The Fine Art of Slowing Down

Post - August 8, 2011

I’m nearing the end of the Adirondack Chair project and I constantly need to remind myself to slow down. Even after doing this woodworking thing for quite some time now, I still have a tendency to rush during some of the most critical parts of the project. Am I just naturally impatient? Am I just sick of seeing the project in my shop? Do I like taking needless risks and making my life more difficult? Truth is, I don’t know! It could be a combination of all of those. Yes, I’m a flawed woodworker. And I bet you are too! But before you hang your head in shame, remember, we don’t have to give in to our baser instincts. If we recognize the problem, we are half way to resolving it.

So let’s discuss some of the key areas where rushing will really bite you in the butt. I’ll go first. For me, most of these issues are toward the end of the project so that’s where I’ll focus. I will also provide some suggestions for avoiding these common pitfalls.

Surface Preparation

When getting parts ready for finish, I have a fairly standard sanding regimen: 80 grit – 120 grit – 180 grit. But there are sometimes when the evil dude on my shoulder tells me I can get away with just using 180 grit and calling it a day. Do you know what happens every dang time I do that? I regret it! If you use power tools to mill your stock, like jointers and planers, you are guaranteed to have milling marks on the surface that are barely discernible. Usually they appear as light and dark stripes across the width of the board. Sometimes you can actually feel the washboard effect and sometimes not. So its really important to sand the board thoroughly at a fairly low grit to ensure these marks are removed. To make matters worse, if you do just sand with 180, the surface might look great initially. That is, until you put several coats of finish on it. Sometimes you can’t even see it until the light hits it at just the right angle. Usually that angle happens to be from the most common vantage points in my house. So don’t skip grits. And even if a surface feels smooth, be sure to sand thoroughly with each grit in your regimen for the best results. Better yet, start using your card scraper and smoothing plane more. They are faster, cleaner, and you look cool using them!

Glueups

When its time for assembly, I sometimes dive in head first slathering the joints with glue and banging the parts together. Unfortunately, as soon as glue is involved, joints suddenly seem to tighten up and all hell breaks loose. The end result is a crooked project, open joints, and worse yet, busted project parts because you had to use a hammer to separate them. So instead of jumping in blindly, do at least one dry assembly. Work out your clamping strategy ahead of time and make sure all your clamps, glue, glue brushes, rollers, rags, and anything else you need are within arms reach. You don’t want to be running around the shop searching for a caul while your joints are swelling from the moisture in the glue. You should also consider using a glue with a longer open time on those really complicated glueups. No harm in giving yourself a little more breathing room.

Finishing

I probably don’t even need to go into detail on this one do I? We’ve all done it. Rushing any part of the finishing process is just a bad idea. Putting coats on before previous coats are dry, not sanding between coats, trying to cover problems with more finish instead of fixing them, using an inappropriate finish just because its easier or your more comfortable with it, and the list can go on and on. Do a little research, pick the right finish for the job, practice on scrap, and then finish your project.

Finishing the Finish

Nearly every project I make receives at least some post-finishing treatment to smooth the surface to perfection. I know my shop conditions are not perfect, nor are my spraying, brushing and wiping techniques. Fortunately, I know how to buff the surface after the fact so no one is the wiser. But the trick is, you need to give the finish some time to cure. If you can wait a few days before doing this final buffing, you’ll be rewarded with a nice smooth finish that will even make other woodworkers stop and wonder how you did it. I usually bring the project into the house for a couple weeks. This way I get the immediate gratification of seeing the completed project in my home, while buying myself some valuable curing time. A couple weekends later, I can bring the project back to the shop or simply do the post finishing treatment in the house.

There are many techniques for doing this final smoothing ranging from a complicated series of rubbing compounds to simply rubbing the surface with a brown paper bag. My favorite method involves abrading the surface with a Festool Platin abrasive pad and some lubricant (water, mineral spirits, mineral oil, etc..). Since this is more or less a “wet-sanding” method, you can actually get away with doing this procedure inside the home.

What areas of the woodworking process have you found yourself rushing though and how did you stop the madness??

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