Time, Space and Patience – Skills for the finishing process

Most people are very excited when they get ready to start any project. The thought of the final project in their home complete and ready for use fills their mind, the thought behind the preparation however is not so much. At our retail store we sell both unfinished and finished items. When a customer comes in it is our job to make a sale because, let’s face it, we need to keep the lights on and the bills paid; however, we are not in this business for a quick sale. We strive to do our best by all of our customers so whenever I am asked how hard finishing furniture is and whether they think they can do it, I respond with this: “You can do most any finishing project if you have time, space and patience.”  To some of you, this may make you think “Ok, I got this” and then others say that they only have time and space, not patience. For these people, we recommend that our finishing partner finish the furniture for them.


Let’s start with the obvious hinderance to your furniture finishing task, and that is time. If you work, come home, have to cook for the family, and get the kids ready for the next day of school, then what time is left in your day? If you can convince your better half to take over some of the family responsibility then time spent finishing can be a bit therapeutic. I had a customer years ago who thanked us after she purchased two unfinished beds wanting them clear coated. Because outsourcing would be several hundred dollars, I convinced her to do it herself. I thought by her doing the work she could save quite a bit of money and enjoy the experience. She came back a few weeks after the sale and thanked me as she made her husband take care of the kids on a Saturday and Sunday as she locked herself away in the garage with some music and a bottle of wine. Since then she has purchased the rest of the bedroom collection for both of her children.


To finish furniture, you have to have plenty of space to set up the finishing supplies and do it properly. If you have a garage, not crammed full of stuff, then you are ahead of the game. If you do not have a garage don’t worry. I have had some customers finish items in the room they were going to be placed in. There are a lot of stains that are low Volatile Organic Compounds that are safe to use indoors. The key with any space is that you give yourself plenty of room to walk around the project. Also, if possible elevate your project so you are at a comfortable working height.  For example, if you are working on a 36 x 84 inch tall bookcase try not work on it with the bookcase standing up as it would be in the room. We always suggest that you lay the bookcase flat on its back on a set of saw horses. This will allow you to finish the inside and outside of the piece and it will bring your work closer to eye level. Also, use the saw horses when finishing chairs. You can get a scrap piece of plywood and set that on top of the horses just like before not only will it be at eye level but you will be standing and your back will be straight much like working at the kitchen counter. The key with your space is utilizing what you have to work smarter, not harder.


The last, and most important, requirement is that you have patience. The thought and look of the final project that you have in your mind, will not happen in a day’s time. It is always important to read the instructions on the side of the can of stain but also to understand them as well. We are always here to assist our customers, but you have to understand that the right prep will go a long way to making your finished product look its best. I get asked all the time, “do I have to sand before I start?” My answer is always a resounding yes. Then I get asked, “but this is ready to finish furniture right?” My next response is just like fixing body damage on a car, would you use a shop that just installed a fender on the front and they started painting it, or would you prefer a shop that not only fitted the panel but then took the time to make sure it was sanded smooth and ready to accept paint? The key is in the prep and this is where the patience comes into play.


I will go over more of the prep and finish process in future posts but for now I wanted to share what goes into a finishing project. I always say this with the kindest of heart because not everyone is ready for this caliper of work. The last thing we want to do tell one of my customers that finishing is easy and then come to find out later that they did a terrible job and will not be buying unfinished solid wood again. So, for now before you start make sure you have at the minimum, time space and patience.