Wood Machining Project 2009

About a year ago, I finished this relatively simple table, which was the wood-machining project for all second-year students in 2009. We were given twenty-six hours within which to complete the table and sand it ready for finishing – despite having to re-veneer the top and cut two new legs at one point (!!), I still managed to finish well within the allocated time (which equates to two full weeks or four-days in college, excluding breaks), although I did lose a few marks, as a consequence. We were only recently allowed to take these home and this has now given me a chance to think about finishing the piece…

On this course, the wood-machining project alternates each year – so, the guys finishing year-two will shortly have to complete a small wall cabinet to the given specification within the same time frame. To be honest, I would rather have made the cabinet, personally! Back in the first year, we made a table very similar to this from American ash; except, the legs were tapered and it did not contain a drawer (incidentally, that was also a wood-machining project; without the time constraints).

You may recognise from the photos that this year’s piece is made from sapele, which is not a species I would personally choose on my own project, as I have my own morals and I try to avoid the murky world exotic timber species… This is one project where we do not have to pay the material costs (though, I guess that’s partly where a part of the <£2,000 tuition fee comes in…). Sapele is fairly easy to work although, I did lose a few marks where I suffered a small amount of tearout on the replacement legs.

American ash is supplied for the drawer sides and back but we do have to supply or make our own knob, which must be appropriate to the design aesthetics. But, the base is only a sheet of 4mm MDF… 😛 Which is why, since bringing it home, I’ve gone about making a proper base from some left over English oak. These boards were slightly bowed so I stuck them through my thicknesser (without flattening first) taking them down to 6mm thickness. I never feel that safe feeding something only 12mm thick over a cutter block and it’s difficult to straighten that length without pressing down too hard and simply following the bow. Then, I cut them down to approximate length and edge-jointed the boards by hand. These were then cramped together for a few hours using Titebond I (no biscuits).

Cramping a thin drawer base.
Sapele front, ash sides and a brown oak knob.

When the glue was dry, the panel needed a little work to flatten it but, as it was too short for my thicknesser, I secured it on to my bench I did this with my no.5 Jack plane. Once that was flat and sanded, I used a cutting gauge to scribe a rebate around three edges (front and two sides) and chiselled the waste away, so it would fit in the 4mm grooves.

Much nicer than MDF!!

Now, when it came to finishing this piece, at first, I really wasn’t sure what to do. As I don’t work with sapele often for furniture making, I have no experience of what does and does not work. While making this table, almost a year ago now, I was thinking that a clear finish would be best (sanding sealer and lacquer or wax), which would’ve meant getting the spray gun out again [which, as you’ll know by now, I don’t enjoy!!]. Danish oil crossed my hand (because it’s easy, I had some spare and I generally love it) but then, I came across the news that Chestnut have bought out a new finish in the form of this hard wax oil [it’s currently available at a discounted price for UKW members, until the end of this month!]. I’ve used Osmo’s own several times within the last two-years and that does leave an excellent finish that is certainly more durable than any ‘ordinary’ oil (linseed, tung, Danish, etc). So, I was interested to see how this new offering would compare… [Fiddes also do a hard wax oil but, I’ve not used it.]

Straight away, I felt that this Chestnut oil is slightly thinner than the Osmo one. This makes me a bit easier to apply on small items. Not that I’ve ever had much trouble with Osmo’s oil; excess from both oils can easily be wiped away with a second cloth, provided you don’t leave it on too long. Being slightly thinner, I reckon the Chesnut oil should dry much sooner than Osmo’s. In fact, they claim it will be dry within four-hours (which I’m certain is faster), with a full-hardening after forty-eight hours. In the right conditions, I also found it was about ‘touch dry’ in less than twenty-minutes. It also smells more like Danish oil than Osmo does…

There’s no recommendation for the minimum number of coats but, after applying the second coat, I found the third definitely wouldn’t soak in as easily as the others (there was more excess to wipe away). You can thin the first coat down by as much as 20% using white spirit but, with this level of viscosity, I really don’t see why you would need to! I applied three coats, in the end, to the frame and then applied a fourth coat to the show-face of the top using 400g abrasive paper, which is supposed to give a “very fine” finish…

Actually, I was just hoping it might have gone deeper in to the pores of the veneer and hidden some of the glue that had bled through!! Unfortunately, there’s nothing I can really do about this, now, unless I wanted to sand the old one off and re-veneer it (…having already done that once – and lost a few marks!). While these photos don’t really do it justice, this hard wax oil has bought the grain out beautifully and the finish feels almost as smooth as a lacquer (actually, I’ve always struggled to get a sheen quite like this, with lacquer…). Though, it’s possibly not quite as hard-wearing. It is, however, very similar to the worktop oils used on kitchen surfaces (which I’m led to believe are basically the same but thinned-down considerably, for ease of application). This finish is not food safe but, it is rated as toy safe, which implies that you can using it on serving trays and the like, but not for breadboards or butcher’s blocks; surfaces which would be in direct contact with the food.

It does what any oil finish does best (digs deep and unearths the grain), while offering extra protection due to the wax formula. For another example, see below, where I recently did a couple of trial finishes on some white and brown oak for the key cabinet I’ve begun building:

Sealer and wax or hardwax oil?

Both examples on the left were finishing with shellac sanding sealer and wax. On the right, I applied two coats of Chestnut’s hard wax oil. Can you see how the oil-finish penetrates that much deeper? Also, note how neither finish really darks the oak more so than the other (you wouldn’t find that with Danish or most other oils). It may look like a ‘no brainer‘ but, I’ve already started to finish this cabinet with sealer and wax (!). …I know! Thing is, I’m likely to have two other pieces using these timbers and I’d like to have another piece with a different finish on – someone out there may prefer it, after all… Anyway, it’s not advisable to finish the insides of cabinets and drawers with an oil either, as it tends to smell after a while. Whether or not that also applies to a hardwax oil, I do not know for certain.

Thanks for reading.

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