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What Finish to put on an
Unfinished Ashford Kit?

Spinners share their tips, materials and methods

Collected Wisdom from the Ashford-Spinners List


From: (Holly)

Be careful to carefully and fully read the instructions that come with whatever finish you choose. Most of the recommended finishes are potential fire hazards. Watco Danish Oil finish for sure, and I'm pretty sure Tung Oil, too.

You can't leave finishing rags just sitting around when you're done because they release heat in the drying process and can spontaneously combust. Be sure to carefully follow the instructions pertaining to disposal of used rags and paper. A wadded up rag or paper with wet finish still on it can burst into flames and start a fire.

This is no joke. A woman here in Oregon completed building her all-timber home on June 18 and on June 19 it burned to the ground because of a rag that was left wadded up in the house. (She built it by hand herself, and had to rebuild).

Not to scare anybody, but just a heads-up. I made sure everything was either wadded up and stuffed in a capped can full of water or spread out to dry where I could observe it.

From: (Arlene)

One thing that really made me appreciate my wheel, I've really neglected the wood over the years and it was a very bad sight for sore or any other kind of eyes. The finished was badly mottled and it looked like part of the finish was off and part on (I purchased my wheel as a finished kit - I think Ashford stopped offering them finished some time after I bought mine). I purchased some Weiman Lemon Oil Furniture Polish and tried it first on the side of the wheel which was the biggest mess. To my delight the Lemon Oil quickly brought out all the original beauty of the wood. I've now finished the entire wheel and believe me, this old wheel looks almost as good as when it was new. It was amazing. Would never have believed that my wheel would ever look that way again.

From: (Sally)

I finished my Traveller with just satin polyurethane finish. The satin type eliminates the shine that glossy gives and it looks more natural (like oiled wood) than the glossy. I like the light look of the wood, but you could stain it first with something. I really like the poly finish because I can take it through a little rain shower without worrying about damage. It is my number one take along and demonstration wheel and looks as good as the day I finished it 4 years ago.

From: (Jes)

The time between finishing the wheel and actually getting to spin on it will feel like eternity! I know it did for me. After much discussion with various woodworkers, I opted for a Danish Oil finish. It comes in natural which will slightly darken the wood and bring out the grain, and it also comes in several shades (oak, cherry, etc).

I gave my wheel 3 coats of natural oil, applying the oil with a soft cloth and letting it sit for about 1/2 hour, then wiping off the excess. I let the wheel sit 24 hours between coats. At first I thought I would finish this all off with a good coat of paste wax, but after each successive coat of oil, the wheel started to feel smoother and look richer. In the end, I didn't wax it at all, because the wood has such a beautiful sheen to it, and feels wonderful. I figured why wait another couple of days to spin???!!

Anyway, that was about 6 weeks ago, and I haven't regretted not waxing it. I know there are zillions of suggestions for finishing a wheel-this is just my 2 cents worth!

From: (Sue)

I bought my Traveller assembled and it had an oil finish which I thought looked "furry" so I took it apart, sanded it once with 220 and once with 400 grit sandpaper then finished it with Minwax paste wax. Result... a cedar colored wood with a smoooooth, satiny finish.

Then I bought the flax distaff and had to do ALL the finishing myself. Having no idea what stain was used on the wheel - and no hope to match it I opted for a natural finish. I sanded as above and waxed it. Result... beautiful blonde wood with incredible depth to the grain.

Just recently I bought the Ashford ninny-noddy (same wood as the wheel and distaff) This time I sanded then stained it with a red mahogany stain (follow package directions) and waxed. The stain REALLY brought out the grain. It looks very exotic.

I really think the waxing is essential to the look. Paste wax gives a hard, low gloss finish and protects from moisture. (It smells nice too!)

From: (Leslie)

I stained all my pieces before I put them together. Then I sprayed the whole thing with a light satin-finish polyurethane after it was assembled.

From: (Linda)

Three light coats of Minwax Satin Polyurethane, lightly sanded between coats 1 and 2. I split up the parts so I did about a third each day for three days straight; the wheel is almost a day by itself! Because I did it in the middle of summer, it was essentially a three-hour job each day, as by the time I finished painting everything assembled for that day, the first items were dry. :-)

Assembled several screwdrivers, a handful of old bike spokes, an unused bike rack (thread several spokes through the holes to support the wheel while you paint it), lots of newspapers, and a collection of cardboard boxes on my deck so that various parts could be supported to allow for painting and drying without marks on them. When you get your kit, sit and read the instructions for how things go together and then figure out just how you will need to hold the piece for painting. Some of them are a real challenge!

