Stain is a pain

I began applying the General Finishes Java Gel stain to the pieces of my bookcase project last week. At the beginning I had quite a bit of trouble.

The instructions on the can say to work in sections, apply the stain and with a clean cloth wipe off the excess especially the smudges (which I take to be overlaps).

I found I had to work in ever decreasing section sizes since as soon as I finished applying the stain and picked up the cloth to wipe off the excess, the stain was already tacky and there really was no excess that could be removed. I also found that all of the smudges occurred when I went from one section to the next and the fresh stain touched the previously applied stain (as it is not possible to prevent lapping over from one area to the next), and as before as soon as I finished applying the stain it was already tacky, not really any excess to remove and the smudges/lap marks would not move.

Another thing I found was when I tried to go over part of a section where the stain did not quite cover like the rest, when the wet stain touched the previously applied stain it removed a good bit of what was already there, so “touch-ups” were not really possible (at that time anyway).

In fairness to the product what I decided was the heat and humidity we have been having were working against me. Plus since there is no way we can work in our shop/garage without having a fan on, being so hot, that breeze was causing premature drying.

One thing that amazes me is removing the stain from your skin. I saw on the can that you could use either mineral spirits or waterless hand cleaner and since I have Go-Jo wipes I decided to try those and they took the stain right off. It so nice not to have to use mineral spirits.

I sent General Finishes an e-mail about the “trouble” I was having and they agreed with me that it was/is most likely the weather working against me plus the breeze from the fan. They recommended I add about 10% mineral spirits to the stain, and when I did that it made all the difference in the world.

The stain went on much easier, I was able to work in larger sections (so it took less time to finish each piece) and with exception of a couple of places (operator error I think) I did not have any smudges when I overlapped one area into another.

The color came out alright, and the second coat, drying darker, sort of hid the smudges I did end up with. I just do not know how those areas will look after I apply the General Finishes HP water-based (Satin) top coat.

I only have a few more pieces to stain, unfortunately they are the longest pieces (the sides and middle vertical section). I am going to have to use a different approach to do those pieces since they are heavy, and will have wet stain on them, I will not be able to move them by myself. Currently my thinking is to set up three sets of saw horses (side by side), apply stain to one side and get my wife to help me move that piece to another set of the sawhorses, then repeat the same thing for the next two pieces; well for one of them at least since I can leave the last piece on the sawhorses I stain them on.

It would seem to me for those of us in the Gulf Coast, where it is so hot and humid, that using gel stain should not be done during the summer (or without adding some mineral spirits anyway). And I would not being doing so if I was not matching my daughter’s furniture which is also that Java color.

So I am closing in on getting this project finished. There are some things that will prevent me from making as much progress as I want (doctor appointment, etc.) but I’m getting there.

As for the top coat I have decided to use a paint pad to apply it since the pieces are somewhat large and I do not want to have similar “premature drying” problems like with the stain.

The woman at General Finishes suggested I put panty hose or a nylon footie over the pad since they tend to leave fibers in the finish. They also say to apply a water-based top coat over an oil-based stain I have to let the stain dry for at least 48 hours, but that will not be a problem at all with the interruptions I mentioned above.


Not as advertised

Today I applied shellac to the end grain I talked about in my last post. I also used that “Frog Tape” I also talked about and found it did NOT seal along its’ edge all that well, so I have shellac on some places on the shelves around the edges of those half laps.

However, I guess I should give them a break since it is PAINTERS tape, apparently not tape for something like shellac which has alcohol in it.

I had applied the tape around both sides of each half lap on the shelves. And when I removed the tape saw shellac in places I did NOT want it, so decided to not go to all that trouble for the half laps on the center vertical piece and just be really careful with my brush. That worked pretty well and I wiped off any shellac I got on the surface immediately.

When I did the ends of the two side pieces I did get some shellac onto the outside surfaces but it had begun to dry before I could get it wiped off, so will have to sand those places.

So some more hand sanding (hot dog) to remove what did dry ON the shelves and side ends, and I should probably scuff sand, with 320 or 400, the end grain on the shelves, and ends of the two side pieces, that you will see as the stain might not adhere otherwise.

But all of that is for Monday.

Speaking of drying fast, I applied a coat of the water based satin top coat to one side of my sample piece and it was completely dry in about 5 minutes. The can says allow 1-2 hours, but it was totally dry in that 5 minute period. Amazing what a little 100 degree heat will do.

Found new work

While I  thought I had enough work to finish my bookcase project I have found more (oh yeah!).

To see more of what I found here is a SketchUp drawing -

ImageAll of the shelves, and the center vertical piece, have half laps and the shelves slide into those in the vertical piece. There are no means of fastening, no glue or screws as I did not want to cause any cross grain movement problems.

