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Understanding Wood Finishing: How to Select and Apply the Right Finish

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An updated, do-it-yourself handbook introduces wood finishing tools, materials, and techniques, and covers oil finishes, stains, shellac, lacquer, varnish, and water-based finishes, in a volume complemented by more than two hundred full-color photographs, illustrations, hundreds of time- and money-saving tips, product comparisons, and instruction in new techniques. 20,000 first printing.

320 pages, Hardcover

Published June 23, 2005

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Bob Flexner

10 books2 followers

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5 stars
146 (58%)
4 stars
74 (29%)
3 stars
23 (9%)
2 stars
5 (2%)
1 star
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Displaying 1 - 17 of 17 reviews
Profile Image for Laura (Kyahgirl).
2,094 reviews143 followers
February 26, 2014
4.5/5; 5 stars; A

In the introduction Bob Flexner states that he originally wrote this book because there is so much confusing information out there about finishing wood. He spent a lot of time researching the chemistry of products on the market, going to educational seminars, and applying his knowledge. I was hooked right from the beginning because I too have have tried to make sense of the shelves and shelves of wood finishing products with instructions which all seem to contradict each other. I have a substantial amount of oak cabinetry which is due for re-finishing as well as some furniture and really don't want to mess it up.
This book is incredibly informative and easy to read. I am listing the chapter headings because that is probably the best way for anyone reading this review to decide if the book contains what they need:
Chapter 1: Why Finish Wood, Anyway (sanitation, stabilization, decoration)
Chapter 2: Preparing the Wood Surface ( extensive info on sanding, cleaning up mistakes)
Chapter 3: Tools for Applying Finishes
Chapter 4: Staining Wood (guide to stains, dyes, bleaching, common problems and solutions)
Chapter 5: Oil Finishes
Chapter 6: Wax Finishes
Chapter 7: Filling the Pores
Chapter 8: Introduction to Film Finishes
Chapter 9: Shellac
Chapter 10: Lacquer
Chapter 11: Varnish
Chapter 12: Two part Finishes (catalyzed finishes)
Chapter 13: Water based Finishes
Chapter 14: Choosing a Finish
Chapter 15: Advanced Coloring Techniques
Chapter 16 Finishing the Finish
Chapter 17: Finishing Different Woods
Chapter 18: Caring for the Finish
Chapter 19: Repairing Finishes
Chapter 20: Exterior Finishes
Chapter 21: Removing Finishes
Profile Image for James.
3,429 reviews20 followers
March 10, 2023
One of the best of the books on finishing, it's only slight downfall is that finish manufactures reformulate and repackage their products with great abandon, so some of the products have changed or don't exist.

There is now a third edition published in 2021, this is the one you want since it has the current names and manufacturer's information.
Profile Image for Esteban Roche.
58 reviews
February 13, 2023
Un libro hermoso.

El mercado que existe en Mexicali no está en su mayoría inclinado a la producción de muebles de alta calidad en productos y acabados utilizados. Si bien los productos manufacturados son perfectamente funcionales y estéticos estos tienden a menospreciar la atención al detalle.

Claro está que el éxito o fracaso de un determinado producto es dictado por varios factores, en mi opinión en el mercado de mi localidad juega un papel importante la ignorancia del cliente promedio sobre los aspectos y costes a considerar al realizar un mueble. Esta ignorancia sin duda está relacionada con la clase social de la persona y su estilo de vida. Sin embargo creo que principalmente dicha ignorancia se encuentra incentivada por la capacidad del cliente de influir en el precio final del producto (es más fácil exigir mano de obra barata si no se hace el esfuerzo consciente de reconocer las implicaciones en la creación de un objeto) y la necesidad económica del empresario y su relativa incapacidad para dejar ir una ganancia potencial.

En el libro se tocan una diversidad de productos y técnicas para el acabado de los distintos tipos de madera. El autor prevee sobre la necesidad constante de desmitificar la sabiduría convencional (no tan convencional debido a la divergencia de opiniones en temas objetivos) en los acabados, diría que alrededor de un 30% del contenido del libro trata sobre porqué dichas técnicas no funcionan e incluso muestra indicios de porqué las personas piensan de esa manera.

El conocimiento que plasma el autor es vasto involucrando y relacionando los aspectos químicos de los productos lo cual en mi opinión tiende a darme un mejor entendimiento del tema.

