Friday, December 4, 2009

The Prairie Chair -- Finished and Almost Done

We're on the homestretch now, and on familiar territory, as the Prairie Chair has been constructed and begins the multi-step finish program.  The traditional finish for this chair would include some industrial chemicals (ammonia) and a rig worthy of Mythbusters.  While I am interested in fooling around with this stuff, it is hard to make the switch from a technique that has brought me very good results.

Jeff Jewitt's site Homestead Finishing Products explains in step-by-step fashion the way to acheive a factory-like finish for your mission oak pieces -- he also sells all the kit that you will need to make it happen.  In short this technique has you:

                 1.  Stain the piece to a desired base color
                 2.  Seal the color with sanding sealer (1 lb cut shellac)
                 3.  Smear on and wipe off a darker glaze
                 4.  Finish with the topcoat of your choice (shellac, poly)

I like it because it works, involves run-of-the-mill toxic solvents (mineral spirits, alcohol), and allows you to make adjustments on the fly.  I started with Transtint dark maple diluted to the "Fayetteville" formula and wiped it on with a rag.  Just use common sense on this part, keep a wet edge if you can and don't let it pool.  My objective is to get it to dry evenly.  At this stage, as you can see, the results between bare wood and the stained wood are not that dramatic.  Once dry, I give it a gentle rub with a grey scotchbrite pad to even the dried finish and take care of any raised grain.

Now I wipe on a coat of Bullseye Sanding Sealer (open a window) and let it dry (which takes about 10 minutes.)  This starts to add a little depth.  This is a good time to take a break and shake the fumes out of your head.

Now comes the fun part -- the glaze.  Jeff Jewitt recommends that you use a stiff brush: I usually use a rag and my fingers to really rub it into the pores.  No matter how much you put on, you will be taking 90% back off.  This is where the real look of the finish comes alive.  I usually wipe on a small amount of the gel stain with a cotton rag and immediately wipe it off with another cotton rag that is damp with mineral spirits.  The key word is damp.  I work on one part of the piece at a time as I don't want the gel to dry completely.   My interpretation is that you want to remove almost all of the gel stain on the surface but leave the stain that sits in the cracks.  I sometimes then go back over the damp area I just finished with a dry paper towel.

Some gel finish will remain on the surface and make the finish darker -- another wipe with mineral spirits and a paper towel will make it lighter.  Adjust accordingly.  If you are doing it right you will be a mess but the piece will look quite nice.

I would normally add several coats of shellac at this point (after it sits overnight) but in this case I think I will use poly.  It will get a lot of use add I think it will need the protection.  Now all that's left to do is the internal frame and the make-or-buy decision on the upholstery.


  1. Very nice. Stain and finish are my weakness. Nice looking piece. Can't wait to see it completed.

  2. I love the finish. I dont like a lot of mission finishes but yours is wonderful. Great craftsmanship. Youve inspired me to build a set of these chairs. If you dont mind me asking specifically what brand and color of gel stain did you use on the chair and what type of poly did you use at the end. Again great work and thanks for blogging.

  3. your article very nice , I like and thanks for your sharing