Monthly Archives: February 2011

Woodworker’s Spray Finishing Tips

I’ve been using my Earlex HV6900 for about a year, and sprayed with other methods before that. I’ve sprayed paints, lacquers, polyurethanes, and shellac. Now that I’ll be spraying a lot more, I thought I’d write down some tips to share with you and as reminders to myself. I’d love to read your tips too, so please add them in the comments section.

Preparation is key

You need to prepare the piece for finish, prepare the space for finishing, prepare the finish, and prepare yourself.

Garbage in the shop, garbage in the finish. If you are applying finish to a piece that is not well sanded, or not wiped clean, don’t expect good results. If you are applying finish in a messy shop, expect dust nibs in your finish or droplets of finish to settle out of the air and onto your tools. On the day before finishing sand the piece well, clean up your shop, clear a space for finishing, setup your Portable Spray Booth, and let any dust settle out of the air. If you have an air cleaner, run it. But turn it off a few hours before finishing so that you don’t have the circular airflow in the shop stirring up dust and creating a secondary airflow that competes with your ventilation.

Check your equipment. Make sure that you have chosen the right needle for your finish and your gun is clean and working well. Run some denatured alcohol through the gun to make sure everything operates as expected, and re-familiarize yourself with the controls. If your gun isn’t clean, clean it thoroughly.

Prepare the finish. The sprayer manual will tell you how to measure the viscosity of the finish, and the label on the finish will tell you if you can thin the product, and which thinners to use. Test the viscosity, add any necessary thinner, stir well, and filter the finish.

Always, always have great ventilation. This is true for all finishes, and especially true for non-water-based finishes. You do not want to create large flammable cloud in your shop if you have open flame, a furnace, a water heater, or anything else that could create a spark. If you are spraying in your garage, shut off your furnace so that you don’t create secondary air currents or draw the fumes into your home. My Portable Spray Booth is a ‘wind at my back setup’ drawing the airflow from the space behind me, past the piece, and outside.

Always, always wear a mask. Even if you are obeying the ventilation rule you should wear a mask rated for filtering chemicals. All finishes contain things you don’t want in your lungs even in small amounts. Paper masks won’t help you here, get a real mask like a 3M 7500 with Organic Vapor Cartridges. Eye protection is also a very good idea.

Light the piece well. Especially if you’re spraying a clear finish it can be hard to see how well you’re progressing. A raking light is a great idea, cast a light on your piece at an angle and you’ll be surprised at what you see.

Plan your attack. Think about how you’ll spray the piece, and if you’ll need anything to help you spray. You may need Painter’s Pyramids, a finishing turntable, or a ladder to get the top. You’ll need a clear floor so you don’t trip. You’ll need to know if you’ll be spraying the underside, inside, or back of the piece, and in which order you’ll spray. You may want to think about managing the air hose so that it doesn’t get in the way or rub on the piece. Plan where you will place your turbine (if you have one).

In general, for spraying cabinets I spray the underside to seal the wood, set the case up on Painter’s Pyramids, spray the back, then turn the piece so that I’m looking into the case. I then spray the inside of the case from the furthest inside the case and work my way out. Think to yourself “inside out, top to bottom.” At this point, if I touch the top or the sides it’s ok – there is no finish on them. I then spray the top starting at the the point furthest away and working towards myself. If the hose touches the sides it’s ok – there is no finish on them. The front and sides get sprayed last, and then I back away and let the finish dry.

Don’t Spray A Thing

If you’ve done everything above, you might think you’re ready to spray. Don’t you dare. Get yourself a test piece of wood and follow these steps first.

Spray the minimal amount with the smallest needle. Tighten the fluid adjusting screw all the way. You won’t be able to pull the trigger, and nothing will come out of the gun. Begin to slowly back out the fluid adjusting screw until you get a fine atomized mist. If you have to open this all the way the needle is too small or the finish is too thick. If a lot of material comes out when the knob is barely open, your needle is too big. I’d also say that the material is too thin, but you can’t really un-thin your finish.

