Friday, June 27, 2008

The perfection of the perfect superlative

I took two years of Spanish in college. I was reading Spanish literature and speaking Spanish in a seminar level class. My writing wasn't so great as I remember. That was 29 friggin' years ago. I still remember muchas palabras. Pero no soy fluent. My Mayan labor force likes me because I try - I do my best - sometimes I make them laugh. I call the swimming pool "el lago". "Necessitamos mas agua en el lago" - when the pool level is getting low.

They found a huge turtle the other day and we had an amusing discussion about the difference between a turtle and a tortoise. I even managed to explain how large tortoises grow in the Galagpagos Islands - "islas en el centro del mar Pacifico".

Today I tried to explain how to paint - actually how to apply stain and varnish - with finesse. Not explain with finesse, but apply the finishes with finesse. We are having to refinish eight 10x10 douglas fir posts because Augusto, in spite of my original demonstration of technique, got it in his head that more was better. That one very thick coat of marine grade exterior spar varnish would be better than multiple thin coats. I had to run to the lumber yard after I showed him what I wanted, and didn't notice the problem until the finish started bubbling and blistering in the sun yesterday afternoon.

It's very important for the belt sander to be directed in a perfectly linear fashion, any slight angle and you will end up with microscopic, but visible, grit scratches in places. You can only see them if you position yourself in a particular way so that "la luz/el sol" is just right. If you look straight down on the wood, you can't see it, but at an oblique angle, it slaps you in face like a...slap in the face.

Then, the finishing sander (a big, honkin' old style Porter-Cable beauty), also has to be operated in a perfectly linear fashion - "with the grain". Direcho.

Then, the stain has to be applied with a brush in a linear/with the grain fashion, then wiped with a rag - linear-ly. Care has to be taken at the corners not to have drips or build-up of the coating.

Teaching someone how to use a brush (natural china bristles) is also a challenge with the language barrier. There is a finesse in the action of your arm, hand and wrist. There is a slight flicking intention with the tips of the bristles. The tips are the most important part of the brush in delivering the coating to the surface. You don't slap the wood with a brush, you don't lay it on its side.

Once the stain is dry, the first coat of varnish goes down, after a rub down with five aught (#00000) steel wool. The varnish is applied very thinly - not too little, but not too much. After it's dry, then another pass with the finishing sander and 220 grit aluminum oxide paper. A quick pass - not too little, not too much. Another rub down with five aught steel wool, and then the next coat. I will be doing at least four coats on this, perhaps five or six.

The key is that each step, from the 120 grit belt sander to the final 00000 steel wool - 17 steps in all - must be done "with the grain". It's the cumulative effect of the multiple steps and multiple layers of finish - handcrafted with loving care - that give the deep, rich finish that I am looking for.

Anyway, we got two (out of eight) of the massive columns re-sanded and re-stained today. I did everything so they could watch and learn. Even I was impressed with the outcome - and I am hard to impress. I think they got the idea even with my funky words and communication. They laughed when I showed them brushing technique "con la musica" - with tango playing in the background. That it's about long, smooth strokes, finessing the tips of the bristles with an imperceptible flick of the wrist at just the right moment - such that there are no brush marks left on the surface. The final strokes are as if you are using a feather. Perhaps there are some ridges and valleys in the finish - on the subatomic level. Imperceptible to the eye - imperceptible to the touch.

They kept using the word "espejo" as they felt the surface of the wood. I had to look it up on babelfish when I got home - espejo means mirror.

I'll take that as a compliment.

But, it's still a struggle for me to explain myself - sin palabras - sin superlatives.

Here are all the finishing steps...I listed them so I could count them up...out of curiousity...

1] 120 grit belt sander
2] 220 grit finishing sander
3] 00000 steel wool
4] Stain
5] 00000 steel wool
6] Varnish #1
7] 220 grit
8] 00000 steel wool
9] Varnish #2
10] 220 grit
11] 00000 steel wool
12] Varnish #3
13] 220 grit
14] 00000 steel wool
15] Varnish #4
16] 220 grit - very light, or possibly omit this step
17] 00000 steel wool - very, very light to knock down the final sheen and give it a nice, matte/satin finish

1 comment:

ModernTanguera said...

In case you want to use it later, swimming pool is "la piscina." :)

Your language experience fascinates me - as does the work process itself!