A Tale of Three Chairs


These are three chairs that we built.  The two on  the left are our Fanback Adirondack chair, and the one on the right is our standard Adirondack chair.  The two on the left are 8 years old, the one on the right is two years old.  Several years ago, I did an experiment with different finishes, to determine durability, easy of application and refinishing.  We applied spar varnish to one chair, and an oil finish to the other.  The third chair is two years old and had absolutely no finish applied.

Spar Varnish finish

Oil Finish

No Finish

It is pretty easy to see that the spar varnish has held up the best over the past eight years.  The oil finish is supposed to be reapplied every couple of years, but I have intentionally not done so just to see how long it would ultimately last.  Clearly, you can see that the finish has worn completely through in many areas.  The unfinished chair is only two years old, and has faded to a silver-gray patina.  Many people like this look, because it looks weathered and reminds them of drift wood or barn wood.

When we ship your furniture out, it has been finish sanded, and is ready for the application of paint, stain, or the clear finish of your choice.  Left unfinished, the grain of the wood will become raised from exposure to rain (the wood will absorb some of the moisture, and will swell at the growth rings, causing the surface of the wood to become textured.  Another concern is that the wood will absorb oil from people’s hands, causing the wood to become discolored.  You can see both of these conditions in the close-up of the arm rest of the unfinished chair, below.


The two chairs in our finish experiment are heavily used and abused by our 5 kids, which was part of the experiment as well.  These chairs have been jumped in, stood on, drug around, hauled in the back of the truck, dropped, kicked, and generally used and abused, and have held up very well.

The area that wears the most is the seat of the chair.  You can see in the photos of the seats, below, where the varnish has been chipped and scraped, and where the oil has worn completely off.

DSCN3198 DSCN3197

In order to renew the varnish, the existing finish should be sanded off, and two new coats applied.  If you were to simply apply more varnish, the dirt and oils on the existing coat would not allow the new coats to properly bond, and they would eventually peel off.  You could minimize this by washing the surface with solvent, such as lacquer thinner, but this would not guarantee anything.

The oil finish can be renewed by simply wiping on another coat.  The main disadvantage is that this ideally should be done every two years, where the varnish will easily hold up much longer before needing sanded and refinished.

To ensure the longest lifespan for your furniture, a weather resistant finish should be applied.  Cedar is a weather resistant wood, and will still last several years without any finish, but any wood, even teak, will eventually break down without protection.

The end result of my experiment is that I recommend finishes such as spar varnish or Thompson’s Water Seal over finishes like linseed oil or teak oil.  Paints will provide similar performance to the spar varnish, when applied with a good quality primer, as will solid color deck stains.

What do I really have to complain about?

g0459_det1This is a picture of the surface sander that I use to finish sand the edges of all our seat and back slats, and to finish sand the faces of every part of every piece of furniture we build.  It is a fabulous time saving machine, and has been really nice to have.

A little over a month ago, i started having trouble with the conveyor belt slowing down and the motor getting hot.  I went to the manufacturers web site, looked up the machine, went to the parts section and ordered a new motor.  All was fine, right?  Not so much, it seems.  I get the motor a week later, by which time the old motor has totally died, and wouldn’t you know it, it’s the wrong one.

I called tech support the following day and explain my dilemma, and the nice man on the other end of the phone explains to me that there have been 3 revisions to the conveyor on the machine since I bought mine 4 years ago, and that their on-line system does not reflect it, but, since i was on the phone, he had me take some voltage readings on the machine, and advised me that the control box was actually bad, and that they would send me a new one right out.  Of course it is no longer under warranty, so of course this will cost me even more money.  In the mean time, I returned the incorrect motor for a refund.  Mind you, I have now been totally without this machine for a week during our busiest time of year.

Yet another week and the control box arrives.  Excitedly I run out and install it on the machine.  To my dismay, it still does not work.  Another call to tech support, only to find out that “well, maybe the motor is bad after all.”  I order the “correct motor”, and am assured that it will ship that very day.

Three days later I receive confirmation that the motor shipped, but on the bright side, it was less expensive than the last one.  Another week goes by, and I finally receive the new motor.  I have now been without this machine for 3 1/2 weeks.  I am having to hand sand every single piece, my hands are permanently numb, I am behind schedule, customers are calling mad, and I want to send all kinds of hate mail to this company.  I just want the darn motor to arrive so i can get back to work and get caught up.

Sure enough, it arrived the beginning of this past week.  It was the same motor they sent me last time, but in addition to that, it included about $100 in extra parts, comprised of bearing blocks, a new spindle for the end of the conveyor belt, a new motor coupling and woodruff key.  Mind you, all of this was less than the motor cost by itself in the first place.  How does that work?.

So, not only do I not get a plug-and-play motor, now I have to rebuild the drive end of the conveyor belt.  Are you kidding me?!?  Finally, I am back up and running with this machine, busting my butt trying to not fall further behind, and working through dinner time every night of the week.  On the plus side, I am back up to schedule, and we managed to avoid any angry customers.

No matter what, this still beats punching a time clock.  My commute is a walk to the other side of the back yard, and I am home every day for lunch.  What do I really have to complain about?