I enjoy woodworking: Selecting the wood; figuring out how to cut and shape the pieces to highlight the best features of the wood; determining the correct sequence of operations; setting up the tools to create the proper shape and size pieces to fit correctly;  planning the approach to joining the pieces together; setting up clamps and building jigs to hold everything while the glue dries; and most of all, watching the rough pieces of wood become something entirely new. There are two other steps which I enjoy less: sanding, and finishing.

With this project, the sanding was not terrible. It is a small enough object that I only spent hours instead of days sanding. Since virtually every surface is curved, almost all of the sanding had to be done by hand. And, to get to the level of finish needed with a mandolin, I used significantly more grades and much finer sandpaper in order to prepare for a gloss finish.

Applying the finish has to be my least favorite part of any project, and this one is no different. Most of my furniture is finished with hand-rubbed oil and urethane. Several coats are applied, and care must be taken to make sure that it goes on evenly, without drips and runs. A small imperfection in the finish can usually be repaired.

Spray Cans and Respirator

Spray Cans and Respirator


With the mandolin, I had to spray the finish. Since I do not have a spray gun and booth in my little shop, I decided to go with spray cans. Yep, spray paint. Actually, spray lacquer, some with toner added to achieve the colors I was seeking. It takes some practice to use spray paint correctly. I had nightmare thoughts of drips and runs from earlier experiences using spray cans. First and foremost, spraying this stuff requires a respirator. The fumes are nasty and dangerous. Spraying requires very good light. I learned from some research that lacquer works better when it is warm, so I would soak the can in warm water prior to use.




Other things I learned in the finishing process:

1. Do not touch the piece even if you think it should be dry – touch a masked off area covered with tape first and see if it is dry.

2. Even when you think you have wiped and blown all the dust away, there will still be some dust on the surface.

3. Do NOT use newspaper as masking with lacquer. The paper will get soaked and lacquer (with newsprint) will mar the surface you were trying to mask off.

4. Gloss finishes show up every tiny little detail of any imperfection in the wood.

5. When starting a new coat of lacquer, begin by spraying a piece of cardboard or something, to make sure the nozzle isn’t clogged.


After about 2 coats of sealer, 4-5 coats of toner and roughly 12 coats of lacquer, here is my first mandolin, ready for the next step of setting up the strings:

Mandolin, with Lacquer Finish

Mandolin, with Lacquer Finish

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One thought on “Finishing

  1. Donna

    Great post! I think I know how much work you put into this (since I live with you) but I learn a lot more about the process when I read your posts.

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