At the July meeting of the Mn Woodworker’s Guild we had Kevin Southwick of Southwick Furniture Conservation Co. (no website I can find) talk with us about finishing. Kevin has been a finishing instructor locally for some time, and has studied with a furniture conservator at the Smithsonian Institute and currently volunteers at the Minnesota Historical Society.
Normally, my response to an evening on finishing would be a yawn. But this was a good time. Kevin is a good speaker and he challenged us a bit, and made us think about what we thought we knew about finishing.
Since we only had a couple hours Kevin narrowed the evening’s topic to varnishes. And to start out we had to define “varnish.” With the help of a dictionary we arrived at this: “sticky goo that dries clear and hard.” Isn’t that helpful? We went on to “define” as it were, lacquer. Try looking that one up. It’s not much more specific than our varnish definition. It turns out that most of the terms that we seem to think refer to specific products do not help convey what the product is or does. Knowing that is actually a helpful start at understanding what we’re using or doing when we go to slap some mysterious stuff onto our project to see what it will finally look like. I see now that with these (un)definitions Kevin was breaking us down and then building us back up a bit. And it didn’t even hurt at all.
The biggest “huh” moment for me was when he passed around a couple of his varnish brushes and said paint brushes aren’t for varnish. Huh? I must have missed that memo. But of course it makes sense. Varnish is thinner than paint so the varnish brush needs to be more dense. Word is that it’s easy to brush poly without leaving brush marks if a real varnish brush is used.
Kevin started his talk working from an outline. But after an hour and a half or so, he was just fielding question after question until we ran out of time. It was a fine start at knowing how to put on a good finish.