing what proportions of denatured alcohol to shellac to use. It simplified the use of it. We're also going to be offering it in a half-pound container.

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