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How to Get a Shiny Finish with Lacquer, Shellac, Varnish or Polyurethane
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Q: I have just completed a cherry Shaker clock. I am a capable woodworker, but my finishing skills leave something to be desired. The clock itself looks great, but the finish is dull and not at all smooth. I followed your finishing suggestions, but I just can’t get any shine — the finish looks dark and dead. I can feel slight ridges as if I used a bad brush on cheap paint. I don’t really want to sand everything off and start over. Is there some next step I can take that will help?

Nylon and ox hair finish brushes In terms of finish application, nylon brushes work best with waterbased finishes, but for smooth application of oil finishes, you should use natural hair brushes.

A: Your best bet is to sand the finish just enough to get it smooth and remove the ridges, then add another coat, but a smooth one. To sand, use 400-grit paper and be very careful around any sharp edges.

If you choose a water-based finish apply it with very soft, nylon-bristle brushes or, even better, with paint pads — those rectangular, flat applicators with short white fibers on a blue or green foam backing. Apply the finish as thin as possible. Oil-based varnishes and polyurethanes should be thinned at least 15% and perhaps more, then applied with a high quality varnish brush (as opposed to a paintbrush) made with the softest bristles you can find. I like ox hair, but I’ll work with an ox hair China blend when I must. The fiber bundles on varnish brushes taper from the ferrule to the tip. Paintbrushes cut off abruptly and are the same thickness at the base and tip of the bristle bundle. Use the same soft brushes for lacquer or shellac.

Water-based and oil-based polyurethane, shellac and lacquer are also offered in aerosol cans. If your skill with a brush or paint pad is not up to snuff, use an aerosol to apply the last coat. After the finish cures thoroughly, consider rubbing it out.

posted on December 1, 2009 by Michael Dresdner
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2 thoughts on “How to Get a Shiny Finish with Lacquer, Shellac, Varnish or Polyurethane”

  • Rick

    I did a small table for a day care and finished it with a deft simi- gloss about a month later they called and said the finish had come off they were using a bleach cleaning chemical to clean the table after every use everyday !!
    Can you suggest a solution to my problem?? Please advise which finish works best around children and will stand up to daily cleaning with these kind of chemicals ! Thank you !

  • jefferies

    i have terre cotta on my lanai and used a high gloss sealer
    which was to my satisfaction, which i cannot any longeer find. i was wondering if a shellac would act as a high gloss sealer .

    thank you

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