From: (Lynn)

I did a finish on a Lazy Kate and wheel using English walnut oil based stain and verathane. I sanded all the pieces, then applied the stain with a soft cloth and since I wanted a true dark walnut, I let it set overnight. The next morning I wiped off any stain that was left and lightly sanded it again, Just enough to give the verathane a grip and applied 3 coats of water base verathane with a sponge brush, sanding lightly between each coat. Then I let it dry and cure for 2 days. I did not put any finish on tongues that fit into another piece of wood. Verathane needs to cure before it is subjected to heavy use or it may cloud and or retain a sticky feel. Then I just assembled according to directions and started spinning. It was hard to wait for 3 days to "play with my toy" but the results were worth it. My wheel positively glows in the light and the verathane gave it a hard, durable finish.

I have a MK2 [Scholar] which I spent last evening refinishing. I sanded it all down and used a Watco oil "stain and finish" in a maple color. It turned out beautifully!

From: (Susan)

I bought a Scholar several years ago. Because I was going to use this wheel as my traveling wheel (I got tired of hauling my Elizabeth to guild meeting and workshops) I wanted a durable finish. I also wanted something "different".

I used one of the Minwax pastel colored stains. The one I used was powder blue, but there is also a pink, white, and something else (can't remember). On top of that I used several coats of Poly-Crylic. Also made by Minwax. Great, tough wheel, and unique!

From: (Lisa)

I use linseed oil on my Traditional. I like it. I have another wheel, which I finished with the Danish Wood finishes. Both of these are inexpensive and quite easy to use.

From: (Mary)

I have an oil finish on my Traveler. This kind of finish is a double-edged sword. It requires renewing every 6-12 months (depending on the climate), but if I had used a varnish, the whole wheel would have fallen apart by now. I bought the wheel when we lived in Eastern Washington (about 11% humidity) and now live in the Salt Lake valley (Utah). The humidity here is rarely above 17%. I'm always tightening up connections. I've also liked the way the oil finish has aged. You won't get much change with varnish or shellac.

From: (Charlie)

We finish many wheels per year for customers and display. Our standard finish is Behr brand tung oil. It is unstained and leaves a slightly yellowed but natural colored finish. Works well on all woods we've tried.

We chose it because it is easy to use and very durable. This Behr product contains UV protection and it is impervious to water. We use two heavy coats about 2-4 hours apart then wipe off any excess in 2-4 hours more. This leaves a soft satin finish that is easy to maintain with furniture oil. More coats can be used for a deeper finish.

If a person wants to color the wood first, then an oil based stain can be applied prior to the tung oil. With a water based stain you run the risk of raising the grain.

There are one step (oil & stain together) finishes available from Watco and Minwax, but we find that they take more work (coats) to get the same quality of finish and furthermore the formulations seem to vary from one can to the next making it impossible for me to write a procedure for an employee or a customer to follow.

When finishing Ashford wheels it is important to use the sandpaper that comes with the kit. Common points we find are: end grain on straight pieces, inside and outside rim of the wheel, all around the flyer, inside the whorls on double drive bobbins.

From: (Carol)

My Traveller was finished with a light natural oil finish before assembling, and it is just beautiful. (Watco, Formbys, Danish oil are all possibilities.) The secret is to put on several light coats over a period of time. We had the main wheel part hanging from a wire in the ceiling. (Hard to wait, but a finish goes on much better with several light coats.)

I've heard all sorts of warnings about not finishing the wheel groove where the drive band sits as it needs friction, but I haven't had any problems. And oh...*work*...additional sanding, by hand, with a fine grained paper, with the grain. That is, sand before, in between coats, and maybe rub with a very fine steel wool.

Plan on spending several days doing all of this! Once the wheel is assembled and over time you can add small amounts of extra oil finish and rub it in to keep up the luster and as the wood dries out a bit. This is one reason I prefer an oil finish to a harder varnish; it just keeps looking better and better. Stain is pretty much a matter of opinion and what shade or color you like. If you do decide to add stain, that would be done first, before any oil or top finish. With the stain you would want to put a very small amount on at first, then add more if you want additional color.

