IT IS NEVER GOOD TO HEAR loud sounds while sending a nice piece of cherry through a planer. This happened a few months ago while fabricating the slats for the back panels of my window seat bookcase. With each pass through the planer, I would look at the boards being surfaced and note the grain and how I am glad I heard Matt Kenney say cherry is his favorite wood. If cherry is good enough for Matt, its good enough for me. All I wanted to hear was the extremely loud hummmm of the planer doing it’s work. Hearing additional loud things made me cringe because I knew a problem was underway. As this particular board (see photo above) slowly exited the planer, the problem became visible. Instead of wood being cut away by the planer, some of it had been torn away. While inspecting this board I am sure a few cuss words were spoken. But as Charles Neil says, cussing is part of the creative process.
Cherry is a luscious wood with finish applied; wipe-on poly gives it an instant glow. But, as cherry’s beautiful grain changes direction, tear-out becomes possible. I guess most woods are candidates for tear-out, even when paying extra close attention to grain direction. A couple of the back panels had particularly bad divots. I didn’t want to throw out these board and start over, so a I decided to attempt a repair.
Fortunately, I have Taunton’s publication 201 Tips for Woodworkers (now out of print). There is a section devoted specifically to fixing finishing problems. Tear-out isn’t a finishing issue, but applying finish in a specific way can fix it. Follow along as I implement a tip from this magazine so as to make the somewhat nasty looking board shown above less nasty.
The tip, which was provided by Chris Minick basically says to add sawdust to a solvent based finish. Minick wrote…
I use dewaxed shellac as the binder in my sawdust putty, but you can use any common solvent-based wood finish (such as lacquer and varnish). Note that putty made from oil-based varnish takes a very long time to dry (several days if the patch is deep).
Most of the problem areas in the subject board are small, but the upper two in the photo are sizable and the upper left one is also somewhat deep.
There was a nice pile of cherry dust on my bandsaw, so that became the basis for the putty. I added wipe-on polyurethane and began to blend this mixture with a nail. The first batch was sort of stiff; clumps developed. I held my breath and applied the dust/poly clumping putty to a problem board…
I was not sure how long to let the putty dry since the tip stated a deep patch could take several days. After a day and a half, I got my sander out and levelled the putty and cleaned up the board. The first application was only partly successful. Ultimately, I applied four batches of putty; I tried adding more poly to the cherry dust which seemed to work better.
Overall, I am pretty pleased with the results. With the larger damage, there is no denying that there is a repair, but the cherry dust/poly putty is much more natural looking than traditional filler. The smaller areas of tear-out look great. I could have added one more application of putty, but this is good enough. I am interested in what filler you have used with good results – please let me know in the comments below.
The last two weeks have had me repairing, planing and sanding a variety of boards prior to adding satin wipe-on poly…
This bookcase build has been full of “firsts”: the first furniture project using cherry, the first project where hand planes have been used extensively; the first project with a lot of curves, etc. Now I have completed another first – using something other than home center wood putty to repair lumber.
Yesterday, at the Alabama Woodworkers Guild meeting, one of the guys was showing the group a beautiful walnut chest of drawers he recently completed. He told us about contemplating adding in-layed walnut burl to the top. Thinking how awesome that would look, one man asked why burl was not used. The reply: “I was just ready to get the chest finished – I had other projects I wanted to start.” I am starting to feel the same way with this project. Adding three coats of poly front and back of most parts is a slow process – I’ll continue to apply finish this week, then it will be back to some more glue-up.
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