Test fire your gun. Using your test piece, which should be the same material as the final piece, test the spray and examine the results. Determine how fast you should move the atomized finish across the piece, how far away from the piece you should hold the gun, and how much overlap you need in your spray pattern. If you’re not happy check the sprayer manual and the finishing label. Most have a troubleshooting section to remedy common problems. In my Earlex manual, that’s page six. If the manual doesn’t answer your question, contact the spray gun manufacturer or the finish manufacturer. I’ve been able to get quick informative email replies from Bullseye, General Finishes, and Earlex.

Pass the test. If you don’t pass the test, don’t apply finish to your piece. It’s that simple. You’ve worked very hard and you do not want to make a mistake at this point. Do not move on until your gun is spraying a nice coat of finish consistently. Besides, sanding sucks.

Start On A Good Note with a Good Coat, and Repeat

Hooray! Hooray! It’s time to spray!

You Are a Robot, Not a Meat Popsicle. You are not a human when you spray, you are a robot. Do not swing your arm at the elbow or shoulder, instead you need to articulate your entire arm or move your entire body so that the gun is always the same distance from the material, perpendicular to the piece, and moving at a consistent rate. If you swing your arm or bend your wrist the gun doesn’t travel in a straight line across the piece, it travels along an arc. This changes the angle at which the finish is applied and therefore changes how much finish adheres to the wood because the angle at which you apply is one factor in how much finish bounces off the wood. Moving the gun along an arc also changes the distance at which you apply the finish and therefore how big the droplets are, how wet the droplets are, and how fast the droplets are moving when they hit the wood. If your piece is wet in the center and dry on the edges you know you’re not a robot.

Spray off before you spray on, and spray off again. Start spraying with the gun pointed off the piece, move the atomized finish across the piece in a straight line at a consistent rate and off the other side, and then release the trigger. Don’t point the gun at the piece when you pull or release the trigger. The atomization is a bit inconsistent at these points (high pressure during pull, low pressure at release), so only use the consistently atomized finish that is released between the trigger pull and trigger release.

The first coat of finish is the most important. This first coat is the seal coat will will soak in sealing the wood fibers, and unfortunately raise the grain causing it to feel rough and bumpy. Wood fibers are like straws and they soak up your finish, and when they do they swell creating rough spots and bumps. Any bumps and nibs will be sanded out smooth to create a nice foundation for the rest of the coats. Note that some finishes recommend that you apply a separate product for the seal coat.

Many light coats. The wood will soak up a lot of finish on the first coat, but don’t apply the finish too heavy. Many light coats are better than few heavy coats and you’re less likely to get runs, drips, and orange-peel. After the first coat you’ll notice that much less material is needed to coat the surface, and that the results get progressively smoother. Your raking light will help you see the finish get applied. Without a raking light, you’re more likely to apply heavy coats.

Wait before smoothing and recoating. Really, I know it feels dry and you have a deadline, but it may not be dry enough. If the manufacturer recommends four hours then you should wait four hours. Waiting means waiting, it doesn’t mean “go stir up dust in another part of the shop.”

Smooth between coats. I don’t like calling it sanding because people get too aggressive when I tell them to sand. The goal between coats is to smooth the finish and remove any nibs. Make sure you’ve let the finish dry completely, and go lightly. Do this by hand with a high grit (320) and and use finer grits as you move through coats. Go lightly. Wait, I already said that but it bears repeating. If your fingertips are white, you’re not sanding lightly.

Apply the recommended amount of coats. If the manufacturer recommends three coats, then apply no less than three coats.


You still have some work to do. Let the piece go through the final cure while you do the following.

Clean the gun. Using the correct solvent for your finish, disassemble and clean your gun according to the manufacturer recommendation. If you used a water-based finish this can be done in the kitchen sink with warm soapy water, but spray alcohol through the gun and wipe everything down with alcohol as the last step. Water causes rust and you do not want a rusty gun. If you gun requires lubrication, do it. You might want a cleaning kit.