Gotta confess, I didn't do all of this myself, my husband and son did it for me. I watched and waited! Good luck!

P.S.  I sent you a message earlier today, but have just talked to my woodworking husband and have a few more details re finishes. The "oil" finish I recommended comes in either a linseed oil base or synthetic resin base. Different brands of "rubbed oil" finishes include Watco, Flecto, and other "plastic oils". Watco, with a linseed base, takes more heat and rubbing to penetrate the wood than Flecto, a synthetic base. (Read that as Flecto is easier to put on.) These rubbed oil finishes are different from the varnish/lacquer types in that they penetrate the wood, whereas the varnish (alcohol based stuff) is similar to a clear "paint" that goes on top of the wood, hardens and seals.

When applying the oil, he starts with a first coat that is cut with thinner, slops it on and lets it soak in. Between coats allow 20 minutes to an hour drying time. With subsequent coats you apply less. Each subsequent coat goes on with a drier and drier cloth, buffing well between each coat. Again, the nice part about the oil finishes is that you can always apply a bit more, rub a bit more, get it just as you like.

From: (Rosemary)

I used the Watco oil finish for my Ashford. I was very happy with it. I usually take New Year's Day while my husband is in an orgy of football games and clean all my wheels. Wipe off the accumulated grunge, wipe everything down with turpentine (which removes any waxy build-up), oil the wood, replace drive bands, put new leads on all my bobbins, .... Sometimes I invite other spinners and we all do the maintenance, share a potluck, and visit. Even get in a bit of spinning.

Unless you have your heart set on spinning flax, there is no reason to use a water-proof finish (varnish, ...). And I was told by a spinning teacher to take a single bobbin that I wanted to use for flax, and coat only the interior of the bobbin (where the singles wind on).

From: (Kerri)

I have had a few Ashfords come through my way and I have finished them all with Homer Formby's Tung oil. It dries in 10 minutes and then you buff the finish. It's almost like an oil and wax combined. Make sure you don't do the rim of the drive wheel or the grooves in the bobbins and whorl. It makes for too slippery a surface to allow the drive band to work well.

The tung oil gives very little color and I have found that the Ashford wheels age to a beautiful reddish color much like a light cherry.

From: (Claire)

This is easier than it sounds on paper and your new wheel is WORTH every minute. This fake oil finish is found on pages 22 &23 of From Gunk To Glow by George Grotz, Published by The Pequot Press of Chester, CT 06412. This book should be available thru your local library or library loan.

Briefly: you raise the grain by painting with water and letting it dry before sanding with fine sandpaper - about eight 0. Repeat twice more or till smooth as silk. Coat with a mix of 1 part varnish thinned with 2 parts turpentine. Rub this in hard and wipe off excess. Let dry. Sand very lightly and wipe off the dust with grade 00000 steel wool. Repeat twice using a light coat of the varnish mix and rubbing with the steel wool after each coat dries.

These thin coats dry quickly - in about 4 hrs. Now sop the whole thing with linseed oil. Let the oil soak in for 15 min and rub it off hard with a clean rag. This finish will really last and protect the wheel's wood. You won't be sorry you spent the time and the results are really professional looking.

From: (Allyson)

I decided to go with a tung oil finish on my new Traveller. Thanks to all those that offered advice. Basically, I was able to do it all in one very long day. I spent most of the morning sanding, then gave everything a couple heavy coats of oil (with appropriate waits in between). By that evening, it was dry to the touch (though not hard), so I decided to go ahead and put it together. This was rather frustrating, I think mostly because I was so tired already! But I got it together and working before midnight. The finish looks pretty good, but I think I may want another coat in a few places. Fortunately, with the oil finish, this is not a serious problem (part of the reason I chose an oil finish).

From: (Jenny)

Just got an Ashford Trad from the UPS man (aka Santa) :-) Finished it with 2 coats of tung oil, which was very easy to apply, and the wood looks WONDERFUL! The tung oil just slightly darkens the wood, but it really brings out the grain in the wood. Looks absolutely gorgeous!

From: (Karen)

I have an Ashford Traveller; received it for Mother's Day. :) My father-in-law and I carefully finished it with wax and it's gorgeous!

