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I'm new to woodturning. I've made a small bowl from layered woods. I don't know what these woods are as they're reclaimed, but it's a red-coloured wood sandwiching some pale wood. I think the red-ish wood is a hardwood and the paler wood is a softwood looking at the grain density.

I've turned the small bowl/pot and sanded up from 240/600/1000/1500/3000/5000/7000 papers. The result is the bowl is glass-like in texture and looks very nice.

The problem is, I applied some wax aerosol furniture polish hoping to seal the surface of the wood, but the end grain expanded, absorbing it and the finish was spoiled. I had to re-sand it to restore it.

Are there any finishing oils or waxes I can use that won't cause the grain to swell on very finely sanded work?

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I hate to say this given all the trouble you've gone to already but it's rarely a good call to sand wood up to ultra-fine grits*.

If you're looking to get a gloss on wood you can get it much more efficiently by going to a finish of some sort (including simply waxing directly onto the bare wood, although I'm not a fan of this myself).

In addition to giving you the surface gloss that you want, faster and with less effort, a finish adds protection to the wood which can obviously be very desirable for anything that won't just sit in a glass case and never be touched. Wax will resist minor handling and help ease dusting but it doesn't provide much more protection than this in the long term which is why I'm not a fan of it used by itself.

A short while ago there was a flurry of interest on one or two of the woodworking forums in a very finely sanded and buffed/burnished finish on wood with no actual finish applied, the gloss purely down to the super-smooth surface of the wood. I suppose it's something that everyone with access to fine sanding and/or buffing materials thinks to try at some point. In my case at least it became evident very quickly that for most hardwoods moisture or grease on the fingertips was enough to make the surface go matt! That certainly convinced me that finish was the way to go most of the time.


*Exceptions would be very dense, naturally oily or resinous woods. The kind of woods that don't float in water. But I must mention that most of these are from the tropics and many are now restricted because of rarity and in an attempt to curb illegal logging.

  • Hi, Graphus. Thanks for your detailed answer. I understand what you're saying, while I can achieve the super-smooth sheen with sanding, I'm still left with bare wood that'll suck up any contaminants it's exposed to, and so would spoil quickly unless in a cabinet, bell-jar or something. Can you add some oils/waxes I can look to try first? Also, when finishing with a wax or oil, what should be the top end of grit to stop at? (7000 wasn't the highest I've got!) – i-CONICA Nov 4 '16 at 14:21
  • @i-CONICA Just for future reference we're not supposed to use Comments for follow-on questions but I don't think it would be easy to phrase a suitable new Question asking about finish options since it would come down to a matter of opinion (as in: nearly anything can be finished in a few different ways depending on what the maker is looking for). There are a few previous Q&As that covering sanding to give you guidance on what grit to sand up to, or whether to scrape rather than sand. Be aware though there are many different opinions on this, particularly among turners. [contd] – Graphus Nov 4 '16 at 17:42
  • [contd] As for finish types there are many things you can use including wax or wax finishes, and various finishes made specifically for turning. But I think your simplest option if the bowl is still on the lathe is probably shellac, applied with a paper or cloth pad lubricated with a dab of oil as needed. The heat from the friction will set the shellac fast so you can build up an amazing shine in literally a few minutes this way, then pause for 15-60 minutes and do another few coats and if the wood was fine-grained and smooth enough to begin with you can achieve a surface like glass. – Graphus Nov 4 '16 at 17:46

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