To Pre-Finish Or Not To Pre-Finish


It’s a debate that’s been around a while – should you/can you apply a finish to a project before final assembly, or should you do it all at the end.

There’s no definitive answer, and “it depends” is the simple response.

The primary advantage to pre-finishing is the ability to apply a finish in hard-to-reach areas – for example, small or narrow parts that are spaced closely together.

The main thing to watch out for when pre-finishing is an area to be glued. By applying a finish to such an area, you essential eliminate a place for the glue to adhere (wood fibers). Try gluing two parts together that have been stained and see what happens.

When you do want to pre-finish, be sure to use a painter’s tape to cover up gluing surfaces. I’ve used the new Frog Tape (it’s green), which is promoted as being better than any previous tape. I have to agree, while it’s not absolutely perfect, it’s the best of its type that I’ve used.

I also recommend a finish-as-you-go approach. Simply apply a finish at each step of a project, after a particular portion of assembly. This gets a bit tricky when you apply stain because you’ll need to watch the amount of time you leave the stain on the project before wiping or buffing.

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Published in: on April 26, 2010 at 6:04 pm  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I have done it both ways and I have found it better to do all of the finishing at the end. One reason is for the glue up as you said and another reason is for pesky fingerprints. It is very hard to keep the stain even when you are handeling small pieces with stained up hands and come out with a finished product you can be proud of. It may take longer to finish but it is well worth the extra effort to do all of the finishing after the project has been assembled

    • Amen brother. Only in rare occasions does it work for me. The pet crate side table I just did seemed to work OK – it was an awkward size to reach in and hit the areas I needed. That Frog Tape does work pretty well, but one thing I neglected to point out in this blog is that you have to be dead on with your line on the tape, or you’ll get a hard line that you’ll never blend and you’ll just have to strip and re-do anyway.


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