As much as woodworkers will ogle an immaculately finished piece of woodwork, and as often as they admit that fine finishing is crucial to successful wood projects, for the most part, finishing is not the favorite process for most woodworkers. Let them talk about joinery and machine processes for hours, but finishing rarely captures that enthusiasm unless it’s in a desperate effort to solve a finishing problem.
I’ve long theorized that most woodworkers are more mechanically oriented. They understand machines and cutting tools and processes that physically make shavings and sawdust. But finishing is chemistry. It’s mixing, pouring, spraying, and curing. And most woodworkers are just not chemists.
Still, the woodworking machinists know they need qualified specialists to either help them finish their own work or to do the job for them. Without that great finish, the finished piece won’t sell, and it won’t last. The finish is important. After all, that’s what the customer sees. All the spectacular joinery in the world can’t survive under a bad finish.
With that understanding, we wanted to poll our readers to see what the state of finishing in this industry is. What are people using for finishes? How are they applying it? How much are they doing in house and how much are they outsourcing? Where are they getting the technical help they need to select and use finishing materials?
Furthermore, environmental issues have been inexorably linked to finishing processes, often resulting in government regulations, health and safety concerns, and customer questions. How are shops responding to those issues? Do they feel pressured to change procedures, methods, and materials? Are they abandoning finishing altogether?
We explored all of these issues in a survey of a scientifically accurate random sample of our readership. The results, printed in this issue, might surprise you. I, for one, was a bit dismayed that more of our readers aren’t getting as much technical help as I thought they should from suppliers. Whether this is more a case of not realizing help is available, or maybe being afraid to ask questions, the survey does not answer. But it does give a hint to suppliers to double down in making sure customers know that technical help is available.
Similarly, I found some of the responses to environmental issues very interesting, especially in light of the same survey respondents’ answers on what finish materials and methods they use. But no matter where you stand on these issues, you should find the responses good fodder for discussions in your shop. At least it’s an opportunity for the machinists and the chemists to sit down and talk to make sure they are working together for the ultimate goal of a great product.
Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.