Ask the Staff


Like many beginning woodworkers, I'm making progress in learning the tools and techniques for making a project – that is "working" the wood; milling, cutting, joinery and sanding. However, I'm still absolutely overwhelmed when it comes to finishing. For example, I'm stumped on the following: I'm making a replacement top for a folding gate-leg table my wife acquired at an estate sale and would like to know, in ABC terms, what products to use, how to use them and in what order. The wood is Sapele and I would like a durable, high-gloss dark reddish-mahogany finish. I don't have a sprayer and am an absolute novice in finishing.


The very simplest way of achieving a nice finish for your new table top would be to use gloss Minwax Polyshades finish. The varnish finish and color are all in the can. This will take some time but I think you will be happy with the results.

1. In a well-ventilated, well-lit room, make sure all of the prep has been completed and that you are now ready to start the finishing process.

2. Considering that Sapele is already a very nice reddish brown, you must choose a Polyshades color that will achieve the color result you are aiming for. This involves combining the natural color of the wood plus the color that the Polyshades will add to equal the final result. A little practice on a scrap piece of the Sapele will lead the way.

3. Next, simply thin the varnish 25% with mineral spirits and wipe on a thin even coat every 48 hours, lightly sanding in the direction of the grain between coats with 800 gript sand paper. Wipe off all sanding dust with a tack cloth and before wiping on the next coat.

4. Continue these steps until you get the finish build you desire.

5. After 3-4 days of curing after the final coat, lightly sand again with 800 grit sandpaper, in the direction of the grain of course, to remove any dust that has settled and then rub with 0000 steel wool and apply wax in the direction of the grain. Any good quality furniture wax will do. If this were going to a museum, you might consider Renaissance Wax. Personally though I prefer clear Kiwi shoe polish.

6. Throughout the drying and curing process, keep a small fan running on low on the floor to keep the air circulating. This will really help the varnish to dry thoroughly.

7. Remember, patience is a virtue...

Alan Noel
Professional Furniture Refinisher

Have a woodworking question for our staff? Send us an email .
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Visiting Atlanta? Attend one of Alan's upcoming highly informative Highland Woodworking wood finishing seminars:

Scott Antiques Mall Treasure Hunt , March 13, 2010

French Polishing , April 14, 2010

Visit Highland Woodworking's Online Wood Finishing Supplies Department

Alan can be reached directly via email c/o Alan Noel Furniture Refinishing at .

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