Tag Archives: general finishes

The Final Mantels

It’s been a long time coming, I know.

These are the Mantels I built and installed for a wonderful client, the Stavoe Family, Memorial Day 2012. All built from solid walnut with pine seconds, sprayed  with Shellac and General Finishes Enduro-Var.

Classic Dining Room Mantel

You’ll notice that the fireplace is not centered on this peninsula wall. So the family and I worked together to design a mantel that went straight to the wall in the corner. This design is more classic and formal, inspired by designs of the real estate on Hilton Head Island. It’s a very thick top and is screwed upon a French cleat.

Stavoe Dining Room Mantel

Stavoe Dining Room Mantel

Craftsman Sitting Room Mantel

This peninsula wall divides the space into the dining room and a sitting or reading room. From other areas in the house you can see both sides of the peninsula wall, and both mantels. So the family and I wanted the materials to match the rose gold flatware set and proportions to be the same, even though the style will be less formal in the sitting room. This mantel is also screwed upon a French cleat.

Stavoe Sitting Room Mantel

Stavoe Sitting Room Mantel

Walnut Slab Family Room Mantel

The last mantel is in another area of the house, the great room – where the kitchen, eating, and play areas come together (see the Geelong home builders project). This mantel is made to look like a solid walnut slab, but it’s not. There are threaded inserts recessed in the bottom for stainless steel christmas stocking hooks. This was the install I had the most anxiety about, but it slipped into place on cleats very tight and sturdy.

Stavoe Family Room Walnut Mantel

Stavoe Family Room Walnut Mantel

I’m getting caught up in reverse order, the post regarding design and construction will come next.

Organized Finishing Shelf

Winter Shop Cleanup: Finishing Products I Keep On Hand

During #Woodchat Wednesday last week we talked a lot about what you can do with just a little shop time. Sometimes you get just a little shop time after dinner, or sometimes you’re in the shop all day waiting for glue or finish to dry and you have a short amount of time where you could be productive instead of sitting on your thumbs.

Saturday I had some time while waiting for a finish to dry so I organized my shelf of finishes.

Organized Finishing Shelf

Organized Finishing Shelf

Finishing Products I Keep On Hand

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On the far left in the back I have gallons of Denatured Alcohol and Mineral Spirits. In front of those I have my Enduro Var. In the center back, I have a collection of General Finishes Water Borne Dye Stain which is now my favorite way to add color to wood. With a fine mist you can tint, tone, and because these are compatible with Transtint Dyes you can make your own custom color.

In front of those you can see the finishing bottles I bought from Eagle America. These are great for keeping shop chemicals handy when using them in small amounts. They help a clumsy guy like me prevent spills too so I have some extras on hand in the back. They keep me from dunking dirty rags into full cans, and from the lids of my cans getting ratty.

Furniture wax and Renaissance Wax which is a microcrystalline polishing wax and is great for tools and furniture. I’ve used this with a power buffer before to bring up a shine on a glossy desktop.

I have a few Transtint Dyes which I keep on hand and really like because they are completely compatible with the General Finishes Water Borne Dye Stain. I mix these into alcohol when I’m using them solo.

On the far right I have rattle cans of Shellac and Lacquer, and quarts of Danish Oil, Boiled Linseed Oil, and Minwax Wipe On Poly which is a good wiping varnish right out of the can. You can make your own wiping varnish, but why bother when  Fine Woodworking rated the Minwax very highly.

Considerations When Organizing Your Finishes and Chemicals

  1. Safety: wear gloves and eye protection.
  2. Expiration: Many products have a shelf life, if your finish is past its shelf life, don’t use it.
  3. Mixing: don’t mix a product from one can into the other. The formulation may have changed, or the expiration dates may vary.
  4. Disposal: if you’re going to dispose of any finishes or chemicals, do so responsibly.
  5. Replacement: because of expiration dates don’t replace a supply unless you’ll need it in the near future.
  6. Storage: ideally my chemicals would be stored in a metal locker that is more suitable.

Other Finishing Supplies I Keep on Hand

This just covers the items that are on my chemical shelf, and doesn’t cover the Preval gun or the Timbermate wood filler. I keep a lot of other supplies in the shop that are related to finishing:

  • Wooden stir sticks bought at a craft store. These are essentially tongue depressors but are great for stirring chemicals or mixing up epoxy.
  • Small paper cups bought at a grocery store. These are wax free cups and are great for removing small amounts of chemicals from a can, or for mixing up epoxy.
  • Rags from the paint store. These are essential for any wipe on finish like the Minwax Wipe On Poly, and are also used for buffing wax. They can also be used for shellac, dye, and stain.
  • Respirator stored in a gallon zip bag to keep it clean. I wear this consistently (now) and I’m glad I do.
  • Spray gun tips, cleaning supplies, extra cups and finish filters, maybe something from vacuumkoo.com even – to make sure it’s clean all around.
  • Paper towels to clean up spills. Dispose of all rags properly.
  • Gloves to keep hands clean and protected.

Tip: when putting the lid back on a can, cover with a paper towel before tapping closed, this will catch any splatters.