From: (Kipp)

I have refinished a number of pieces of furniture and I would NOT have a spinning wheel dipped, in fact I have never dipped a piece of furniture. The dipping solution is very strong, and I have heard of cases where the glue which held the furniture together also being "stripped"...of course this would depend on how old the piece is and what type of glue was used. I never wanted to take the chance to find out if the glue holding my piece of furniture would hold up to the dipping. There are a number of easy products on the market to use to strip your spinning wheel if that is what you choose to do. You can even buy a stripping kit for under $20.00, might even be under $15.00 - I think the last time I was in Walmart, I saw a quality name brand stripping kit. Just go slowly and do one small section at a time, wear gloves and do it outside.

On the antique pieces that I have done, I used steel wool (size 0000), a stripping solution....rub lightly....wipe with paper towels...repeat that until you like the results. The I would oil the piece and finish it with (depending of what it is) tung oil. A spinning wheel is not a big piece to do...just time consuming because of those spokes!

From: (Bobbi)

When I bought my Traditional from a fellow guild member 14+ years ago, she was in sad shape finish-wise (crackled varnish and dried out seams on the wheel's arcs). I was told that she had been stored in someone's garage for 8 years before coming to me.

I chose to sand off the crackled finish and then gave the wheel 6 coats of tung oil, drying and sanding with successively finer grades of sandpaper between coats.

My Traddy has not required any other care finish-wise in the 14 years she has traveled deserts and dusty country roads with me (to the Ozarks and back to California). She gets a new nick or dent every time I take her to a guild meeting, fair, or festival demo because I have to haul her around in the back of a pick-up truck; I just call them "beauty marks" for the "grande dame" of contemporary wheels!

From: (Sheri)

Danish oil by Watco is my choice of finishes too. Did my Elizabeth with it. I have a wheel that was never 'finished' and had years of WD-40 overspray on one area of the bed. This is the prettiest part of the wheel, grain wise. Even paint thinner is petroleum distillates.

From: (Mollie)

Tung oil makes a beautiful finish on Ashford wheels. I have a Traveller finished that way and I also have a friend who finished her Elizabeth with Tung oil. It really brings out the red in the wood. It takes several coats and needs to be redone every several years, but you get a lovely patina. It comes in high and low gloss. I personally like the high gloss, but that is just a preference thing.

From: (BJ)

I finished my Traditional wheel with Watco Danish oil in the natural finish. You can get it in several colors. The wheel finished to a very beautiful light cherry color. Really brought out the woodgrain. Wish I would not have sold it <G>. May have to get another!

From: (Carol)

I used WATCO Danish Oil Finish on my Traveller. It did a beautiful job. You just sand the wood smooth, flood the oil on, wait 30 minutes, flood it again, wait another 15 minutes, and then wipe it dry. Let it harden for 24 hours and you're done. It comes in various colors and clear.

If you can't get it locally, Highland Hardware in Atlanta - 800-241-6748 will mail order. No affiliation, it's where I got mine. Found it on the net. Have fun and enjoy that wheel! :-)

From: (Portia)

My husband finished my Trad with Watco marine oil, and I love it. He sanded the wood smooth, applied the oil and let it soak in, then resanded after it dried. You can apply as many coats as you want, and the wood only gets lovelier to look at and more velvety to the touch.

The finish is really wonderful--it slightly darkens the wood to a very warm hue, waterproofs it, doesn't crack if you ding it on something, and, best of all, you don't have to strip it when you refinish; just reapply and resand every year or so, forever.

It's wonderful stuff for any natural wood finish. I think they may even make it with a stain, as well as natural. I'm even tempted to sand off my Joy's factory finish and refinish it with Watco oil.

p.s. Remember that you shouldn't finish the wheel groove or the bobbin shafts.

From: (Pat)

I never really finished my wheel. It's about 3 years old and it's simply beautiful. I take a very fine steel wool and oil my wheel with lemon oil. When it begins to get a bit "ashy" I simply reoil with lemon oil. At first the wheel took coating a day then a coating a week and now it takes about a coating every three or four months. I assembled my wheel then began to oil it because I was in a big hurry to use it. In fact I did nothing to it for about 3 or 4 months but carefully treadle with my stocking feet as I used it.

The results are that when my wheel begins to get a bit squeaky/scratchy in sound it's eliminated with a fresh oiling, it does not have the "plastic" type look, the grain of the wood is simply beautiful and it has a very natural finish which is glowing immediately after its oiling and lightens as it dries. I have often strapped it in my car and taken it to work to spin during my lunch and strapped it in a friend's van. It has endured treadling by a 2 year old and hasn't scratched yet! The only draw back is that now that I've got it as smooth as I want it I must take an oily rag over it from time to time.

