Buffing Epoxy Finishes

System Three clear coat epoxy

Many of you know that I've been a big fan of epoxy finishes for many years. Although these finishes are very labor intensive and require special application protocols, the end result can be nothing short of amazing.

These finishes offer exceptional durability and high luster. I've been using epoxy for more than fifteen years now and I continue to use it on lathe projects (high end projects primarily), where the extra labor required to apply and perfect the finish can be justified.

I've received numerous emails from turners that have been experimenting with using epoxy for a finish on some of their projects. Some have reported mixed results when trying to perfect (deluxe) the finish to create the proper luster. 

The first thing you must understand when working with epoxies is that the epoxy must be fully cured before buffing, just like with any other finish. If you try to buff epoxy before it has fully cured, you will develop a most unacceptable result. There are numerous ways to buff epoxy successfully. Since I do not know what you may have on hand in your studio, I will offer several options that you may wish to consider:

1) Cutting Waxes: Cutting waxes are light waxes with an ultra fine abrasive suspended in the wax. The wax acts as a carrier, allowing an efficient method to apply the compound and assists in producing an even cut. Cutting waxes (also known as deluxing waxes) are better for new woodturners to use when deluxing their cured film surfaces, as they are less aggressive than buffing wheels charged with the appropriate compound.

When used correctly, cutting waxes can produce magnificent results. EEE Ultra Shine is a good example of excellent cutting wax that performs superbly in a woodturning environment. You can also use compounds that are designed for automotive use to perfect the cured surface, but I prefer EEE Ultra Shine unless I'm working on a large project.

EEE Ultrashine
is an excellent cutting wax

2) Buffing Wheels for Epoxy Finishes: 6" or 8" cloth buffing wheels charged with Tripoli, or White Diamond compound can produce excellent results on cured epoxy surfaces. Of the two, I much prefer the White Diamond compound, as it is less aggressive and produces a far higher ultimate luster. The speed and aggressiveness of the buff should be altered to match the specific epoxy film thickness on the project and the luster desired. Be careful to control heat build-up during the buffing protocol, to prevent heat induced checking.

A standard 8" cloth buffing wheel can be used to buff epoxy finishes

Tripoli and White Diamond buffing compounds can be used to buff woodturning finishes

3) Deluxing Fluids: If the film surface is not too irregular, a deluxing fluid can be used in conjunction with a cloth applicator pad, or a mechanical buffer. These products will remove the visual haze that may be present from steel wool, or synthetic wire wood applications that have been applied to the surface and if a more aggressive product is used, can easily remove heavy orange peel. Deluxing fluids are similar to cutting waxes, but are in a liquid form and usually require power buffing to perfect the film surface.

With epoxy it is particularly important to apply the epoxy smoothly, as subsequent buffing of the cured film surface is incrementally harder than buffing cured oil (and similar) finishes. The efficient and uniform "laying on" of the epoxy onto the surface can significantly reduce the amount of post-application buffing that may be required.

I prefer to spray epoxy as this produces the most uniform film surface and requires less buffing than when applied by brushing, dipping, or wiping. The key here is to get as smooth a layer as possible, so your deluxing of the cured film will be easier.

20/20 and HUT Ultragloss fluid polishing compounds

4) Wet Sanding: If your surface film is very irregular, a wet sanding may be necessary to remove the high spots, or heavy orange peel to prepare the surface for deluxing. I would wet sand to at least 800-grit metric before switching to any of the above deluxing methods. Note: If using an aggressive deluxing fluid, you can omit the wet sanding if desired.

Micro Mesh
ultra-fine abrasives

5) Micro Mesh Abrasives: Micro Mesh abrasives work very well on epoxy finishes and can raise the luster level to 12000-grit. Many of my smaller projects are deluxed with Micro Mesh, including epoxy finished, man-made plastics, bone, antler and other materials. You can apply Micro Mesh by hand if necessary, using the supplied dense foam applicator.

Micro Mesh abrasives can be used wet or dry and are very easy to use. At 12000-grit, the human eye cannot see the resultant scratch pattern and visually the surface will appear wet. Very nice abrasives indeed!

Although I recommend epoxy finishes in certain situations, the application protocols can be very labor intensive, especially if you spray the epoxy. You can come close to the durability of an epoxy finish using cyanoacrylates, which are much easier to apply and perfect if you're just getting started with advanced finishes. For most woodturnings however, a good quality lacquer finish can be an excellent choice.

Lacquers are very easy to apply and buff, as well as offering easy repair if necessary. None of these finishes offers the tactile response that a good quality oil finish delivers. Oil finishes are among the easiest of all finishes to apply and buff, but most require numerous coats to build an acceptable film thickness.

Liberon finishing oils

Trying to decide which finish to use on a project can be difficult, as much of the decision is influenced by the personal beliefs of the woodturner. I typically stock over 150 different finishes in my studio, so I always have a large selection from which to choose. This allows me to vary the particular finish used for the best overall result on a particular project, but it does not make the choosing the right finish any easier.

Safety Note: Always follow all manufacturers safety instructions before working with your lathe, or any of the tools or products you may use. If you are unsure about any operation, obtain competent professional instruction before proceeding. Use and wear all necessary safety devices during turning and observe safe woodturning practices to prevent accident or injury.

Steven D. Russell is a professional studio woodturner, teacher and writer. He has written numerous articles for international woodturning magazines, which have been published in more than 78 countries around the world. Steve has demonstrated in numerous cities across the United States. His studio, Eurowood Werks, specializes in bowls, platters and hollow forms with unique visual and tactile treatments.

Steve is also the current and founding President of the Lone Star Woodturners Association, Inc., an AAW member chapter. The LSWA is a 501(c)3 non-profit educational organization dedicated to teaching and demonstrating the art and craft of woodturning.

Steve is also a featured writer for the Guild of Master Craftsman's "Woodturning" magazine, published in London England. Woodturning magazine is the world's leading magazine for woodturners. Look for his articles covering technical topics, or project based articles in an upcoming issue.