Organizing the shelf took longer than writing this blog post. I’m really glad I took the time to go through the supplies on my shelf and get things organized. This freed up half a shelf which I now use to store my spray gun and related accessories in a sealed bin. I hope you see that in little bits of time you can get things accomplished and be productive in the shop.

After seeing my clean shelf and all the great products on hand I was inspired to do some finishing on a small gift project.

A Quick and Custom Dark, Rustic Tray for Our Ottoman

My wife and I recently bought an ottoman for the family room of our vacation place. Wifey is a fan of leather storage ottomans (so we know for sure what the best leather conditioner is) with trays on top for setting drinks, remotes, magazines, etc. Our new ottoman is not square, it’s rectangular, so she offered to (gasp) spend Saturday in the shop with me as I put together a quick, custom tray. The tray is built from pine that it leftover from other projects, so the material cost is low. In fact, the only thing we purchased were handles for the ends of the tray.


Dark, Rustic and Restored

The first step was to test out the finishing recipe. I don’t stain wood very much – I prefer letting the natural color show through and get richer over time. I had a pint of General Finishes Java Gel Stain that has been on the shelf for, well – too long, so I tested it on scrap pine to ensure it would still develop the color we were looking for and cure correctly. The pine was sanded, sealed with a spit coat of shellac, lightly sanded, and finished again. I made the spit coat by cutting Bullseye SealCoat with 50/50 with Denatured alcohol.


Wood Selection and Preparation

Digging through the lumber rack, I found some pine boards that would be more than appropriate for the tray. The bottom came from a nice wide piece that has been on the rack for years. It’s got some great detail but also some twist. I flattened this board by removing the guard from the jointer and getting one half of one face flat. Then I flattened the other half of the face with a handplane. When the two halves of the face matched and the board would lay flat on my bench, I used the planer to bring the two sides parallel and smooth.



The boards for the sides were extras from a recent project, and were glued and screwed to some cleats. I unscrewed the cleats and pounded the joints apart, then used my block plane to remove the dried glue. Then I cut the pieces into rough lengths, cutting away knots as much as possible.


Then I face jointed and edge jointed these boards on the jointer. Note my walking boot, yes I was woodworking post-surgery with an ankle boot on – but no painkillers were involved. You can see the disassembled table for the spray booth tucked behind the jointer.


After jointing, the pieces were ripped to width.


Joinery, Maker’s Mark, and Pre-Sanding

The bottom will be let into the sides via a groove, so I chucked up my Eagle America 3/8” Spiral Upcut 1/2” shank router bit and recessed the two sides and two ends.


Then it was time to Miter the sides and ends at matching lengths. I set the the blade with a Wixey Angle gauge to 45.0, and ensured my miter gauge was square.


After all pieces were mitered and dry fit, it was time for the Maker’s Mark. Use a cheap torch to heat the brass.


And burn it into the underside of the pine bottom.


Then, all pieces were hand sanded and sealed with spit coats of Shellac. Doing this before assembly is really going to make things easier later.

Assembly and Splined Miters

A band clamp will make assembly go smooth and ensure tight joints. I don’t have fancy store-bought corner blocks for my band clamp, so I made some from scrap and covered them with tape so that glue would not adhere. I also put blue tape on the inside face of the boards where the miter joint will come together. This will keep squeeze out off the inside joints, and I hate cleaning glue from inside corners or even sanding them.


After the glue dried, I reinforced the miters with splines. This tray will get tossed around and miter joints are beautiful but not the strongest. So I quickly threw together a jig with some scrap ply and staples to cut splines in the corners. I used my rip blade for this cut because it has a flat top grind.


A thin strip of white oak was ripped, sanded to fit, crosscut into eight small pieces, and glued into the kerfs.


After the splines dried, I trimmed them with a small Japanese flush cut saw, trimmed them flush with a block plane, and sanded all outside faces. Then all outside faces were sealed with a spit coat of shellac.


Applying Gel Stain

As I said before, I’m not a big fan of adding color to wood. if I want dark furniture, I’d rather use dark wood. However as a woodworker it’s important for me to learn a wide variety of finishing techniques. I applied the Gel Stain, which is really a tinted gel polyurethane according to the directions. I actually found that applying the stain and then wiping it away with the same (stain infused) cloth instead of a clean cloth worked better for the look I was hoping for. A clean cloth wiped away too much stain.


When the stain was dry, I lightly sanded it with 400 grit and applied 2 coats of spray lacquer.

Finished Product

And here’s the (darn near) complete project. The handles need to be installed, and this tray is ready to go. Wifey approves! She even blogged about it – check it out here. You can’t tell from the pictures but this is super  smooth to the touch.



So get out there and use up your scrap and build something for your spouse. Try out a new finishing technique (on scrap first), and a new joinery method. I don’t think I’ll use Gel Stain again, but I will use mitered splines – after I build a better spline jig that I can also use for dovetailed mitered keys. Mitered Splines look good (although you can’t tell when they are covered in gel stain), and they are strong. I’m excited to use them in a project with complementary woods and a nice finish.