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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I'm in the process of building my bar (L-shaped, using oak plywood and red oak 1-by's) and was wondering if any of the woodworking experts out there had any tips/advice on the finishing/staining process? Like, how much sanding is necessary? What grit sand paper should I use? Do you recommend a sheet-type finishing sander, or an orbital sander? And then there's the staining...how many coats and what is the best thing to use to apply it? On top of the stain, I'm thinking several coats of polyurethane. I've also read about some techniques like using dyes to enhance the grain, but I'm not sure I want to go that route.


Any help would be much appreciated...
 

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One layer of stain, 2-4 layers of poly, depending on how much it will be handled, etc. I'd definitely do at least 4 layers for plywood that will be used as a countertop, and probably more than that.


Best application is with a brush, but be careful to minimize bubbles by being gentle while you brush. Sand between each coat with 180 grit or so, the regular paper works fine. Any kind of mechanical sanding will put too much pressure on the wood and will make it uneven. You just need to get the roughness out (not poking you as you run your hand across it).


Also, poly any side that could possibly be exposed to water. For example, a trim piece that is at the corner of the counter and a wall, where water could get under it, poly the bottom (even though you won't see it).
 

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I would not use any type of electric sander for the finishing. I would do it by hand. You are less likely to end up with swirls or lines left by the sander.


I would work my way to 400 grit sanding the 400 grit by hand. It is A LOT more work, but I've always been happier with the finished product.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Thanks for the advice, guys. So even for the sanding before applying ANY stain, you still wouldn't use mechanical? Tim, when you say "sand in between each coat", you mean to sand in between each poly coat, right? Do I sand after the stain, before the first layer of poly?
 

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Yes, you sand between every coat, including stain. Whenever you put on a layer, it will bring out the grain and you need to sand it after. I wouldn't use mechanical for it because it really isn't that much that you have to do (and isn't that difficult). Personally, it would literally take about 2-3 minutes to hand sand one side of an oak door.


It's nothing intense -- just enough to make it relatively smooth. I personally don't use multiple different grits... just something like 180. You will see very slight scuff marks from the sandpaper, but as soon as you put on the next layer, they're gone. On the last layer you use the very, very fine (like 400 as gushy said) sandpaper, and then perhaps use a damp cloth to clean it up.


Use glossy sheen for poly for all of the layers except the last one, and use whatever sheen you want for the last one (incl. glossy if that's what you want). Oh, and regarding the bubbles, the best way to prevent that is to be gentle with pulling the brush out of the can and brush the extra off the inside edge of the can. If you let the bubbles dry, they're a PITA to get out with sanding.
 

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Oil based products will not raise the grain like alcohol or water based will. Don't go finer than 220 or 320 grit before staining or the surface will be too smooth to properly accept stain. It's a good idea to use a scraper to take the fuzz off hardwood veneer plywood before sanding. Oil based stains and polys are easier to use than water based which can dry too quickly to control. Water based is better for odor and cleanup though plus it dries faster so there is less time for dust to stick. If you use water based poly, don't put any objects on it for a month. Although dry to the touch, it will creep under load. Get a copy of Flexner's "Understanding Wood Finishing". It is an outstanding resource.
 

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Don't forget to use a tack clothe between each sanding to get rid of the dust. Also be aware that poly yellows with age. If you don't want this affect you need to look at another type of finnish. One more thing for moisture reasons you should coat both sides of your wood, you can get some warping otherwise.
 

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I'm thinking of doing a bar in my space also. Has anyone seen/used a finish specifically for bartops? I remember seeing it at HD, but can't remember the name. Is there an advantage to this stuff over multiple coats of poly? It appears to create about 1/4 inch thick coat in one application.


Thanks for the great advice on finishing techniques!


Tom
 

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Quote:
I remember seeing it at HD, but can't remember the name. Is there an advantage to this stuff over multiple coats of poly? It appears to create about 1/4 inch thick coat in one application.
I've used it over painted table tops. It's a two part epoxy, and once hardened, it's pretty indestructible. The final finish is very shiny, but you could knock that down with very fine steel wool. It's easy to apply— mix and pour it on, but also easy to screw up— make sure you mix more than enough and get the bubbles out before it hardens. It's pricey; depending on the size of your bar top, you could spend a couple hundred bucks on the finish.
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by dynamowhum
Also be aware that poly yellows with age.
Oh yeah. That's another difference between oil based and water based poly. Oil based yellows but water based doesn't.
 

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Instead of using a brush-on finish try using a wiping varnish such as Minwax Wipe-On Poly. Fine Woodworking did a review on wiping varnishes recently and they rated this product tops. It's also less expensive, and more easily found than many other finishes. Wipe-on finishes take more coats to build up a finish, but allow for exceptional control and are nearly fool-proof. Cleanup is much easier too since you use rags. Be sure to layout your rags on the garage floor or hang them out to dry since there is always a danger of spontaneous combustion with oil finishes.


I would recommend sanding the whole bar top with a random orbit sander through 180 grit and then hand sanding with 220 (by this time it doesn't take much effort). If you use the wipe-on finish, sand very lightly between coats with 320 grit and then 400 grit before your last coats (you're just after knocking off the dust that settled after your last coat). If you want a satin finish, lightly buff with 0000 steel wool. To finish it off put on a coat of paste wax.
 

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Thanks for the correction Wolfy, I thought both yellowed.
 

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When finishing anywood with an open grain (oak, Mahogany, etc.) i recomend a grain filler before applying coat after coat of poly. The open grain will obsord the finish faster then other parts of the same board or veneer and cause an uneven surface. after filling the grain ussually 3 coats of poly will give a near glass smooth surface with proper sanding between coats.
 

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I had forgotten that Ken but you are correct.
 

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In addition to what Ken Greene mentioned it is also good to wipe the surface with a damp cloth complete sanding then add the sanding sealer.


To see what happens to oak take a scrap piece and put some poly on it. Where the grain is dark you can actually see pits in the finish. Once they are there no amount of finish will cover them up.


As for the yellowing this may not be as much of an issue if it is in a basement that does not have direct sunlight on the bar. Also if you are using a yellow based satin this will be hard to detect.


I always use a palm sander to smooth the surface with 120 grit before the stain. I do not know how big your bar is but it could take some time to hand sand.


Another thing to consider is buying the sanding sponges from you local hardware store. Once they are used you could cut sheets of sandpaper to size and wrap it around the block and tape the seam. This will allow you to evenly sand the contours especially of bullnose running around the top.


Follow the stain can directions and wipe off excess after the recommended time. Resist the temptation to leave the excess dry. If you do you may be suppressed how long the stain coat takes. If you do not like the color you could always stain again to make it darker.


Between your stain coat and the first finish coat use 200 grit by hand and use very gentil strokes. That stain is easily removed.


Use 180 to 200 between coats to create a scratch layer so the next layer has something to adhere to.


If you are concerned about the final look take a scrap piece and stain and finish coat it to see if you like it.


My father in-law uses the epoxy finish and it looks great. It did take him awhile to perfect the technique. I do not know if I would try this the first time on a large project.


Good Luck
 
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