founded Rockler Woodworking and Hardware in 1954. Over the last half century,
Nordy has spent thousands of hours in the workshop, building projects
and perfecting his finishing techniques. He's regarded as a finishing
expert, and has developed a number of Rockler exclusive finishes. We recently
met with Nordy to discuss the art of finishing and some of his favorite
often say that finishing is the part of the process they struggle with
most. Do you share that struggle, and why do you think that is?
Nordy: Years ago it was more of a struggle because there wasn't a variety
of good products available. In the earliest times a person would just
use an oil pigment, wipe on stain, maybe a coat of shellac as a sealer,
and then a varnish, which maybe took 24 hours or more to dry. Because
it was so slow to dry you'd get a lot of dust particles settling in it.
Today we have such a multitude of products available it is much simpler,
especially once you get familiar with the products and use the ones you
like. Finishing is the culmination of doing a project. You can put a lot
of time and money into the material, and you can botch the whole thing
with a bad finishing job. Finishing is a critical part of the whole project.
did you develop such a strong interest in finishing?
Nordy: Well, when we started the business. Finishes are a crucial part
of doing woodworking, so it was just sort of a natural process that I
became interested in it. Through looking at various lines and talking
to different salespeople, I learned a lot about finishing. I tested a
lot of products, and I still am today. To keep on top of it, you really
have to keep on trying them and testing them.
is the main key in getting a great finish on a woodworking project?
Nordy: Two things. First of all, you have to be very patient; don't rush
it. And the crucial thing is to test it on some scrap wood and make sure
you get the desired effect you really want. Another reason for testing
is you have a schedule of finishing materials; test them all the way through
the whole process, from beginning to end, and you will get a really good
feel for what the end result will be.
you decide which finish to put on a particular piece?
Nordy: The type of project really dictates what type of finish you put
on it. If you're building cabinets or a bookcase, an oil-type finish is
very simple and pleasing, and very easy to repair. I woudn't recommend
an oil finish for a dining room table, because you need more protection.
You need something harder, more durable, and waterproof. It all depends
on what you're building. It also has to do with personal preference. Do
you want a gloss, a semi-gloss, a flat finish? Does the piece need a lot
of protection? Does the piece need to match another piece in the room?
There's a lot of considerations.
are the benefits of shellac and Rockler's
Nordy: Shellac is a different type of material, and not necessarily used
as a top coat. It's a multi-purpose product. It was very popular in the
1700s, and a lot of the antiques were finished with it because that was
the only finish available at the time. It has its advantages. It dries
very fast and gives you a nice appearance. But it does have its drawbacks.
It is not completely water resistant, and it can be brittle. Sometimes
it's the finish you have to use, especially for the furniture restoration
people who want to get a piece as close to the original as possible. The
pre-mixed stuff you buy off the shelf in a hardware store has a limited
shelf life. It's usually only good for six months after you open it up.
If you buy shellac in flake form you can mix it yourself very easily just
by mixing with denatured alcohol in different proportions. If you want
to use it for a sealer, or wash coat, you use a thin solution, what they
call a two-pound cut shellac. If you're using it as a top coat or finish
you want it a little thicker, you want a four-pound cut. We came up with
our new shellac kit because we had previously been selling it by the pound,
which is a lot of shellac flake for the average consumer. So we packaged
it into a smaller 2 oz. size, and they can make a two-, three- or four-pound
cut, whichever they want, and it has a graduated scale on the container
showing what proportions of denatured alcohol to shellac to use. It simplified
the use of it. We're also going to be offering it in a half-pound container.
did you develop a relationship with Sam Maloof, who is regarded as one
of this country's greatest woodworking craftsmen?
Nordy: I met Sam about 20 years ago at the Southern California Woodworkers
Association. They had a big event. That was the first time I met him,
and I visited his home, which is really like a museum. He's a great collector
himself. He collects Navajo rugs, and he collects pottery. He used to
trade some of his stuff for Navajo rugs and pottery. We have a nice relationship.
Sam's poly/oil finish. The mere fact Sam Maloof still uses it gives
credence to the product.
highly-regarded finishing expert is Michael Dresdner. How did you meet
Nordy: I knew him because of his work. He's a very popular writer and
has written a couple of books. I met him a few years ago at a trade show.
We sell his books and he writes articles for Woodworker's Journal. He's
a contributing editor to our finishing department.
a water-based, wipe-on polyurethane finish, is one of Rockler's newest
products. What are the benefits of WunderCote?
Nordy: It's so easy to use. It's in a flip-top bottle, and you just pour
it out and use a foam rubber brush over the surface. It dries in about
20 or 30 minutes, although our label says one or two hours. It doesn't
require much sanding (with 220 grit paper) between coats, then you can
re-coat it. I've done that in half an hour after I applied. it. What's
nice about a water-based polyurethane is it doesn't smell, it's not carcinogenic
to the user and harmful to the environment. It drys faster, is very easy
to apply, and easy to clean up. What's different about our finish is others
tend to have a plastic look to them when they're finished. Ours has a
slightly amber cast to it so it looks more like a varnish finish.
anything else you'd like to add about the finishing process?
Nordy: Like any skill or acquired labor, the worst part is fear of doing
it. Half the battle is just trying it. There's such an abundance of products
out there that there's something for everybody. There's just no end to
products. There should be something anybody can apply for a very professional-looking
on the lookout for new products that we're testing. We try to have a real
wide selection on the internet and in our stores. Usually in each store
there's someone that specializes in finishing, and then we have classes
at our stores. Mostly it's getting up the nerve to try it and getting
used to the products you're using. In a lot of cases it's fun, especially
when you have a beautiful project and you want to put the finishing touch
on it that enhances the whole project.
See Rockler's Finishing Guide.