Write it down. For each piece, write down the finishing schedule which includes how you prepped the piece, the needle you chose, the fluid adjustment screw setting, the finish and how much it was diluted, the number of coats applied, drying times, the smoothing and polishing steps, and the wax used. If you are a professional tracking time and costs you may also want to include the time it took from start to end and amount of finished used.

The Finishing Touch

Congratulations! Your piece is done, now it’s time for the finishing touch.

Polish the surface. I don’t even want to call this smoothing, because you shouldn’t use sand paper. Using the finest synthetic steel wool pads which you can get here or here rub the surface to remove any nibs from the last coat. Again, go lightly.

Wax On, Wax Off. Divide the piece into sections and apply a good quality furniture wax to a section, wait for it to set up, and buff it out. Move onto the next section.

Fin. After reattaching any hardware and doing any final post-finishing assembly, you’re done!

Extra Credit

The tips above cover just the basic scenario of spraying a clear finish with an HVLP sprayer. There is so much to learn and know about finishing, and I’d love to see what you have to say in the comments below.

  • Using different finishing materials for different coats: for example applying oil as a first coat, moving to shellac for subsequent coats, and applying polyurethane as the final coat.
  • The different spray methods and their pros and cons: HVLP, conversion, gravity, LVLP, pressure pot, etc.
  • Spraying color: paints, tints, dyes, stains, and other pigments

Please share your tips or ask questions in the comments section.

Enhance Your Woodworking Business for $5 a Pop at

Somehow I found Their tagline is “The place for people to share things they’re willing to do for $5” which at first, sounds a little sketchy. Is this the website where you can pay the neighborhood kid to eat a booger? Well, I’m sure you could, but I was looking for something more and I found it.

Here’s How it Works

  1. Find a gig you like and order it
  2. Pay $5 by PayPal or credit card
  3. Track your seller’s work progress, exchange files and communicate
  4. Get your finished work!
  5. You will have 48 hours after work delivery to ask for fixes from the seller
  6. Provide feedback and review

This is pretty similar to other sites like and – remember I used for the Upper Cut Woodworks logo. But on everything is $5 and it is very easy to make a purchase. After checking to make sure it was legitimate, I decided to try it out. I focused my purchases on things that I couldn’t or wouldn’t do, things that were great deals for $5, and some impulse purchases. A lot of my orders will be incorporated into my videos to take them to the next level in production quality.

Take On Me, Take Me On

This first one is a pencil sketch of me working at the bench. The idea here is to fade from the real picture of me to the pencil sketch. Much like the A-Ha “Take On Me” video from the 1980s. Yes, I asked the artist to remove some of the pounds I’ve added in the last four years. But those Popeye forearms are for real, yo!

Picture of Matt from Upper Cut Woodworks at the Bench from fiverr.comPencil Sketch of Matt from Upper Cut Woodworks at the Bench from

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Beautiful Calligraphy

The art below was a bit of an impulse purchase but I’ve already incorporated it into the exit sequence of Video #8. I like this because it is nostalgic and reminds of how the company name might be written by the founding fathers. It’s also gorgeous, and was done by hand which as a woodworker I love.

Upper Cut Woodworks Calligraphy Logo from

Thank You for the Music, the Songs We’re Singing

I need music for my podcast, and there are great sites out there that showcase musicians from all over the world, offering music in many genres, for just about any purpose you can think of. A couple of my favories are Free Play Music and Audio Jungle. There are musicians on as well, and they create custom music for you.

