Dale Nish Deft and Oil Finishing Process

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The Deft and Oil finishing process was taught by Dale L. Nish in our Woodturning Workshop program for over 25 years and is still our preferred method of finishing.

A few of the many reasons this finishing process is so popular is that it’s easy to follow, allows you to use oil finish without the risk of darkening the wood, and it produces a durable finish that requires minimal maintenance.  It also works on salad bowls and kitchenware when you need a food-safe finish.

A couple of things to keep in mind when using Deft –

  • • We recommend thinning Deft by 50% with lacquer thinner.  It makes application much easier and dries faster when thinned.
  • • Always mix the Deft prior to use as it tends to separate quickly.
  • • In our workshop, we use a finishing jar with brush as it’s easy to make and is a very effective way to store and apply Deft.  It also makes thinning the Deft easier too as you can see what you’re doing when thinning and mixing.
  • • For bowls intended for use with food, wait 30 days after finishing before using.

Let’s get started with the Deft and Oil Finishing Process

Step 1

Thoroughly sand the turning in preparation for finishing.  Be sure to remove all sanding marks and blemishes including torn end-grain as finishing will only make them more prominent.

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Sand the piece thoroughly

Step 2

With the lathe stopped, brush on a generous coat of Deft onto the work piece and let it soak in for a few minutes.  If you see dull spots appear in the coating (primarily endgrain areas), apply more Deft and let it sit a bit longer.

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Apply the thinned Deft

Step 3

While the Deft is still wet, wipe the piece dry with a clean cotton cloth.

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Wipe away excess with a clean cloth while the Deft is still wet

Step 4

Set it aside to dry for an hour or so until dry to the touch.  If time allows, go ahead and let it sit overnight.  This allows the Deft to harden in the wood fiber to create a barrier that prevents the oil finish from penetrating the wood.  This prevents the oil from causing the wood to darken and provides an excellent base for final finishing with oil.

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Let sit until dry to the touch – overnight if possible

Step 5

Using 0000 steel wool, apply Waterlox Oil or other polymerizing oil finish to the work piece then lightly wet sand at slow speed to remove any Deft left on the surface.   If there are any “shiny spots”, be sure to wet sand until they are gone and the surface has a consistent appearance.

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Apply an oil finish with steel wool

Step 6

Buff the work piece with a dry, soft cloth and set aside for the oil to dry. Apply additional coats of oil allowing them dry between applications.  You can apply the oil using steel wool if you want to lightly wet sand or simply apply the oil using a piece of paper towel.

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Buff with a clean cloth

Step 7

Final buffing can be done with the work piece on the lathe using a soft cotton cloth and wax or similar material. You can also free-hand buff a bowl using a spindle mounted bowl buff and polishing material such as a wax or fine abrasive.

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Buff the piece

Supplies Used:

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10 COMMENTS

    • This finish would work very well on a travel mug. In that case we would recommend applying a few extra coats of Waterlox for added durability.

  1. I think I will give this a try on my next bowl, but you left out Lacquer Thinner from your “Supplies Used” list.

    • Thanks for letting us know – we’ve added it to the list. We do not sell lacquer thinner because it is so readily available in local stores.

  2. Thank you for the great article. I’ve been looking for a finish for my tableware that will be durable and have the soft patina that you’ve shown. Two questions though.
    Would shellac work as well as the lacquer for the first coat?
    You mention in the article: “In our workshop, we use a finishing jar with brush as it’s easy to make and is a very effective way to store and apply Deft.” do you have a picture or a how to article on making a finishing jar with brush?

    • Thanks for the comment! Yes, shellac is an excellent sealer as well although it does add more of an amber hue than lacquer. Dale specifically preferred Deft lacquer for it’s high solids content and clear color. As for the finish jar, there is a link to the kit in the “supplies used” section. On that product page you can view the PDF instructions on how to turn one.

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