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Book Review: Off The Shelf Finishing
by Alan Noel

Review by J. Norman Reid

For many woodworkers, the final stage of building a project—finishing—is approached with dread. But like it or not, applying the proper finish, and doing it well, is an essential step in crafting beautiful furniture. Still, for many of us, the finishing process bears aspects of the mysterious. To some, it's a nightmare, or can be if not approached properly. Finishing is a font of confusion, of conflicting advice, and all too often, seemingly unrepairable mistakes that threaten to mar the perfection of a well-designed and executed creation.

But it need not be that way. To be sure, a woodworker has a bewildering host of finishing options from which to choose. And likewise, each method has its own particularities, its list of do's and dont's. So, what's needed is an authoritative guide through the maze of advice that's "out there."

Fortunately, such a guide exists. Longtime finishing expert Alan Noel has collected his hard-earned knowledge into a slim volume that will answer most questions about finishing. From the selection of materials and their proper storage to surface preparation, application of the finish, and, yes, fixing mistakes, Off the Shelf Finishing has the answers.

Written in a down-to-earth shop-friendly style, Noel cuts through the jargon and technical details to give straightforward shop-tested pointers on how these final steps can best be accomplished. The first chapter, entitled The Shelf, gives a rundown on the array of finishes and solvents available to you. The meat of the book comes next in a chapter called Techniques. Here you'll find advice on such things as coloring finishes, preventing bubbles, bleaching stains in the wood, and repairing old finishes, along with sound advice about proper and effective finishing practices. The final chapter, Shop Talk, is a compilation of ideas about organizing and maintaining your shop, including the selection, care, and disposal of used materials. In short, Noel gives us a practioner-tested set of down-to-earth tips that covers every imaginable finishing situation.

I found many surprising and interesting tidbits to add to what I know, or think I know, about finishing. Did you know, for instance, that ketchup does a good job of cleaning brass hardware? That vodka can be used to mix shellac flakes? That vinegar will remove dried yellow, white, or hide glue? Noel's book, in addition to giving instructions on good finishing technique, is studded with gems such as these.

I found this book to be a storehouse of useful, practical ideas and a valuable resource. If I have a gripe, it's that the Techniques chapter, where the bulk of the finishing advice is given, is organized somewhat randomly so that like topics are not always grouped together. Still, Noel packs so many good ideas into the chapter that it merits a good read-through to glean all the golden nuggets that lie within.

This book will be a good reference work of use to all woodworkers. Not only is it a reminder to experienced finishers but it's a compendium of practical tips for solving problems from which even the most experienced finishers can benefit.

Find out more and purchase Off the Shelf Finishing
at Highland Woodworking

J. Norman Reid is a woodworker, writer, photographer and woodworking instructor living in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains with his wife, a woodshop full of power and hand tools and two cats who think they are cabinetmaker's assistants. He is the author of Choosing and Using Handplanes: All You Need to Know to Get Started Planing by Hand, and co-owner of Shenandoah Tool Works. He can be reached by email at jnreid45@gmail.com.


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