The Slightly Confused Woodworker

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Display cabinet finished.


Some woodworkers love finishing, some tolerate it, some hate it, and some don’t do it at all. I’m in the “hate it” camp, which is a woodworking cliché if there ever was one, and though I like to think that I’m too much of an individual to ever have been part of a cliché, in this case it is accurate.

Now if were up to myself, I would have only two options for finishing: Boiled linseed oil along with a few coats of wax, or sending the unfinished piece to a professional and have them do it for me. Since I cannot afford the latter, and my wife would likely not care for the former (in many cases), I reluctantly attempt to finish projects on my own. In the case of this cabinet, I chose gel stain and Briwax. The results were mixed.

Firstly, before I completely finished the cabinet, I hammered in exactly nine more nails to the back panel. Cut nails allow for movement, we all know this, but when I shifted the cabinet the left board of the back panel popped, just a hair, but enough to throw up a red flag. To be honest, I was a bit cheap, for lack of a better word, when I nailed the back panels in. To fasten the back panels I used clout nails, which are made for that purpose, but to strengthen the installation, I switched to 1 1/2 inch finish nails, and they alleviated any worries. So once I was sure the cabinet was secure, I turned to finishing the rest of the piece.

I have used gel stain in the past, and I have mixed emotions concerning its usefulness. On the plus side it does not run, and it blotches far less than regular stain does. But it is difficult to control the color. I used two coats on the interior, and in an attempt to darken the exterior, I used an additional third coat. That coat did little to add any contrast, and though I may have done something wrong, I get the impression that gel stain will only darken to a certain point. Don’t misunderstand me, I like the color of the finish, but I don’t like the lesser level of control that gel stain offers. And at this point I am hesitant to use it on another large project.

On another note; I enjoyed using Briwax. Fellow woodworker and blogger Greg Merritt advised me that Briwax sets up quickly. He was absolutely correct, so when I applied it I did it in small sections, and let it set for just sixty seconds. It was my hope that the Briwax (antique mahogany color) would darken the cabinet; it did not, at least not measurably, but it did enhance the finish, and add a bit more richness to the overall appearance. For those of you who have never used Briwax, it is not like Minwax furniture wax, it is much thinner in consistency and behaves a bit more like shoe polish. The application, however, is basically the same: 0000 steel wool and a soft cloth to buff it out. I would consider using it as a finish on it’s own, but that is for another project.

When I returned home from work today I carried the cabinet in from the garage (it was just small enough for me to carry without help) and plunked it down in the corner of the living room where I had intended it to go all along. I began to place photos and knick-knacks on the cabinet when my wife entered the room, told me that she didn’t “like” it where I placed it, and proceeded to tell me to move it. I didn’t argue, I instead brought it into our bedroom (which was my plan ‘B’ as I knew that plan ‘A’ would likely need a back up). For at least the near future this is where it will stay.

I did not necessarily build this cabinet to hold books, though a few books will definitely be on there. More so, I built it to hold other items, among them historical documents and speeches. Three of my favorites: George Washington’s address to his troops-Dec 31st of 1776, Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural Address, and FDR’s ‘Infamy Speech’ I have printed out on parchment paper and I plan on framing those for display. I had considered making the frames myself, but instead I will purchase them. While I have nothing against making frames, it is not something I want to do at this time. But for all intents and purposes, this cabinet is now finished.

Finished and "installed"

Finished and “installed”

Without the open door showing.

Without the open door showing.



  1. Greg Merritt says:

    Looks great Bill!

    Briwax works best as a toner for sure. But it does give that little extra dimension to a finish and makes a piece pop.

    Fantastic job on the build and the finish.

    • billlattpa says:

      Thanks Greg! It was a fun project, and has basically turned out how I imagined it would. So I have few complaints.
      The nice part about briwax is that it can be replenished. I’m going to experiment with it on oak and walnut to see what it can do.

