Fine Woodworking, Stain and Finish, The Tornado Bed
Comments 3

Pre-staining the Tornado Bed

A new idea – stain and finish before glue-up is a radical approach for me.

I have seen two woodworkers who complete projects where the finish went on before glue-up. Upon discovering this seemingly radical approach to finishing, I thought to myself “why would you do such a thing?”

Now, I had already decided to pre-finish the headboard panels due to wood movement, but I remembered how woodworker Nicholas Nelson pre-finishes most all of his components. Should I do the same?

I sent Nicholas an email and asked him about pre-finishing components. He replied:

“Yes, I pre-finish components before any assembly when required, which is most, heh. It makes life a heck of a lot easier instead of trying to get a good finish in corners and such.”

He makes a good point. I can remember how difficult it was to finish the interior surfaces of the TV Console project – all those corners were frustrating. I also asked him about his current method of applying finish to which he said:

“I actually no longer use poly or lacquer finishes. I just use thin cut coats of shellac or oil wiping on with cotton. We are making different products with different needs of course. Back when I was using polys and such at MCTC I had a sprayer. All techniques have their pros and cons though. Adding a sprayer can also add a number of things one would like to have in their shop too heh.”

See Nicholas’ site here (check out all his cool completed projects) and his blog here.

I decided to expand the areas of pre-finishing: I stained and applied thin coats of wipe-on polyurethane to the panel components; the lower cross member and the inner face of the posts. This way, finish is applied to all of the corners before glue-up. For the posts, I still have a little fabrication left to do, so not all these parts will be pre-finished. Here is how it went…

One-by-one, the cross members are attached to a make-shift stand. This makes rotating the piece while finishing easy. I am a fan of wipe-on poly. A note: I really like how the board shown above turned out – nice coloring to the grain.

Some of the components stain a little darker than others, not a big deal really. I attribute this to my conditioner learning curve. A few parts got two coats of conditioner, some got one and some got one with a quick wipe-down.

My only reservation about pre-finishing is it sloooowwws down progress. For this project, the finish is comprised of three ingredients: pre-stain conditioner, stain and multiple coats of poly and these all have to dry between applications; a process which is time consuming.

Time for construction
After tweaking the finish, I finally decided it was time to get out the glue. I have learned over the years that if I try to rush a glue-up, frustration can easily develop due a shortage of hands: some to properly position everything; more hands to crank the clamp handles; and even more to wipe away any squeeze out. So, my current thinking is to do glue-ups in steps…

Step one – glue the panel section together. The blue tape marks the location of the upright components.

Step two – here I have glued the panel and the lower cross member to the left post. This view shows the headboard being positioned so I can add the right post.

Step three – the right post in place and everything clamped up. I use my six foot clamps underneath to apply most of the clamping pressure and my shorter clamps on top to make sure the posts are square to the cross members.

Currently – looking good so far. While I still have a thing or two to learn about finishing pine, this is about the best looking stain job I have completed in a long time. And you’ll note that I have the foot board to practice post-finishing corners.

Up next: Add pins to the mortise and tenon joints and route slots for the bed hardware. At the same time, I’ll need to begin forming the rails that join the head board and foot board.

It may be a little while before I can put up a Tornado Bed post. I have a small project to complete for my daughter’s dorm. We also have a vacation trip coming up and then we will immediately move my daughter back to school. It is a very busy time for us.

This project is being built in response to the historic tornado outbreak that occurred in Alabama on April 27, 2011.

On that day, 63 tornadoes struck our state which claimed the lives of 247 people and caused between $2.45 billion and $4.2 billion in property damage (click the image at the right).

The Tornado Bed will be given free of charge to a needy victim of the April 27th tornado event.

Now then, a couple of things that have come my way this week have me thinking. As I ponder my entry into true hand tool woodworking (a serious goal of mine), I saw opposing views on how to execute the classic dovetail joint.

First, I saw a video which features a unique and comprehensive jig for cutting dovetails on the table saw – pretty impressive. After viewing it, I began thinking how table saw dovetails go against my goal of advancing my hand tool skills. See the video here.

Second, I received my copy of Fine Woodworking magazine which contains a cool article by Clark Kellogg. The article discusses making custom hand tools to execute delicate dovetail joinery. This article goes beyond fabricating a dovetail joint by actually showing how to make narrow chisels to improve the hand cutting process (viewing the article online requires a membership to See Clark’s website and some of his impressive work here.

As I say, the two methods are complete opposites. The first relies almost exclusively on power tools to make what is one of the strongest joints in all of woodworking. The second not only emphasizes a learned skill, but digs deeper into woodworking by making your own chisels and marking gauges. While the first method is tempting to employ, IMHO, the second takes a woodworker’s skill to a higher level. I think I’ll pass on the table saw jig.


  1. This is interesting to the uninitiated! And it's looking great. Now let's get to the beach!

  2. I really like the stain job Jeff. The colors look really great. And heck if Nicholas says to prefinish, than prefinish.

  3. Thanks Amy, I am so ready for the beach trip.

    Jason, I am not sure how many future projects will be pre-finished. I really want to get away from pine. Future projects made from mahogany or walnut will have a more simple finish, so pre-finishing my be done only for specific projects. We'll see.

    Thanks for your comment.

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