Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Coffee Table for Jessi ---- Redux

Seems like, well, like forever since I started this coffee table for Jessi. Actually, it was started before we went back to CT to help out after Papa Paul's major surgery (he's doing much better now). I've been working on it in fits and starts ever since, and was finally getting to a point where I thought I was almost done. Little did I know:
As you can see in the photo below, on either side of the epoxy inlay, there are strips of what appear to be areas that either aren't accepting the varnish (they accepted the penetrating stain just fine) or there’s something else going on. 
The wood is cottonwood. The stain is dark oak oil based penetrating stain. The varnish I've been using is hand rubbed Minwax. One coat of stain, and what you see in the photo above is actually the third coat of Minwax varnish.
In between coats, I did the requisite fine sanding with synthetic 0000 steel wool (dry). The last time before applying the third coat, I sanded using mineral spirits in the synthetic steel wool, wiped up excess, and let it thoroughly dry before applying another coat of varnish.
Those strips of fuzzy were there before the mineral spirits sanding, but I thought they’d disappear with more coats of varnish——- NOT!
The rest of the table top is coming along better than I expected, but those two strips are really perplexing me.
My thought was to let everything cure overnight, go at it again the next day with the mineral spirits sanding, dry thoroughly, and then apply multiple coats of water based varnish over everything.
In the meantime, I consulted with fellow LumberJocks on that website to get their feedback and learned a whole lot - probably more than I really wanted - and the consensus seemed to be to sand the whole thing down and start over on the top. No one seemed to know what was going on that would cause that dull matte area to appear. One guy on FB who's been doing refinishing work for 37 years said he's never seen anything like it.
Well, leave it to Katherine to come up with the most likely cause of this problem. I'd used water along with 000 synthetic steel wool to sand and buff the epoxy and some of the water wicked into the wood during the sanding process. Cottonwood is notorious for absorbing and holding water, and this simply made sense. That the water in the wood wouldn't allow for absorption of the stain and varnish seemed like a "DOH"!
So, back to the sanding, tedium, patience (something I was beginning to kind of run out of the more I had to do).
Well, for those who’d like to know, I wound up having to strip everything down to bare wood on the top of the table. Started out hand sanding the affected areas with 400 grit:
Not taking it down at all. Switched to 200 grit:
Not taking it down at all. Switched to 60 grit:
That seemed to work pretty well, but the results left the rest of the tabletop in need of similar sanding. So, got out the trusty old belt sander and took the rest of the finish off using that – worked pretty quickly, I might add:
Went back to random orbital sanding to take out the scratches made by the belt sander, and I’m done for the day. Shoulders ache, mind says keep going, but body says NOT!
Seems, too, like when one problem is solved (at least eyeballing it tells me it is), another one rears its ugly head. Now, because the problem area I removed was so deeply embedded in the wood, the epoxy is sitting a little proud of the rest of the top.
The next day, I sanded everything down on the top including the epoxy strip using a 60 grit on my random orbital to begin with. Still wasn't taking the epoxy down to where I needed it, though, so switched to the belt sander knowing the scratches would be significant, but also knowing with a little patience (actually a whole lot of patience - running short, though) I’d be able to get them out. It worked! Epoxy was flat enough.
Next step was to go back to the 60 grit to remove scratches. When that was done, switched to 80 grit, and to 120 grit last. Then it was hand sanding with 150 grit and that was enough.
Here’s the end of the sanding:
Hauled the table upstairs (man, is that thing heavy) for staining, and this is the result (that little lighter square in the photo on the table is just light from a window shining on it):
And, finally, the area that caused the problem to begin with – looks pretty good if I do say so myself. The epoxy is dull from the sanding, but if I do the finishing right, it should really pop when done:
Upon recommendation from a friend on FB who's been doing refinishing work for 37 years, I've decided to go with a lacquer finish, and because I found this in my collection of miscellaneous stuff:
Truth is, I'd never really considered lacquer as a finish - always thought it was a pain in the butt to work with. Once I watched some Youtube videos of the process, it didn't seem so intimidating anymore.
I’ll let ya’ll know how it goes when it's done.