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How Many Coats of Finish?

wood finishing

by Alan Noel
Professional Wood Finisher

Over the years I have been asked many times, "How many coats of finish is enough"? Well, that is a good question, to which there is no definitive answer. It all depends... and I say that a lot. It all depends on what the piece is and how it will be used, and of course, one's own personal taste. So I will limit these tips to the use of oil based finishes and deal with other types of finishing products in future columns. Here are six tips for knowing when you might be done using an oil-based finish:

  1. For a very durable finish and one that needs to be very tough, say on a kitchen table, coffee table or end table etc, 2 to 3 coats of varnish should be enough on the top, with 1 to 2 coats on the legs/base.
  2. For chairs, benches, chests and other such pieces, 1 to 2 coats should do the trick.
  3. Any wooden pieces that will be used outdoors or under a covered porch should only have "spar varnish" or "boat varnish" applied. Never more than 3 coats. First coat should be thinned 50% with mineral spirits for good penetration then two full strength, sanding between coats.
  4. When applying wipe on varnishes, double the coats.
  5. Penetrating oil finishes are so low in viscosity use as many as you like.
  6. Always have good air movement when applying any finish for proper curing.

Visiting Atlanta? Attend one of Alan's upcoming highly informative Highland Woodworking wood finishing seminars:

August 3 & 4   Antique Restoration

September 11   French Polish Workshop

September 28   Spray Finishing

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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