Here’s a track I bought, titled Beautiful Strength

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Listen to Me Now, But Believe Me Later

But there is another kind of audio for sale on, and that’s custom voiceovers. Write the script, order the gig, and literally within a day or so I have a nice 30 second audio spot.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

If You Build It, They Won’t Care

I admit it. I feel like I’ve done a lot of work on the website. I know the Number One Rule is to just make sure your site is full of lots of fresh and relevant high quality content, but I guess I also believe there is some trickery behind the scenes. I am constantly reading things like Google’s SEO Starter Guide and running web analyzers like and I work hard to fix the things those analyzers point out hoping that the number of visitors will magically increase, my ad revenue will skyrocket, and I can retire to my own private island. And yes, I will own a Unicorn that farts rainbows.

Do You SEO What I SEO?

There were some tempting offers on, things like “I will send 10,000 visitors to any website for $5” and “I will tell my 27,000 twitter followers about your web site for $5” and these seem really tempting. They conjur dreams of living on your own island, cashing checks from Google. Some of those gigs (as calls them) are popular and highly rated. So, I tried one. Yes, I did. Consider it an experiment. I also highly recommend Yeah! Local. They are an amazing SEO company and will get you the results that you are looking for.

Sure enough, Google Analytics and WordPress saw the traffic, but it wasn’t real traffic. It wasn’t users that care about what I care about, and they weren’t really viewing the content (or the ads). So while this may pad some Alexa ratings, and trick search engines into thinking I am suddenly more awesome than I was last week, it could actually hurt my rating with search engines. I am sure they know which traffic is real, and which traffic isn’t, and will soon start ignoring the fake traffic. They’re smart like that.

The New Phone Books Are Here!

There were some other SEO things I did that will hopefully be more useful. There are a lot of directories you can submit your sites to, but the submission process is a pain. Being listed in a directory is kinda like being listed in the phone book. Navin R. Johnson was excited to be in the phonebook, and that’s what the directories are like. Big lists that some people refer to some of the time. But if no one is looking for you in the first place, just being in the directory doesn’t help much.

Like Navin, I want to be in the directory. For $5 a seller on submitted my site to DMOZ and the Yahoo directory. The upside is that the seller provided proof of their work with screenshots that prove the process was completed. The downside is that the submission could take weeks to be reviewed. The seller also submitted my RSS Feed to 60 directories for free. We’ll see if that has any impact.

Back to Rule Number One

According to Caseo, a SEO agency you should just make sure your site is well organized, full of lots of fresh, relevant, high quality content, and inviting. By inviting, I literally mean it – make sure it’s easy for users to subscribe to your content, or get notified when you update. So in recent weeks I’ve done a ton of things to the site to improve it including:

  • SEO: Geolocation information
  • SEO: Dublin Core
  • Performance: WP Super Cache
  • Performance: Apache gzip compression
  • Inviting: IE9 Site Mode
  • Inviting: High quality favicons
  • Inviting: Updated banner area with subscription icons
  • Organized: Built pages for Archives and Categories
  • Content: Six posts in eight weeks, including four videos

The Verdict

Like I could get addicted to browsing through the listings and finding interesting stuff. Purchasing with PayPal, communicating with the seller, and receiving your order are super easy. The pricepoint is just right and there are a lot of gigs on that are well worth a Fiver. I’ll be back to get more, but I’ll probably stick to pictures and audio.

What sites or services have you used to enhance your business, create your website, or build your marketing materials? Have you ever outsourced a business task like book-keeping? What about a woodworking job to someone with a specialty, like a turner or a finisher?

Video Post #8: My Shop Buddies

Having a buddy in the shop is always a good thing. Sometimes our buddies are human, like my buddy Greg that helped me build the Thomas Walnut Dresser. Sometimes our buddies are dogs, like Shannon Rogers’ buddy Alex, a great looking dog that sleeps in the shop and occasionally hits his head on things. Tom Iovino has (and is) a Shop Monkey. And of course Tommy MacDonald has Al and Eli. So today I thought I’d introduce you to my woodworking buddies.

Hayden is almost four now, and loves to come into the shop. She has her own little projects and work area, and a little toolbox of plastic tools. I think it’s time to build her a little bench and get her some wooden tools.

Who are your shop buddies? Do you have fond memories of being a shop buddy?