Well what I have realized is that there is end grain on both sides of the half laps, thus entry points for moisture (both in and out). So I need to put at least one coat of shellac on all that end grain (I was already going to do that on the end grain of the shelves).

My only issue is that the half laps are 1-1/2″ x 7-3/4″ so getting a brush in that space and not get shellac on the shelves themselves will be a bit of a challenge.

I think the best way to keep that from happening is to put blue painters tape along the three edges to hopefully catch any overage. Actually I think I’ll use a brand of painters tape I have called “Frog Tape” that is suppose to seal better along its’ edge than regular painters tape.

Of course my experience with painters tape shows it raises the grain (which I just spent a few days getting rid of after each coat of the blotch control), so hooray – more sanding!


On a slow boat

The phrase “On a slow boat to China” certainly applies to the finishing process.

I boarded that boat last week on my bookcase project. As you probably know, I am using poplar, and as you also probably know poplar has a lot of different colors – white, brown and often green on the same board.

I have been applying a blotch control product developed by woodworker Charles Neil. What it does is somewhat seal the wood so that it takes stains and dyes evenly across the whole surface. It works much better than trying a wash coat of shellac or the myriad other methods I have tried. Although it does not seal end grain completely (so that it will not absorb extra stain making that darker than the rest of the piece) so for that I add a coat of shellac and that takes care of the problem.

You apply a wet coat, wipe off the excess and wait an hour or so for it to dry. It raises the grain so afterwards you have to sand it with 320 grit sandpaper to remove the “whiskers”. Once you have done all of the surfaces you apply another wet coat and repeat.

I have done almost all of my pieces (there are a total of 11 and I have done 10) and they are ready for me to apply stain. The only thing I have not done is the small base and I can do that at any time.

My next step is to apply my stain (I am using General Finishes “Java” gel stain).

I have prepared a sample piece doing all the same steps as my “real” pieces and have found that to get the color I want/need (I am having to match my daughter’s furniture) I will have to apply two coats (yeah!).

I also found doing the sample piece I can only do one side at a time, since if you touch the wet stain some of it gets removed or smeared. And according to the instructions drying time is 6-8 hours (another yeah!).

Well since I cannot touch the wet stain I am not sure how many of the pieces I can stain at one time.

Doing the sample showed me I cannot keep the stain off of my gloves, so to do more than one piece I will have to remove my gloves, move my piece, put on a new pair of gloves, stain another piece and repeat the same process for the next piece.

That is quite a few pairs of gloves to go through, but have not come up with another way.

THEN after 44 times (11 pieces 4 times for two coats) I have to wait 48 hours before I can begin applying my top coat.

The reason for that wait time is I am going to use General Finishes water based High Performance Satin Polyurethane over an oil based stain. I have used that top coat before and love it. It is easy to apply, dries fairly quickly and smoothly – it looks great.

I usually use a brush but may try something else (paint pad?) since three of my pieces are 15-1/2″ wide by almost 6 feet long  and not sure I can use a brush and not have it start drying before I can complete applying it to a whole piece/side. I am not sure about the paint pad as I do not know if it would go one without lap marks.  All of the pieces are that wide but none of the others are that long.

I should try that on my sample.

So once again I would be doing the same with the top coat process; one coat per side, so another 44 pair of gloves. And since I usually put on three coats, that is another 88 pair of gloves. I think I will need a new box of gloves (thankfully there are 100 pairs in a box).

So rather than probably being done in the next few weeks it is looking like it will be perhaps a month (boo).

Too bad this boat is so slow.

Seems like a life’s work

I have not added any posts for over a year now mainly because I have felt like there has not been much to talk about.

But that is not really true. For that amount of time I have been working on one project – a bookcase for my daughter. It is something she saw in a store, for quite a bit of money, and asked if I thought I could make her one like it and I lovingly said ‘sure’.

Well that was, in hindsight, not the right answer. This bookcase is large, okay bulky. It is just under six feet tall and a little less than four feet in width, but is made of inch and a half stock and is almost sixteen inches deep; by my calculations it weighs over 200 hundred pounds.

None of the shelves go all the way across the width, so all of the joinery has to be precise otherwise the shelves will not end up level. And that is where a lot of the “rub” has come on the project – figuring out how to get all the joinery in line at each shelf location.

More experienced woodworkers would have been able to do this easier than me, but there is just me so it took awhile to figure out how to do that. Two jigs later, one I had to design and make, and it has come out well.

But this project has fought me at every step. I ordered rough stock, to save money, and after thicknessing I ripped the pieces to width (since I could not order stock wide enough I had to edge glues pieces). Somehow the rip fence on my tablesaw managed to move over a little on each cut (unbeknowst to me) so all of the pieces were tapered. Unfortunately I did not discover this until I had edge glued everything.

Since there was now a “centerline” (the glue line) I could not just rip them again on my tablesaw. I measured from that “centerline” out to each side, so I would end up with the correct width, made a guide for my circular saw and re-ripped the now completed pieces.

