Currently, I’m down in Phoenix, Arizona, working for Morgan Holt of EarthArt Landscape & Designs, Inc. on a massive dining table being made from one large slab of bubinga.
Yesterday was an edgy day, so to speak. The previous day, I had carved the edges with the angle grinder equipped with an Arbortech wood-carving wheel. My next job was to smooth the edges. I started with a rasp, as I had done on the sample board. However, the sample board was only about 3’x1’x2″, therefore I was able to position it in the best possible way, which was vertically, with the surface being worked on at elbow-height.
It was impractical to orient the workpiece in a similar fashion, so that was out of the question. I tried various positions and grips on the rasp, but got fatigued quickly. Reluctantly, I plugged in the belt sander and went to work. As much as I detest sanding, I really was glad to have the belt and random orbit sander available for this table. So I worked my way up from 36-grit to 120-grit. Belt sanders are not light, and I found the best way to use it without straining myself was to sit down in a chair and hold the belt sander in front of me at about shoulder height. I took frequent breaks to rest my arms. When I finished with the belt sander a few hours later, I put the tool away and began hand sanding the edge with 120-grit sand paper, then up to 220-grit.
This morning, I started off by inspecting the work I had done yesterday and spent some time sanding any areas requiring additional work. Around 11:00am, I applied a sealer coat of blonde shellac which we had mixed up yesterday and had been giving a swirl every now and again to dissolve the shellac flakes. I wiped on a thin coat with a rag and let it dry for about 15 minutes before applying a second. I applied an additional coat to the end grain, which has a tendency to absorb more finish than other parts of the board, resulting in a darker colour.
I monitored the drying process, checking every once in a while by sanding it. If the shellac gums up the sandpaper, it hasn’t sufficiently dried; if the sandpaper stays clean and produces dust, the finish is dry. I waited, tested, waited, tested, then decided to go for lunch. An hour-and-a-half later, the shellac was dry in some areas. Despite the thin cut and thin coat applied, the age of the shellac inhibited the curing process. This is a problem with pre-mixed shellac and blonde- and super-blonde (bleached) shellac. Orange, untreated shellac in flake form does not have this problem. Anyhow, I proceded to sand away the finish. The idea was to fill the pores with the shellac which would prevent them from absorbing the oil/varnish finish which we would apply later. This took a lot longer that I had expected, but I trudged on. I had spent three days sanding, so another two hours wouldn’t kill me.
Once complete, I could see an even sheen across the table. The next step was to apply the oil/varnish finish, which would be the top coat. I read the label, which advised me that it needed to be stirred well. Even though I could see no sediment that would need to be stirred in, I stirred, and I stirred well.
Just then, at the perfect time, Morgan came into the shop. Together we decided that we’d wet-sand the finish. We found a fine synthetic steel wool (Scotchbrite) pad that would work. Morgan poured the finish over the table and I spread it around and sanded it into the wood with the pad. Doing so creates a slurry of wood dust and finish which help to fill any pores or scratches or small knot holes.
Once the wood was coated, we stood back and admired how beautiful the table looked, all glossy with the finish still wet. Then we grabbed some cotton rags and began to wipe off the excess finish. As time elapsed, the finish began to thicken. It took the two of us about five minutes to remove the bulk of the excess, then ten minutes to go back with clean rags and get the rest. The result is well worth all the prep time I had spent the days prior.
The picture shows the table after one coat, about 15 minutes after wiping it clean. We’ll allow the finish to dry overnight. The directions on the can recommend 24-36 hours between coats, but given the lack of humidity and presence of heat in Phoenix, we feel comfortable giving the finish a little less time to dry. We’ll need to apply 2-3 coats on each side. Flipping the table will be a challenge for the two of us, but with some jigging and rigging, we’ll get it done.