Overcoming Wood Finishing Problems and Issues

Overcoming Wood Finishing Problems and Issues

Embracing the Flaws: A Woodworker’s Journey

As a lifelong woodworker, I’ve encountered my fair share of finishing challenges. But you know what they say – where there’s a problem, there’s an opportunity. And that’s exactly the mindset I’ve adopted when dealing with the various curveballs that wood finishing can throw our way.

Let me take you on a little journey of my own, where I found unexpected beauty in the flaws. It all started with a forgotten Modesto ash plank that had been languishing in my workshop for over a decade. This piece had seen its fair share of wear and tear, including a nasty infestation by those pesky powder-post beetles. As I examined the plank, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of excitement at the prospect of turning this damaged wood into something truly special.

Embracing the Imperfections

Now, you might think I’m crazy, but hear me out. Those beetle holes and tunnels – they weren’t just flaws to be concealed. They were the canvas upon which I could create something truly unique. I decided to use this damaged ash plank to build a Maloof-inspired low-back chair, channeling my inner Sam Maloof and embracing the imperfections along the way.

As I laid out the templates and started mapping out the chair components, I had to be extra careful to dodge the knots and splits. It was like a game of Tetris, trying to fit all the pieces together without sacrificing any of the precious material. And you know what they say – constraints breed creativity. With a little creative maneuvering, I was able to make it work, even though I knew there would be no spare parts.

Filling the Gaps

One of the biggest challenges I faced was dealing with the extensive insect damage. Those powder-post beetles had really done a number on the sapwood, leaving behind a network of tunnels and exit holes. But instead of seeing this as a problem, I viewed it as an opportunity to add some character to the chair.

I started by using a small steel brush to clear the tunnels of any lingering frass (that’s the fine, powdery mix of wood fragments and beetle poop, for those of you who aren’t familiar with the term). Then, I brushed on some hot hide glue, letting it seep into the crevices and stiffen the rough areas. The next day, I used scraper blades to level off the surfaces, creating a unique and textured finish.

But I didn’t stop there. I also encountered some cracks and gaps, particularly on the inside face of the left arm. Without hesitation, I reached for my trusty 5-minute epoxy and filled those areas, blending the surface in seamlessly with the final wood finish and coloring.

Finding the Silver Lining

As I worked on this chair, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride and excitement. Sure, the insect damage and imperfections could have been seen as a problem, but I chose to embrace them. In the end, those “flaws” gave the chair a truly one-of-a-kind character – a testament to the resilience and beauty of the natural material.

And you know what? The chair ended up being incredibly comfortable, especially for the lower back. So not only did I create a visually stunning piece, but I also built something that’s practical and enjoyable to use every day. It’s a true testament to the power of seeing challenges as opportunities, and embracing the imperfections that life throws our way.

Overcoming Common Finishing Woes

Of course, the journey of a woodworker is never complete without its fair share of finishing challenges. Over the years, I’ve encountered a wide range of issues, from orange peel and fish eyes to blushing and cracking. But with a little know-how and the right techniques, I’ve been able to overcome these obstacles time and time again.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the most common finishing problems and how to tackle them:

Orange Peel

This pebbled, orange-like surface can be caused by a variety of factors, from an insufficiently diluted product to too high of an air output from the spray gun. The solution? Adjust the viscosity of the coating and, if needed, use a retardant to slow down the drying process.

Fish Eyes

These pesky little craters are often the result of contamination, whether it’s from silicone, oil, or even wax. The fix? Identify and eliminate the source of the contamination, and consider using a leveling agent.


That milky, opalescent appearance can be caused by excessive humidity or an improper balance of solvents in the film. Adding a bit of retardant to the lacquer is generally the answer.


If you’re seeing surface or in-depth cracks in the finish, chances are the final coat is too thick. Follow the application instructions to the letter, and you should be good to go.

Slow Drying or Insufficient Hardness

This problem can stem from a variety of factors, from too much humidity or cold in the workshop to an improper catalyzation. Maintaining the right temperature and humidity levels, and using a fresh batch of coating, can often do the trick.

Embracing the Journey

As a lifelong woodworker, I’ve learned that the path to creating truly beautiful, functional pieces is never a straight line. It’s full of twists and turns, challenges and setbacks. But that’s what makes it so rewarding.

Whether it’s embracing the imperfections of a damaged piece of wood or troubleshooting a stubborn finishing issue, the key is to approach each obstacle with a curious and open mind. Because who knows? That “problem” just might be the key to unlocking something truly special.

So, my fellow woodworkers, let’s raise a glass (or a chisel) to the journey ahead. May your workshops be filled with the scent of freshly sanded wood, your tools as sharp as your creative vision, and your determination as unyielding as the materials you work with. Here’s to overcoming the challenges and reveling in the beauty that lies within.


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