This is 9 Unbelievable Wood Finishing Myths for Beginners, and in this post we are going to tackle both common and uncommon myths that beginners often hear about finishing. By the end, you will feel better bout finishing.
Wood Finishing Lore
Of all the aspects of woodworking, wood finishing is one that is wrapped in lore and mystery. It might have to do with the chemicals, the unknown aspect, or something more, but finishing seems like myth and fable sometimes.
There are a lot of reasons, but the most common is fear. You hear these wild stories about wood finishing and how it needs to be done a certain way, with a certain product, and at a certain time of the day.
Then, you think that every finish is really difficult, or you really need to know a lot about finishing in order to be successful. Thankfully, this is not true, and you can become a great wood finisher in a short amount of time, even as a beginner.
The real answers to these nine wood finishing myths are a good start, and will make you feel better about learning the craft…
Myth One: Finishing Chemicals are Dangerous
One of the biggest myths is that the chemicals used in wood finishing are dangerous. While some of them are, especially if you are not protecting yourself, the companies that make wood finishes have your safety in mind.
Imagine a warning label on a can of finish that read, “If This Chemical Touches Your Skin You Will Die.” No matter how good the finish is, or how amazing the look, nobody would buy it. At the end of the day, the product needs buyers, otherwise everything else is meaningless.
Finish manufacturers know that the overwhelming majority of people buying their products are weekend warrior and DIY types. They also know that a ton of protective gear and extra danger is not something that they can sell. Since they want to make more money, they intentionally make finishes that are not as dangers as you might think.
That being said, some basic precautions are all you need in most cases to make sure you are safe when you are applying a finish. They start with gloves, a respirator, safety glasses, and working in a well ventilated area. If you do these things, you will have a safer experience with your finishing chemicals.
See Also: The Secret to Wood Finishing
Myth Two: Finishing Takes a Long Time to Learn
Another fun myth about wood finishing is that it takes a long time to learn. While this is surely the case at the higher levels, that is no different than the higher levels of any hobby. It would be like saying you should never pick up a baseball because it looks hard to play in the big leagues.
One of the most interesting things about wood finishing is that you can learn the basics really quickly, and yet can still provide yourself a lifetime of challenges if you want to. You might just learn a few easy and awesome finishes and quit right there.
There is nothing wrong with that strategy, and you will be able to apply a great looking finish for the rest of your life. You are the pilot, so you are in charge of how difficult or interesting you want your finisher career to be.
If you want to learn everything about finishing, it can take you more than a few lifetimes and learn it all. If you only want to learn enough to apply a great looking finish to your projects, you can do just that as well. Either way, you are in control, and you can learn how to apply a great finish in an afternoon.
If you want a really easy finish to try, then Tru-Oil is your winner. This is an inexpensive, tiny bottle, and you can apply a beautiful finish on day one. This is a hand applied finish, and in general these are the easiest to learn.
See Also: How to Finish Wood with Tru-Oil
Myth Three: You Need a Teacher
This one probably comes from people that want to sell you something that teaches you how to finish wood. The idea that you absolutely have to have a teacher to learn how to finish wood is absurd, and you definitely do not.
Many of the best wood finishers in the world are completely self taught. These people are just like you, but the only difference is that they have spent time learning. Over several years, they developed a lot of knowledge, and that’s why they know so much.
Though many of these master finishers do go on to become teachers themselves, they will tell you that you can learn finishing on your own just as easily. The big thing that a teacher does for you is shorten the learning time.
When you have to do all the research yourself, it can take longer than just learning a set of lessons in a classroom setting. This is where having a teacher is an advantage, but again not something that will prevent you from learning the craft.
See Also: 7 Ways to Get Better at Finishing
Myth Four: You Need Expensive Finishing Equipment
This myth prices people out of wood finishing long before they even enter the field. Most new woodworkers and hobby workers do not have expensive spraying equipment in their budget, and that can be a bummer.
Depending on what you are finishing, you may have to get a sprayer, but this is very rare, and in most cases you can always find a hand applied equivalent. Sprayers are faster, which is why most shops use them, and when time is money, you end up paying for the sprayer pretty quick.
The good news is with hand applied finishes, you do not need to have any spray equipment, so it will not break your budget. The other good news is that for many years before the invention of the spray gun, people were finishing wood by hand. They were making beautiful finishes, and they have stood the test of time.
See Also: 10 Step Guide to Wood Finishing
Myth Five: Finishes are Unsafe Even When Dry
Finishing chemicals can be dangerous if you are not careful, but with basic precautions they are safe to be around. The finish mixtures themselves are also rumored to be dangerous, but I promise that your finish will not get up in the middle of the night and kill you.
This myth mainly comes from the food safe argument. Since in most finishes, the hazardous chemicals are designed to evaporate, the idea is that a fully cured finish is safe to contact food that will be eaten.
There are several views on the debate, and there are reputable people on both sides. In general the experts say that most finishes when fully cured are safe for intermittent food contact, dry, at room temperature. This means a fully cured finish can come in contact with food for a bit and not end up killing you. This is a good thing.
