Todd applies clear finish on gel stained custom fir doors. Todd applies clear finish on gel stained custom fir doors.

Todd and I frequently team up on wood restoration projects of all flavors – interior and exterior. Sometimes we are presented with antique quality pieces to work with. If clear finish is involved, the project always falls into the category of "fine finishing", a rather misunderstood term these days. So, we are sharing some of our own wood finishing tips to help bring clarity to clears.

In 2013, we did a series of exterior antique oak formal entry door restoration projects through our paint contracting division. Read about our Antique Oak Door Restoration Projects as featured at

The antique oak doors were pretty much heirloom quality pieces that have been in the same family for three generations. Whenever we do this type of high stakes work, there is little room for error, and we always reflect on how we "earned our stripes" and gained the confidence and experience to do that type of work.

One topic that always comes up is that most painters are much more comfortable and competent in paint grade work than they are in high level clear work. There is very little room for error in clear work, and antique wood is, well, irreplaceable if you mess it up.

In reflection on some of our own in-house wood snob discussions, I wrote an article called "We Are All Reluctant Finishers", which essentially discussed the psychology of closure in finishing, and offered a list of wood finishing tips.

In the article, I gave the following advice:

Tips for Overcoming Fear of Finishing

  • During the build phase, save all cutoffs (called "drops")
  • Sand the drops to the same prep level as your finished piece
  • Prep sanding grit level is determined by finish to be applied
  • Finish to be applied is determined by the desired look, color tone, sheen
  • Use the prepped drops as finish samples
  • Arrive at your exact finish sequence on the samples before going "live"
  • Take careful notes, commit nothing to memory
  • Notes include material reduction, HVLP settings and tip selections
  • Observe the spraying pace and distance from target that produces the best results
  • When you spray the actual piece, do it in a controlled environment (not outdoors)
  • When done, clean your sprayer in a different area than your finish/drying space
  • Walk away. You are nothing but a contamination risk at this point.

Often, people are looking for some magic bullet or geek solution to better finishing. In reality, where we operate, the best improvements come from the most practical improvements in work habits. Good habits breed consistency and the ability to duplicate results time and time again, as we do at Topcoat.
Read "We Are All Reluctant Finishers" in it's entirety. And for more "heady" reading: "Psychology of HVLP". Click Here if you are interested in our Prep to Finish HVLP training workshop series.

Topcoat tests and reviews new product technologies, in many cases, months in advance of their release to the public. Our projects and state of the art shop facilities are the testing grounds for our paint tool reviews. For more information, visit