I left about 1/16″ extra width on each side and ran them across my jointer (some pieces weighed about 30 pounds and were six feet long rough length) to remove the saw marks.

After eventually getting all the joinery cut, a few “you gotta be kidding me” moments, a lot of sanding (random orbit and hand) I am finally at a point, almost, to begin the finishing process (I can’t wait for more sanding after raising the grain).

The stain is a very dark brown so that should hide any of my “sins” I missed. And hopefully in another month I can actually work on other things.

It has been very frustrating at times, but I have learned quite a bit that I can use on future projects.

So you won’t feel too sorry for me, I have taken minor breaks from time to time for some quickies; replace some fluted trim pieces on my house and make a storage piece for my wife.

I belong to a woodturning club and for the latest break I turned a small bowl at a recent mini-retreat we had. It was the first bowl I have ever turned and I took the time to finish it for my wife. And for my first ever bowl it came out pretty well.

But now it is back to the bookcase. I know it will be finished, it just does not feel like it.


My drawer boxes are almost done and they look really good (my wife says) – they do not fit. Well, one of them does (actually they all fit in the first opening) and a second fits in the next space except it stands proud of the face of the cabinet. And no I did not try them in the cabinet before I started putting finish on them (lesson learned). But I still would have had the same problem, so it really does not matter – except for having to repeat the finishing steps on the sides.

Unfortunately that second one I cannot do anything about as it is the one where one of the corner pieces I made that push on the finger joints to get them seated completely while the glue dries. So it is out of square on that corner.

I measured all of the openings in this existing cabinet and they are all the same, so I sized my drawer boxes to be slightly smaller than that.  And all of the boxes came out the size I planned – Note to self: apparently only 1/16″ smaller is not smaller enough so go for 1/8″ next time. Another thing I think might have contributed to the problem; it has been fairly humid lately so the wood could have “absorbed” enough moisture to make them a bit bigger, but it is probably just me not making them small enough.

So I’m faced with needing to reduce the width of four finger jointed drawer boxes by 1/32″ on each side. I could hand plane them but I am not near good enough with a hand plane to do that as I would have to plane from one end to the middle and then from the other end to the middle so I would not tear out any face grain. And my ending up with a consistent thickness is not very likely.

I could use my bandsaw, but my table is not wide enough to keep the bottom of these boxes flat throughout the cut.

So I have come up with a plan for using my tablesaw. I need to clamp a sacrificial piece of wood at the front and back corners so the blade will tear out that face grain, and not my drawer face grain.

I have found that my saw blade does not come up as far as my boxes are tall, so I will have to plane off that 1/8″ it does not reach.

All in all, just more lessons learned! And I have trimmed using my tablesaw and did try them in the cabinet and they do fit. Yay!

But all in all I am a bit bumfuzzled as to why they do not fit since I only made them 1/16″ smaller. Oh well, some things are just not meant to be known.


Well at least for me anyway.

As I mentioned in my last post I am now making three more drawers/boxes for my wife. And from my experience with the last three I cut the finger joints on my router table, and this time I DID make the pieces wider so I could cut off and hand plane them to get the width I want. Plus not trying to use a table saw jig this time saved a huge amount of time.

And I decided that instead of cutting the groove for the bottoms completely across all of the pieces, on the sides I would make stopped grooves. One the last three drawers/boxes cutting the grooves from one end to the other meant that the fingers at each end had voids that I had to fill to maintain the finger joint look, and it took quite awhile to hand plane pieces to fit in those spaces (and really did not look all that great – to me anyway though others probably will not notice).

So I figured out where to place stop blocks on each side of my router bit and after a couple of trials, and adjustments,  made the grooves. With the stopped grooves the fingers on the ends are whole (mostly) , and the part of the finger left will be inside its’ mating slots; well that is the plan at least.

Something that happened again was some of the slots are wider than others so there are gaps on each side of the fingers. One the last three drawers/boxes I thought it was something I had done wrong, but since it has occurred again it has to be something else.

One each drawer there are a total of 52 slots that have to be cut, for a grand total of 156 for all three. I cut these without stopping, as I did last time, and when I finished noticed that my router lift was REALLY hot. The only thing I can figure out is that the heat from the router must have transferred to the router bit causing it to expand enough, at some point, so that some of the slots are wider than the ones cut before that point.

Now I am faced with having to fill those gaps after my glue ups and my current plan of attack is to mix some saw dust with glue to make a filler and force it into those voids, sanding everything flush once the glue has dried. It is not something I want to be doing, but the prospect of trying to make really thin “shims” to wedge in the grooves appeals to me even less.

One other thing, not really related to much, is that I would have added a picture or two to one of the posts about these drawers except that our camera has quit taking pictures that are worth a flip.