If you are thinking about making something that will hold food, do some research. There are some finishes that work better than others, and some are even labeled food safe. I recommend using a purpose made product, and saving the worry.
See Also: Understanding Wood Finishing
Myth Six: Finishes Contain Lead
This one makes the news every so often when some country that makes goods for American is found to be using lead paint. Everyone goes into an uproar, because they think the product is going to kill everyone that touches it.
Lead is a drier in paint, it literally makes the paint dry quicker, and like it or not, lead is one of the best driers. In a country where making more widgets in the same amount of time means making a profit or not, sometimes lead paint can make the difference.
When a product dries faster, it can move to the next step in assembly faster. This means more output in the factory for the same amount of time. Again, though not ethical at all, everyone has reasons for what they do.
In reality, unless you breathe in lead paint dust, or eat lead paint, you are probably going to be just fine. Also, it’s nearly impossible to find lead in any finishing products sold in any modern country, so you should not worry too much.
Myth Seven: Finishes Hurt the Environment
Depending on how extreme you are, another big myth is that finishes hurt the environment. If you believe that even one drop of finish is harmful then yes they do. However, for the hobby woodworker, it’s an extremely small footprint.
Hobby woodworkers probably only use a few gallons of finish in their lifetimes. A factory can use more than that in an hour depending on how big they are. When you compare the two, there is no comparison in quantities used at all.
On top of that, if you want to use natural finishes you can, and there are many. Shellac and Linseed oil have been around forever, both are natural and do not harm the environment. If this is a concern of you, simply buy one of these finishes and you will have a great looking product that is super easy to apply.
The idea that all finishes harm the earth is silly, and even when using more human made chemical based finishes, the amount is so small that stopping wouldn’t make a dent compared to large production shops.
Myth Eight: The Rags Will Burn Your House Down
Rags that are covered in wet finish and left in a pile can self ignite. The pile traps escaping gasses and then creates heat. Heat combined with flammable vapors is a recipe for fire, and they can burn your house to the ground if you are not careful.
The myth is that this happens all the time, and that you are taking a huge risk by applying finishes with a rag. The truth is you are not going to have your rags all get together to sabotage you while you are out of the shop, and you only need to do a few things to help yourself.
First, if you remove the chemicals, you remove the problem. Make the flammable source go away, and you make the danger go away too.
Second, if you wet your rags after finishing, it will dilute the finish. Water and fire do not work well together, so after you use a rag and are going to throw it away, just wet it really well to rinse out the finish. Then, squeeze it dry, and place it open where it can fully dry.
Finally, purchase a small rag can that is fire rated and designed for finishing rags. This is a great item to have if you are concerned with a fire, and it’s made to contain the danger should the rags ignite.
Myth Nine: You Don’t Need a Finish at All
There is a small movement that does not want to finish their projects, because the myth is that the projects don’t need a finish at all. While in some case I imagine this would be ok, in most a finish is going to be a much better choice.
The main job of a wood finish is to protect your project. A secondary effect of a great finish is that it makes the project look better. This is good, because not only will your finish make your project last longer, it will also make it look better.
Wood changes with the seasons. It sucks up moisture in humid times, and let’s it go in dry times. When this happens, the wood gets bigger and smaller. If you have a project, and all of a sudden the wood changes in size, it can cause problems.
Instead of worrying about that, apply a good finish. The thin layer of finish does not stop the wood from making seasonal changes, but it does slow them down. This means your chances of failure from the pieces changing too much is pretty low.
Unless you have some rare exception, I always recommend finishing a project. This will protect it over time, and will also make it look better. When you apply an oil finish to a board, the transformation is amazing. You have to see it to appreciate it, and it can make you fall in love it’s wood finishing.
See Also: 13 Myths About Getting Into Woodworking
Your homework is to not let any of these myths get you down about learning to finish wood. It is a shame that wood finishing has all these negative myths around it. It might be from a time when only a certain few people knew what ingredients to buy from the apothecary to make finishes, but other than that it’s just a mystery.
Wood finishing is as easy or as difficult as you make it. You can be good at wood finishing in a day if you pick out the right product. You can also spend a lifetime learning about ancient ingredients and making your own finish.
The choice is yours, but I recommend that you just get started. Don’t let wood finishing be more than it really is. When you take away all the crap, all you are doing is just wiping something wet onto your project and letting it dry. Anyone can do that, and it’s not terribly complicated.
See Also: Wood Finishing Tips Cards – Oil Finishes
9 Wood Finishing Myths Wrap-Up
Wood finishing is shrouded in myth, and sometimes when you hear what you think is a fact, it can prevent you from getting into woodworking. Thankfully, like most myths, the nine that you just read are all untrue.
Wood finishing is a safe activity when you take a few precautions, and you can do it in a way that does not harm the environment. You can also apply great wood finishes for the rest of your life without even buying any spray equipment.
When it comes to being a woodworker and a wood finisher, just start learning about wood finishing in the beginning. Work on the skills in tandem with your woodworking skills, and when you need to apply a finish you will have the knowledge and ability.
The last thing you want to do is ruin your project right in the end. Practice finishing, and by the time you need to do it, you will be ready.
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