Craftsman, Woodworker, Antiques Refinisher, Columnist, Author and Television Host
Glossary of Terms
One of the biggest problems facing the occasional do-it-yourself wood finisher and refinisher is simply understanding the terminology used by professionals, writers and the staff in the aisle at your local hardware store and home improvement center. I have included below some terms which might cause some confusion if not understood; others will be added at your suggestion. Whenever possible, the definitions will be written in our language rather than that of chemists.
Hardwood – wood harvested from a leaf-bearing tree; common examples include oak, maple and cherry; the definition does not refer to the relative hardness of the wood; for instance, balsa, a soft, lightweight wood used for model airplanes, is a hardwood. (see Softwood)
Oil-based – any wood finishing product in which the carrier, also known as the solvent, is derived from petroleum; most often this carrier is mineral spirits; oil-based products are noted for their longer drying times than water-based products and the fumes which they emit upon evaporation; proper ventilation and appropriate safety precautions recommended by the manufacturer must be utilized.
Softwood – wood harvested from a tree bearing needles rather than leaves, also known as a conifer; common examples include pine, fir and cedar; despite their name, some softwoods are more durable than many hardwoods; Southern yellow pine, for instance, is hard enough to be used as flooring; all softwoods require a coat of Wood Conditioner prior to staining to reduce the blotchiness caused by their irregular pores. (see Hardwood.)
Water-based – any wood finishing product in which the carrier is water; water-based products dry faster than oil-based products and do not emit any dangerous fumes; once dry, water-based products cannot be dissolved with water.
Wood Conditioner – a thin-bodied sealer, generally either oil-based or water-based, applied prior to an application of stain in order to reduce the blotchiness caused by an irregular arrangement of pores in the wood; prior to the introduction of commercial wood conditioners, wood finishers often used thinned-down shellac as a pre-stain conditioner, but the addition of wax to modern shellacs has made this practice unadvisable, as the wax can cause adhesion and penetration problems for the subsequent stain and finish.
Three Important Rules: Always follow the manufacturer's directions, take all safety precautions and first test every product in an inconspicuous spot.