Oil, Wax, and Urethane Top Coats

Finishing Your Wood Project

By L.S. Irish

Oil, Wax, and Urethane Top Coats

Any carving project that you create will need a final finish applied to protect it over the years from dust, dirt, oil, etc. Which type of finish you chose is dependent on the final use of the project and purpose of the project. My three favorite finishes are Danish Oil, Paste Wax, and Spray Urethane or Spray Polyurethane. Each has it’s particular advantages and disadvantages.

Applying Danish Oil Finish

Danish Oil gives a wonderful finished effect, is extremely simple in it’s use, and stands up very well to handling. It does, however, tone the Basswood to a golden color and can slightly change the look of any stains or acrylic paints that you may have used on the project.

Once your project is thoroughly dry from any stain or coloring application, apply one even coat of Danish Oil to the entire work using a good, soft bristled brush. Let this coating set for fifteen minutes. With a clean cloth wipe off the entire work removing any excess oil. Now put your carving aside for the night to dry. The next day repeat these steps. Simple, easy and fool proof, every time.

Applying Paste Wax Finish

Paste Wax is the clearest of any of the final finishes. The very white color of the Basswood stays true and stains are totally unchanged. However, paste wax does not hold up well to lots and lots of handling. So unless I am willing to occasionally reapply the wax I will use this finish on the more decorative carvings. Even with it’s lack of long term durability under constant handling, I will admit I use it often just because it does feel excellent to hold.

Since I am applying paste wax to a highly detailed carving, that is still raw wood, I am going to apply it with a brush, not a rag as is usually recommended on the jar instruction. I have a good quality white synthetic fiber brush, 1/2″ size that I use just for waxing. Load the brush by rubbing it in circles over the paste wax. You don’t need a lot of wax on the brush. Now scrub a light coat into the details of your work. As your apply the wax, do not let it build up any thickness in the crevices, brush this out.

Let the piece set for five minutes. While you are waiting clean your wax brush off by pulling it though a clean rag, just removing any surplus wax.

Use this same brush to buff the wax to a nice sheen. Rubbing the soft bristles through the carving details is enough to polish it. Next, gently wipe over the entire project with a clean cloth to buff the high areas and uncarved parts of the project.

Again, let the work dry over night then repeat the waxing process.

Applying Spray Urethane/Polyurethane Finish

Polyurethane and urethane are the most durable for any carving that will receive a lot of use over it’s life time. Personally I prefer the spray type of urethane, because of their convenience and ease to use. However, I do not like the high gloss effect that often comes with using polyurethanes. So I will note here that it is my habit when I need to use either of these finishes I will tone the final gloss look down by applying one light coat of paste wax over the dried finish. Now I have the durability of the urethane and the wonderful look and feel of the wax.

I use the urethane sprays that are now available. Again, they are easy to use and extremely easy to clean up after working. Read the directions on your particular brand of spray before beginning. Shake the can well, this does mean, just as it says on the jar, for about five minutes or until the ball bearing inside the spray is moving freely. Hold your spray can about 12″ away from the work. With long sweeping semi-slow motions apply your first coat.

Now this is the ‘first trick’ of spray urethane and polyurethane … you should not be able to see that you have applied anything to the work. This first coat must be extremely light. The moment you have gone over the entire work and then think ‘I’ll give it just a bit more”, stop! You have more than enough.

Follow the can directions and turn the can upside down to spray clean the nozzle. This will avoid splatters on the next coat. Do this every time you finish using a spray.

The second ‘trick of the trade’ is to let that coat dry thoroughly. Applying more spray over damp spray will cause cloudiness in the finish. Be patient. Apply the first coat at breakfast, the next coat after dinner, and then maybe the third coat the next morning, do not rush this process.

The ‘third trick’ comes on the second coat. Turn the piece upside down to spray it. This insures that all the details have been give a light finish. Again, a very light coat. These first couple of coats will feel grainy in your hand since they are so thin. As your slowly build up the layers that graininess will disappear.

Continue adding coats until you have a nice, even finish.

Using polyurethane sprays is not difficult but I have found that is does take a little experience to get that perfect finish. The most common mistakes are:

  1. Too much too fast. Don’t try to do it in one or two coats.
  2. Too much too soon. Give the every coat plenty of time to dry.
  3. Too much too close. Stay 12″ away, any closer will blast the spray into one area.
  4. Too hot or too cold. These sprays are the one set of finishes I have found that are weather sensitive. Very cold days or very hot and humid days are not good for your finish.

Preparing the Work for Finishing
Coloring Agents and Stains
Oil, Wax, and Urethane Top Coats

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