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Making Your Wood Shine – Finishing by Hand and Machine

August 19, 2011 by | Ian | There have been 0 comments

One of the last steps before installing your fir floors is choosing how the wood is finished. There’s a world of a difference between hand-finished and machine-finished lumber. Hand-finishing wood can be a long, involved process, but any carpenter will tell you that the finished product is well worth the time and effort.

Finishing lumber is a four-part process. First, the wood has to be sanded down to a smooth surface, so that the finish can be applied evenly. Second, the wood may be stained to a desired color and tone. In hand finishing, the stain is rubbed on, ensuring that the color penetrates deeply into the wood. On a machine line, however, the stain is sprayed on and left to dry, which is less effective.

Finishing your floors: apply by hand or machine?

The next step in the process is applying the finish itself. There are many types of finish – wax, lacquer, shellac, drying oils, varnish – and which you choose should depend on several factors, including the amount of protection you need for the floor, and what kind of sheen you want. The finish is applied in several layers. Again, the rubbing motions used in hand finishing the wood are far more precise than the methods on an automated flatline system. Since each piece of lumber is unique, a human eye is preferable for finding and filling the contours of the wood grain. Methods such as French polishing – where layer after layer of shellac is applied via a rubbing pad, leaving a highly glossy sheen – this simply cannot be done in a factory.

Finally, buffing or polishing the surface can bring beautiful surface shine out in finished woods. Here, more so than in any other step of the process, hand finishing is without a doubt the superior method. For polishing, one rubs abrasive materials on the wood to scratch out a glossy sheen. Different materials of various roughnesses are used in succession to buff out the scratches left by the previous abrasive. Being able to handle the wood by hand is a great advantage in this process, because being able to feel the contours in the wood is key.

However, finishing wood by hand can be an exhaustive process, and as a result it’s far cheaper to buy machine-finished lumber. As flatline factory systems improve, hand-finished lumber is becoming a rarity. Nonetheless, there’s no replacing the care and attention that a human hand can lend to wood, and it’s no surprise that hand-finished wood stands up to the test of time far better and longer than machine-finished wood. When deciding what’s right for you, the choice will come down how much you’re willing to pay for a superior product.

- Ian Friedman


This post was posted in All Entries, Douglas Fir Flooring, Care & Maintenance and was tagged with Douglas fir flooring, finish douglas fir, finish wood flooring

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