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How to spot a quality finish on hardwood furniture
MT. HOPE, OH - Homestead Furniture has become well-known for the quality of the handcrafted hardwood furniture offered in their store. But just as a tree is protected by its bark, a high-quality piece of furniture is protected by an equally high-quality finish. That is where John West steps in.
John is an expert in wood finishes, and goes to great lengths to find the best possible stains and seals to pass on to custom furniture-makers like Homestead. He recognizes that the role of wood finishing is to enhance wood’s beauty and ensure its longevity. Four times a year, he attends international color marketing conferences to ensure that his finishing materials are on the cutting edge of style and innovation. Once he selects the best stains and seals, he sells them to Finish Works, a woodworking company whose craftsmen apply the materials to the woods. He also works to maintain the environmental and natural integrity of the materials he sells.
It is important to remember that staining the wood is not a paint job, but rather an enhancement of the wood’s natural color. Though a fine finish is thinner than a piece of paper, it should beautify both the look and feel of the wood. A high-quality finish brings out the grain, tone, and depth of each plank of wood, eliminating unnatural dark spots and any “flat” looking areas of the wood. To achieve this, the stain must be the correct color and have excellent clarity. When done correctly, the finish acts as a window; it keeps the elements out, but allows one to look deep into the soul of the wood.
The wood finishing process
John works mainly with American hardwoods such as oak and cherry. These woods initially shrink when stained, and change shape slightly with the seasons. The finish must be flexible enough to allow the wood to move through these variations, yet firm enough to resist cracking.
The process begins by applying a stain, which enhances the look of the wood. Most stains are brown, with the shade being individually selected to compliment the exact type of wood.
Next, the stain is sealed with a clear coat, which penetrates the stain, protects it, and gives it a unique, glossy look. John’s sealants contain a resin dissolved into solvent, which is then applied to the wood using a high-pressure gun. This technique allows the solvent to “flow” onto the wood in an even manner, as opposed to leaving the surface with a painted look. To ensure the finish doesn't look plastic, a second coat of sealant is applied to smooth the surface.
Once the wood is sealed all the way around, the solvent evaporates and leaves a fine film. Closer inspection reveals that the film is actually comprised of tiny droplets of sealant connected by space. Such a finish is strong, yet flexible, which is important to protect the wood from the stretching and shrinking it experiences in different climates.
Homestead Furniture – An extra special finish
Part of what makes Homestead Furniture so unique is the special technique used by Finish Works when they apply a finish. John sells a catalyzed varnish for Homestead pieces, which combines the resin and a special catalyst to create an extra strong and flexible seal. The seal is applied in “fly specks” with a special application gun, and the edges are carefully sealed by hand with a brush. The finish is dried for twenty-one days, and is so strong that one could hit it with a hammer without cracking the finishing film.
The result is a piece of furniture whose quality is easy to see. Each piece is finished by hand, using techniques such as streaking, specking, and even physically altering the finish with knives or other tools. The entire process involves between fourteen and seventeen steps, and though the furniture looks antique, it has the strength of a brand new piece.
Giving back to the environment
Homestead Furniture is dedicated to minimizing the environmental impact of their furniture, and John West follows suit with the fine finishes he selects. His sealants are formaldehyde-free and have the lowest volatile organic compound (VOC) content available on the market. The resins that John sells are all natural and manufactured in North Carolina before making the short trip north to Ohio. Sustainable woods and finishing compounds, such as those offered by John, not only protect the environment, but also protect the furniture with a more natural look.