Saturday, March 24, 2012

Finishing Pine

"He was still too young to know that the heart's memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good, and that thanks to this artifice we manage to endure the burden of the past.” 

Gabriel Garcia Marquez,  Love in the Time of Cholera

Back when I started woodworking, I was fresh out of college and working at my father's planer mill, where we processed about 10 million feet of Eastern White Pine, so guess what wood I used for my first few, at the time, part time years as a budding woodworker.

I learned how to work with wood that was slightly warped, because when I got it it was already surfaced to 3/4".  Another thing I learned was how to finish pine so it looked pretty good.  Paint it!  Seriously, I paint most of my pine projects but sometimes I want something different and here are two examples of finishing processes.

The Shaker wood box above is stained with steel wool dissolved in vinegar.  It takes at least a couple weeks and then I run it through a coffee filter.  Then I just use a plant mister to spray it on and then wipe it off.  A couple coats of linseed and thinner and done.  It's amazing how over the years, this pine looks just like walnut.  It really does. 

Here is a jelly cupboard that I stained with a gel stain.  It's a fairly involved process that has seven different steps; not that any step is hard but it does take time.  But the results are worth it.  I sand it out to 180, then hand sand and vacuum.  Then a spit coat of shellac, gel stain, shellac, glaze, shellac, then oil varnish, couple coats, and then dark wax.  One key to finishing pine is to use oil based product.  Otherwise, it never gets to be a rich orange color.

This piece above it finished the same way, and is based on a Shaker dry sink from the Handburg books.  This one is perfect as a changing table.  The large knobs hold plastic bags for the diapers, the door hides extras and wipes, the drawers hold more extras, the height is right as is the length.  It is just perfect as a changing table. 

As far as the boat, I am going to try a new thing on the floorboards.  The bottom of the boat is pine and I have read that a painted bottom is a whole different kind of maintenance headache, so I want something that is no work and very traditional and I found "boat soup" online.  It is real Pine Tar,  Tung Oil, real Turpentine, and some Japan Dryer.  I guess you just warm it up and slather it on, then wipe in off.  Six coats should about do it.  Sounds really salty, can't wait.


  1. You know there is a saying somewhere out there that I've heard many accomplished gastronomes articulate, and it goes something like this: "real cooking is taking very average ingredients and making something special from them." There's a parallel between this saying and how i reflect on your pieces above made of pine.

    this is truly gorgeous work! thank you for the tips on finishing pine. that jelly cabinet is spectacular. you took a very modest wood and elevated it to a refined piece. That's my kind of woodworking...

    I'm actually making a small cabinet to hold my computer/printer debris out of knotty pine right now. It will be one of my first casework projects so my thinking was to avoid using "nice" wood. but you know, the little knots have grown on me and I'm trying to make this piece as well as I can. A learning project nonetheless. I'll have to bookmark your entry here so that I can recall your methods on finishing when I get to that stage.

    Adam of Oakland

    1. Angostura,

      I have long thought that pine is the hardest wood to make a nice piece of furniture because it is so common, anyone can make walnut or mahogany sparkle. Like steaks, any one can make a great filet mignon, but to make a burger sing, that is magic. Thanks for the kind words and good luck with your pine project ( and burgers! )


  2. On the Jelly cabinet, what color and brand of gel stain? And what is a "glaze"? Thanks.

  3. Joe, I use ZAR provincal (sp) as a base stain over the shellac. A glaze is essentially a gel stain, you wipe it on and wipe it off, I use a big house brush and brush the glaze to even out any swirls or lap marks. I use Behlens glaze, a brown I think. do small sections as it dries pretty quickly.

  4. Joe.. I don't brush the glaze on, I wipe it on and wipe it off, I use the brush AFTER I have wiped it all off, just to even it out.