Nicholson Project – Finishing up

When you’re working in two and three hour blocks of time, it’s hard to maintain momentum.  Especially when the project participants are from the “curmudgeonly” class.  But we’re almost there.

The front vise chop is massive, nearly twenty inches wide.  The slide bar is 2 1/2″ square.  The slide box isn’t even permanently attached, yet the vise travels smoothly.


We decided that we would use shellac for the frame and a traditional oil finish (BLO and wax, maybe a little turpentine) for the tops and aprons.

Orange shellac and red oak equals “Golden Oak”, the color of half of the kitchen cabinets and trim in North America.  Shellac allows you to build a good film thickness very quickly and can be applied in “less than clean room” conditions.  If it’s a little rough, simply rub it out with steel wool, then wax it back up to the level of reflectivity you desire.


Someone asked me if there was any rhyme or reason to the holdfast hole pattern.  I said yes, there is a rhyme and a reason,  and there both in my head.  Just leave it at that.  A few more “fancy schmancy touches” and we’ll be in business.

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5 Comments on “Nicholson Project – Finishing up”

  1. Hi
    Congratulations with your new workbench. This seems like a very nice bench for general woodworking and should be perfect for the purpose it is built for.

    I am interested in the shellack. Do you use a comercial mixture or do you make your own from flake form?

    Regards Roald

    • D.B. Laney Says:

      Hello Roald,

      Our intention is to use the bench for demonstrating hand tool methods, so the bench’s weight and workholding capabilities will be a real benefit.

      The shellac that I’m using on the bench is Zinsser brand, amber (orange) shellac. It is a high quality shellac as it is made with very pure alcohol (anhydrous) that is not available to the general public. My understanding is that it is ethanol, which is controlled by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). This alcohol has a very low percentage of “bound” water. The absence or low percentage of water makes for a very clear, quick drying product. Zinsser clear shellac is “de-waxed” and is very clear. The amber product is not de-waxed, so it appears cloudy in the can. I thinned the shellac about 30% with alcohol, and brushed applied it. Unfortunately, the range of shellacs available as pre-mixed includes only clear and orange. Buttonlac, seedlac, garnet, etc. are not available. And, of course, there is a limited shelf life after shellac has been mixed. I believe that Zinsser says three years. I get a little nervous after two years.

      For furniture and “French Polishing”, I prefer to use flaked shellac. The color range is broader and I can easily determine the consistency. On intricate pieces (carving), I brush on multiple coats. For flat surfaces, I prefer to “pad” the shellac, using the same type of rubber (tampon) as that used for French Polishing.

      The real advantage of using shellac for a workbench is that it is so easy to repair and/or re-coat. The new film softens and binds with the film to which it is being applied. And, it is dry in thirty minutes. If I oil a bench, I usually have to wait at least twenty-four hours before I can use it.

      Here is one of my benches at home that is finished with shellac. It holds up very well.

      I visit your blogs daily. Please pass along my compliments to your associates. All of you are doing a great job.

      Regards, Dennis

      • Hello Dennis
        Thank you for a good ansver to my question. Finish is not something I have a lot of experience with. I have struggled with some experiments to make a good finish on my wooden handplanes. The old planes seems to have a finish with some color that are from brown to red. Some older planes does also have some black color. When this finish is worn by use, the color is worn away and the wood are more like it was natural. Most older planes in my area are made of birch.

        I have tried several different varnishes i have made from boiled linseed oil and pigments, Terra de Sienna and other. This works but the pigments penetrate into the wood pores and it looks different from the old planes. I have tried to prepare the wood with water with bone glue and this is a little better. The reason for using linseed oil are that this seems to have been common to use on planes when the oldtimers today where youg, about 80 years ago. Still the original planes I use as a reference are about 150 – 200 years old.

        I have also used boiled pine tar on some planes. It takes months to dry but it wears a similar way as the warnish on some of the old planes.

        I might try shellac on the next planes I am going to make? A shellac with a brown or orange color would be nice.

        Do you have any knowledge about warnish on wooden planes?

        Thank you for your compliments about our blogs. I will pass along to my associates. We are also reading your blog and I will also thank you for a lot of interesting and useful posts about workbenches.

        Regards Roald

      • D.B. Laney Says:

        Hi Roald,

        Most of the old wooden planes (commercially made) found in the US are made from beech. However, it’s not unusual to find planes made in the New England area or Canada that are made from Birch. Many bench planes were made by individual craftsman and it would not be unusual to find these planes made from Hard maple, cherry, plum as well as other species that are not usually harvested for timber. Also some of the commercial plane makers used rare woods for “presentation” tools. Plough planes were favored for a high level of decoration.

        I believe that it was customary to soak plane bodies in linseed oil, prior to final assembly. And it is possible that the linseed oil would have been thinned with gum turpentine (or refined pitch). This would, effectively, be a crude grade of spar varnish.

        If raw linseed oil was used, it would stay “plastic” (not polymerized) for a long time. Soil would bind with the soft film, leaving a very dirty, blackened look.

        I’m going to put some pictures up on the blog and continue the conversation there. I think it might prove interesting. Thanks for the question. It’s gotten me thinking.

        Regards, Dennis

  2. […] on his blog today. That was his ansver to my question about finish on wooden planes in his earlier post about his workbench project. I am posting this to show some examples of how Norwegian planes looks. […]

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