Good Finish

f you ask a hundred woodworkers to define the term "good finish," you will get a hundred different definitions. And then if you ask the furniture-buying public to define "good finish," you will likely get even more definitions. Some may have to do with such notions and terms as smoothness, gloss and French polish perfection. It doesn't help too much either to l<x)k to the past for guidance, because whims and fashions then and now tend to be so contrary. For example, if you look at early American Windsor chairs, you will see that the chairmakers were quite happy to produce «'hairs that were less than symmetrical and surface textures that showed the marks left by the tools. On the other hand, if you look at late-nineteenth century furniture, you will sec the woodworkers were seeking to achieve mechanically smooth finishes and/or finishes that fooled the eye into believing that, for example, a common softwood was an exotic hardwood.

Some authorities claim that the evolution of woodworking finishes necessarily reflects the shift from handtool techniques to mechanized techniques, with surfaces getting progressively smoother and more defined. But now we have come around to a curious state of affairs: While it is possible to achieve surfaces that are machined to absolute perfection, nevertheless there is a shift towards finishes that are rough sawn, gouge marked, wire brushed or otherwise heavily textured. Whereas gouge marks once said, "country made and provincial," the same gouge marks now say, "unique, handmade and special." This is not to say that you should in any way contrive to apply gouge marks or the like, but rather that you should start out on the premise that "form follows function." If, for example, a surface needs to be smooth - say for reasons of hygiene or for comfort — then fine. I lowcver, it's equally valid that surfaces be rippled, rough, matt, smooth or even stained with rust depending on the piece. All this adds up to the fact that you need to be aware of the possibilities for alternative surface textures. The following brief listing will point the way.

piece of strong-grained wood like a piece of oak or pitch pine, give it a wire brushing, and it immediately looks as if it is a piece of driftwood or a piece of desert wood.

above: Gouge-textured oak.

above: Rough sawn pine.
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