  2. Wesley Beal says:

    Looks great! Count me among the haters, so far anyway. I just don’t have any interest in it. I want something super easy. Haven’t used BLO yet. I’ve used Danish Oil (Watco) and it’s been fine. Something else as easy would be nice. I’ve been wondering about waxes. I just want to rub something on and be done with it.

  3. bloksav says:

    Really great looking display cabinet.
    I like the tone of the color and the sheen.

    Will you have a picture of FDR, Lincoln and Washington near your parchment speeches?
    We just finished watching the series “The Pacific” out here, and in one of the homes you could see a picture of FDR hanging on a wall.

    I don’t know how it is in America nowadays, but in Denmark nobody would be even remotely interested in hanging a picture of the prime minister on the wall anymore. In the 30’ies we had a statesman called Stauning. That was a different type of person compared to the sorry politicians we have of present day.


    • billlattpa says:

      Thanks Jonas! I would have preferred it a touch darker (or very light) but overall I am pleased.

      As you said, few people that I know would have a portrait of the current President on their wall. It is a practice that has fallen out of favor during the past 30 years. However, you are more likely to find portraits of “Historical” Presidents: John F Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln being the most popular. While I don’t have portraits of FDR or Lincoln, I do have a very nice print of George Washington as he crosses the Delaware River during the American revolution. The artist I believe was a German named Leutze, though I could be completely wrong as I know little about fine art.

      Unfortunately for me my wife does not share my interest in American History. I would like to have that print framed and hanging over my new cabinet, but my wife would not “approve” it. In any event, I have read many books about Washington, some of them written by contemporaries of his, and I have come to admire him greatly not only as a General, but as one of our finest Presidents. It is partly the reason that I visit Valley Forge Park so often, because there you can truly walk in Washington’s foot steps. The natural beauty of the park only adds to the experience.

      Actually, I have quite a few copies of historical documents: The Declaration of Independence, The Magna Carta, The Gettysburg Address, and one of my all time favorites: Lincoln’s letter to Mrs. Bixby, which I have memorized. These all hang in my garage, as well as several posters used as propaganda during World War 2, and several drawings made of Valley Forge Park. For this reason, even more so than having my dream woodshop, I would love to have a property with a nice barn/workshop, where I can properly display these pieces.

      Forgive me, but I will type out the Bixby Letter, as it is known, because it is short, but very powerful in it’s message.

      Executive Mansion, Washington D.C. Nov. 21st 1863

      Dear Madam,

      I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle. I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save.
      I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.

      Yours, very sincerely and respectfully,

      A. Lincoln

      Sorry for geeking out, but as the anniversary approaches I always remember to post these words on Facebook as a reminder, to all, of the sacrifices made in war in the name of freedom. And they are also a reminder of the eloquence of President Lincoln, one of the most intelligent persons who has ever lived.

      Thanks again.
      Your friend,

      • bloksav says:


        Words like those of Abraham Lincoln can not be written too often.

        Hanging those things in your garage is still a lot better than hiding them away in some folder inside your house.
        If they are on display, no matter where in the house that might be, the words will serve as inspiration.

        I have always admired FDR for the New Deal program and for protecting the nature by establishing some of the great parks.

        In school we were taught precious little about American history, most of the stuff was post WW2 like the Marshall plan and the cold war. But practically nothing about the earlier history.

        your friend

  4. Randall says:

    You’re too hard on yourself, this project came out looking great.

    • billlattpa says:

      Thanks Randall! I appreciate the kind words. I can say in all honesty that I like how this project turned out. Like most woodworkers, I am hard on myself at times. I just wish I was better at finishing, because at this point I can envision what I would like, and many times build it, but I cannot attain that final level of finish. No matter how tight the joints and how graceful the curves, it’s always the finish that everybody notices. All I can say is that I need to practice, but that’s why we woodwork, right?


  5. Kinderhook88 says:

    Very nice. I’d say a job well done, congrats.

    • billlattpa says:

      Thank you! It was a fun project. I wish I was better at sketching (or sketch-up) or I would print plans for it. I think it’s a good project for intermediate level woodworkers looking to try something just a little different.

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