Este es un libro de referencia al cual volveré y compararé con la información de otros autores de los cuales también quiero aprender. Sin duda fue una muy buena compra e inversión de mi tiempo.
Profile Image for Koen Crolla.
743 reviews188 followers
May 27, 2017
Decent overview of the various finishes available at a typical North American big-box store and how they work. There's not really anything here you won't soon pick up through osmosis if you spend any time at all interacting with woodworking communities, but that's largely because of how influential this book has been anyway.
Flexner doesn't really have a sense of how finishes are used elsewhere in the world or before the late 19th century, is bizarrely bad at using oils to the point that it unfairly biases him against them and leads him to make some deeply indefensible statements (including that oil—specifically Watco Danish Oil—can't harden wood because by itself it cures softer than wood), and repeats a couple of common myths (most prominently the particularly shitty one that all finishes are food-safe once they're cured; he even has the gall to call the correct notion that it isn't true a common myth), but if you just want to make your garage project look okay without having to order anything online, there are certainly worse places to start than this book.
Profile Image for High Plains Library District.
631 reviews74 followers
May 4, 2023
This book is basically the Bible of wood finishing. Most of the time, if you see an article on finishing in Fine Woodworking or another publication, it's by Bob Flexner, because he's the master.

I consider it more of a reference book than a cover-to cover read, and it's handy to get out anytime you're trying a new finish. There's helpful tips on all kinds of application methods and types, the strengths and weaknesses of each, and info about coloring wood. Perhaps my favorite is the troubleshooting section with tables of what to do with various problems, and I also like the tests for figuring out what is on something you're refinishing as well.

This is a reprint of an earlier edition, and I'll urge you to get the newer one. The newer one has more color and more pictures, which is vital for a book on finishing. I went out and bought the newer one because my (free) older edition paled in comparison!
201 reviews1 follower
September 22, 2018
Comprehensive, a great book to own as you want to be able to read through it front to back but also have the opportunity to reference again later on.

For some reason I found some techniques described in here less memorable than same methods as listed in The Furniture Doctor by Grotz - I know the intentions of the books are not the same, the scope of each is different too. Tone is very different. Best thing to do I think would be to own both!
Profile Image for Robert Joslin.
48 reviews
January 15, 2021
When I first foundthis book, it was more out of curiosity than seeking knowledge that led me to readit. I am pleasantly surprised at the knowledge gained in chosing a finish, protections, care, maintenance, and even stripping. This is a book worth having in your library if you do any sort of woodworking or restoring.
Profile Image for Richard.
154 reviews2 followers
October 7, 2018
Excellent information

The author knows his stuff because he has done the testing and research that we don't have the time or inclination to do. He dispels some of the myths and mysteries of finishes and wood and makes it all easy to understand. Highly recommended.
3 reviews
October 13, 2022
I would give it six stars if I could. Incredibly informative as Flexner covers just about any question or issue that could arise while finishing a project. It is one of a dozen books keep handy near my bench as a reference.
Profile Image for Justin Sacher.
19 reviews
November 21, 2020
Finally! A book that explains the chemistry of the products I buy and use in my hobby. (Ingredients aren’t actually listed on many products.) Highly useful!
42 reviews
June 14, 2021
A plethora of valuable information. Simplified for all to understand. Pretty much the wood refinishing Bible!
Profile Image for Dave Clark.
3 reviews
April 30, 2015
I loved the first edition of this book that came out in 1994, & this edition is even better. I love how he goes through & explains how various types of finishes actually work, & meanwhile debunking many manufacturer's marketing claims (some of which are outright lies) about the performance of their products. For example, did you know that some cans of so-called "tung oil" actually contain zero, zilch, nada tung oil? And that "Danish Oil" is just an overpriced wiping varnish that you can make yourself for less money? Or that so-called "wood conditioner" is not needed most of the time? Wood does not need "conditioning" before finishing. Depending on the wood & the type of effect you hope to achieve, you may need to seal the wood before staining, but I personally prefer to seal with super blonde shellac. I also like how he debunks the myth of so-called "food-safe" finishes. I highly recommend this book to anyone who plans to take up any finishing or refinishing project.
Profile Image for Cory M.
30 reviews12 followers
December 16, 2013
I finished reading this book cover to cover and found it not only fascinating (yup, I'm a nerd), but also necessary if you have any hope to finish wood. It is simply too confusing a topic with too much misinformation to be able to do it without the help of an expert.
72 reviews3 followers
March 20, 2009
As a new stainer, I found this incredibly informative and interesting. (Note that I mostly only read the sections on wood prep, stains, staining, and finish + application techniques.)
Profile Image for Jeff Beland.
110 reviews1 follower
April 29, 2015
I don't know about a perfect finish, but after reading this my project looks a lot better than they used to
Displaying 1 - 17 of 17 reviews

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