A Pro’s Secret to a Perfect Finish
Use a grain filler to get a deep, lustrous look
Synopsis: Ever wonder how the pros get that smooth, mirror finish on furniture? No doubt they have great technique, but they also have a secret weapon: commercial grain fillers. You can sand and apply a slurry of finish and sanding dust, which many woodworkers do, but the labor and time involved are hefty. A commercial oil- or water-based grain filler is the better option. Finishing pro Peter Gedrys explains when to use a grain filler, how to get the best results, and the pros and cons six of different brands of filler.
You may have admired the mirror finish on a piano or wondered how expert finishers get that dead-smooth clear coat on fine furniture. The secret isn’t just in sanding or spraying, but also in an intermediate step called grain, or pore, filling. Unfortunately, this step often gets eliminated because it can be messy, a bit time-consuming, and at times troublesome. But this single process can help transform a finish from mundane to spectacular.
I’ll show you when to use a grain filler, why it shouldn’t be used only on tabletops, and how to get the best results with the least mess. I’ll also describe the pros and cons of six commercial brands of filler.
Oil-based vs. water-based fillers
Grain fillers come in oil-based and water-based varieties. waterbased fillers don’t smell as strong as oil types, tool cleanup is easier, and they dry faster. This last feature, though, can be a double-edged sword. I like the fact that oil-based fillers take a little longer to dry because I can work on a larger area at a time. For example, when filling a mahogany desktop, I may be able to do it in three sections with oil-based as opposed to six with a faster-drying, water-based type.