Oil Finishes – Buffing Tips For Woodturnings


Buffing your finish after it has fully cured is one of the most important things you can do to improve the visual and tactile quality of your woodturnings. This critical last step in the finishing process can dramatically improve the look, feel and perception of your project. It has been said that a good quality finish can make or break a piece. If you turn an average quality project and apply a superb finish to it, the finish enhances the perception of the piece. Similarly, if you turn a superb project but apply a poor quality finish to it, the finish detracts from the perception of the piece.

As humans we see with our eyes and touch with our hands and fingers. Woodturning is a touch me, feel me type of art form. If you look at an oil painting in a gallery, your impression is limited to your view of the subject itself, the colors, texture of the paint strokes etc. These all combine to form your visual interpretation and perception of the painting. Since you can’t touch it, your perception of it is limited only to the visual cues you are able to observe.

However with an artistic woodturning, our perception includes not only the visual look of the piece (color, grain character, figure, etc.) but also how the piece feels in our hands. When you pick up a woodturning and run your hands over it, you receive a certain tactile feedback – soft and silky, smooth or rough. Its visual form, color, lustre and the finished tactile surface all combine to produce your perception of the piece. This is vastly different from other types of artwork where you can only look at the piece. When you can look and touch the piece, the tactile quality of your work is just as important as the visual quality. No matter what finish you choose, buffing the cured finish will enhance the look, feel and perception of your artwork.

Getting Started

Numerous tools available to help you buff your work including dedicated buffing stations, lathe mounted options and freehand buffers. In my studio, I use all three options although I prefer lathe mounted and freehand systems for most of my work. Dedicated electric buffing equipment is available, but it’s expensive and few offer variable speed. Lathe mounted buffing arbors by contrast are inexpensive, using a simple Morse Taper adaptor to mount the buffing wheel onto the lathe spindle. When mounted in this manner, it’s a simple matter to change the wheel’s speed to control the aggressiveness of the buff.

Setting Up A Basic Lathe Mounted Buffing System

If you’re just setting up a buffing station, I recommend a lathe mounted buffing station. It will save you lots of money over a dedicated station and will offer superior results vs. traditional single speed buffers. This basic set-up listed below will get you started inexpensively and give you a very good variable speed buffing system.

  • 1 #2 (or the correct size MT you lathe requires) Morse Taper buffing adaptor
  • 3 8″ Cloth buffing wheels – one for White Diamond, one for Tripoli and one for waxes if desired
  • 1 Bar of White Diamond buffing compound
  • 1 Bar of Tripoli buffing compound
  • 1 Wheel rake for dressing the surface of the wheel
  • 1 Morse Taper extension for working with deep projects

Types Of Compounds

The primary compounds used for buffing cured oil finishes are White Diamond and Tripoli. White Diamond is a very fine white colored abrasive that will allow you to easily buff your work and smooth surface imperfections. Tripoli buffing compound is reddish brown in color and is more aggressive than White Diamond because the abrasive particles are larger than those found in White Diamond. I rarely use Tripoli in my studio, preferring the less aggressive nature of the White Diamond for most of my buffing needs.

Buffing Protocol Overview

Individual buffing protocols are highly variable as each finish requires its own specific protocol. The type of finish on the project is the primary factor that determines which protocol to use. The desired lustre is another important consideration. Do you want a satin, semi-gloss or high-gloss lustre?

Basic Oil Finish Buffing Protocol

Mount an 8″ cloth wheel in your lathe’s Morse Taper. Bring up the tail stock and secure. If you need more room to buff your project, add a Morse Taper extension onto the buffing arbor. Set lathe revs to 1,500 and lightly charge the wheel with White Diamond. To charge the wheel, lightly pass the compound across the wheel from left to right while the wheel is running. With a firm two handed grip on your project piece, place the project up against the running wheel and immediately move the piece back and forth and up and down on the outside of the turning.

As you buff the exterior of your project, use the lower front 1/4 of the wheel. When using mushroom head buffs on the interior of bowls and similar vessels, you may use the entire head. Keep the piece moving against the spinning wheel as you buff. Observe the surface lustre of the film to determine when you can move on to the next area. As you are moving your project around and buffing the surface, be sure to move in overlapping strokes to insure you do not miss any areas. You need a good strong light directly over the project as you are buffing it, so you can monitor the progress of the buff.

If you find the speed is too aggressive for the finish, reduce the speed and pressure to decrease the aggressiveness of the buff. By varying the lathe speed and pressure you apply, you can easily control the aggressiveness of the buffing. You want a happy medium here – fast enough to be efficient, but not so fast that you cut through the surface film. Once the exterior has been buffed; check if the interior is large enough to be buffed with an 8″ wheel. If the wheel cannot fit easily inside the piece (the inside of a bowl for example), them you must replace the flat wheel with a round mushroom head buff. The inside is then buffed using the same procedures as the exterior.

You may need to periodically recharge your buffing wheel on larger work pieces. If you find the wheel is not cutting as fast, simply recharge the wheel with a small amount of buffing compound and continue. Once the exterior and interior have been fully buffed, thoroughly inspect the surface under a strong light. Rebuff any areas that do not meet your quality expectations.
I encourage you to experiment and prove to yourself the value of buffing your cured oil finishes. I think you will agree that in every respect, a buffed finish will be superior to a finish that has not been buffed. The difference between a good finish and an incredible finish is only a small amount of extra effort. diamond painting bilder

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