On this page I have placed information about finishes that I use. I believe that finishes should not make wood look like plastic. So, I use finishes that enhance the natural look of wood. This generally means that finishes which I prefer are in the wood and not on it.
These are the finishes that I actually use daily -- and they work and cause no problems.
Richard Raffan reports that he uses boiled linseed oil on burl and that he likes the result. I have not tried it, but plan to. I need to do some research on the safety of this product in the USA. The bottle that I have indicates that it has driers in it and they MAY be somewhat toxic. More on this later.
Use great care when using cloth or steel wool on a spinning lathe. Do not wrap them around your fingers and take special care to not let a chuck grab them. If the lathe does grab a cloth or steel wool, and you have it wrapped around your hand or fingers, you could loose a finger or part of a hand. Paper towels are safer than cloths as they will just tear away if caught and they will work in most instances where one would normally use a cloth. Woven nylon pads, with or without imbedded abrasive, will work in most cases where one would normally use steel wood and it is not as prone to being caught by the lathe.
This is a very simple and fast finish. I learned it from Richard Raffan. I use it on items that are likely to come into contact with food.
For the oil, I use either mineral oil or filtered walnut oil. Mineral oil is available in most drug stores and is reasonably priced. Walnut oil is available from several sources( http://www.woodlandnut.com/ ) and is also quite inexpensive, being about $15 US for a gallon at the source. For those belonging to clubs, it may be possible for the club to buy a 55 gallon drum of the oil and to split the cost amongst the members. For wax I always use beeswax or a beeswax based polish. Raw unrefined beeswax gives a nice low sheen finish and smells good, too. As for beeswax polishes, I prefer the products available from Clapham products. They are available from Roger Clapham, in British Columbia, via the web site http://www.claphams.com .
Apply the oil first with the lathe off. Let the item sit for a minute so that the oil can soak in. Then wipe off the excess with a paper towel. Next start the lathe and apply the wax. If using a lump of beeswax, just press the wax to the wood and let friction melt it so that a thin layer of wax can be seen on the wood. If using a soft paste, just apply it liberally with a paper towel or woven nylon pad. Then take a clean paper towel and buff the surface hard so that the oil and wax mix. The oil brings out the grain of the wood and the final result will be a soft sheen on the wood.
Use care in applying wax to burl. If wax gets into the openings in the burl, it is difficult to remove and looks very bad. If I apply wax to burl, I apply it with the lathe off using a very small amount on a cloth or paper towel. And I am very careful not to get it into the voids and crevices.
I use this finish frequently for boxes and for pens made of unstabilized wood. It gives an atractive soft sheen to the piece.
Use a good quality nitrocellulose-based sanding sealer such as that from Behlen or Mylands. I prefer to dilute the sealer anywhere from 25 to 50 percent with a quality lacquer thinner. The sealer should be thin enough so that it will not stand up on a cheesecloth pad but instead soak into the pad immediately. When the mixture is right, place a small amount on a cheesecloth pad and immediately apply it to the item with the lathe off. It will dry almost immediately. Start the lathe and friction-dry the piece using a clean paper towel. Then use a fine nylon pad loaded with soft wax to even out the finish and to cut it back so that it looks like there is no finish on the wood. Then apply your favorite wax and buff it to the sheen you like.
This is a technique that I learned from my friend Dick Sing, a well know turner and author from Illinois.
With the piece STATIONARY, brush on Deft semi-gloss finish. Let the Deft soak into the piece for a few minutes. If dull spots appear, apply more Deft to the dull area. While the Deft is still wet, wipe the piece dry with a clean paper towel. Then buff dry with the lathe running at a slow to moderate speed. The idea here is to use friction to dry the finish.
If further coats of Deft are to be applied, set the turning aside for at least one hour. Use a fine nylon abrasive pad to smooth the finish, if it needs it, and then repeat the process.
When dry, apply your favorite wax.
I prefer to apply a single coat of the Deft and dry it by friction. I then immediately apply a coat of wax. For wax I will use either the Clapham's beeswax polish or Rennaisance Wax ( available from http://www.arizonasilhouette.com ).
This finish appears to be no longer be available. But I think Mylands Friction Polish or U Beaut Shellawax Cream should be good substitutes. Woodturners Finish by Behlen or General Finishes are also worthy of consideration.
In the event myself or someone else finds a source for this French Polish, the instructions for use are still included below. JWC Feb. 2015
For this finish I use a small pad of trace cloth or cheesecloth. The polish that I use is obtained from Craft Supplies in Utah ( http://www.woodturnerscatalog.com/ ). Their polish dries quickly and has caused me no problems. The finish appears to be a shellac-based padding lacquer. This polish does leave a moderately glossy surface, and I have found that it does not work well on open-grained woods. These woods would need to be filled in order for this treatment to look good.
Make a small pad from the cloth and MOISTEN it -- the surface of the pad should not feel wet. With the lathe turning slowly, apply the pad to the piece, keeping the pad moving. When the entire surface has been covered, use a dry part of the cloth to friction dry the finish. Cut back the finish with a nylon pad if the gloss is too high for your taste. Lubricate the pad with soft wax. You can apply your finish wax immediately after this treatment.
You can also apply this finish similar to the Deft above, wiping it off immediately. Friction dry it and use an abrasive nylon pad to cut back the finish. You are more likely to get lap marks using this technique than with described above.