Does anyone know how many different types of wood are used in the Traveller? It seems that each section of the wheel and each part is taking the oil in a different way. My wheel has pieces that range from a light blond finish to a dark brown and there are some reds included. The wheel itself seems to be four different woods and the spokes are at least three others. Even the maidens don't seem to match. Beautiful, beautiful it looks like a study in wood.

From: (Sara)

Funny that no one has mentioned the lovely paste wax finish made by Ashford and sold through Susan and Ashford distributors. I did a Traditional about 3 years ago (one of the first cans to go public) and the finish is lovely - a warm honey, maple color. Get lots of compliments from woodworkers on the nice finish. Just rubbed on, let dry, polished three times, assembled the wheel and it's quite pretty.

From: (Martha)

I finished my Traveller with Minwax (from Ace Hardware) in the Cherry Mahogany color. I've had a tremendous number of compliments on it. I used a low-gloss tung oil finish on it, but I might use a high-gloss on my next one (when and if).

From: (Dee)

Here's a don't - Minwax Polystain. My husband used that on a loom he made for our niece and it was dreadful. (Boy, you shoulda heard the non-Christmas language that wafted up out of the basement...) He does joinery work and swears by a hand rubbed oil finish or rubbed stain and varnish.

From: (Lynne)

I put a coat of Tung Oil on mine before assembly -- one coat, pure stuff, comes as such at hardware store, etc. It's holding up wonderfully. Might give it another dose at intervals throughout its life, but no need yet as it's only about 1-1/2 yrs old. Watco Danish Oil is also good, and comes with 'built in' stain so if you want it much darker -- like walnut or something - that's a good product. I don't think it's available everywhere, though. I used it all the time in California, but haven't been able to find it in the hinterlands of East Texas (that, and LOTS of other things!)

From: (Becky)

I used paste wax on my oak click reel. The wax protects the wood without changing the color or looking much like a "finish," so if what you want to do is to keep the wheel looking a lot like it looks unfinished, wax is a good bet.

You do need to re-wax every few years or so. But on the plus side, wax goes on almost dry, and just needs to be buffed. And you don't have to worry so much about floating dust in the air settling onto your beautiful new finish when it dries.

ONE piece of advice for any finish--the finish can color the wood, and can preserve the smooth surface of the wood. But finish cannot make a rough surface smooth. You have to do that before you finish. So prepare the wood well before hand by sanding, smoothing with fine steel wool, and then rubbing down with a tack cloth. The wheel comes sanded, but changes in humidity between New Zealand and your living room mean that the grain will have begun to re-assert itself. I like to use fine sandpaper, followed by extra-fine steel wool. (If any steel wool get caught in the wood grain go back over the spot with the fine sand paper.) THEN rub the wheel down with a "tack cloth" (which is cheesecloth soaked in linseed oil, I think, and then squeezed almost dry. You can buy it ready-to-use at any good hardware store.) The tack cloth will take off all the last specks of dust and sawdust so you finish will preserve the smoothest possible surface. Now you are ready to apply your finish.

Hope this advice helps. Whatever you choose, if you put it on right I am sure you will end up with a piece of fine woodwork that is a joy to look at and touch as well as to use.

From: (Elizabeth)

I bought my wheel over five years ago. I wanted it to look natural, so I didn't stain it. Instead, I finished it with Danish Oil. One coat. It darkened the wood slightly, and has remained the same since. I freshen it monthly with a little lemon polish, just like the furniture. It is still beautiful and in good condition.

From: druding (Susan)

An excellent finish for wheels that we use is the Watco Danish Oil - it's a permanent finish, easy to apply and looks great. It comes in a wide range of colors. Most good hardware or paint stores carry it.

Don't use a linseed oil or short-lived finish as I've seen all too many wheels where the wheel dried out due to lack of re-application. Use a permanent type.

If you DO decide to use a poly-urethane type finish with slick surface, be careful NOT to put a slick finish in the whorl grooves and in the drive wheel groove. You do not want these areas to be slippery for the drive and brake band. If you do apply a finish to these areas that seems too slippery, rough them up with a fine sandpaper.

Wax shouldn't be a problem, though. Or Watco Danish - the problem is more pronounced with the slippery finishes like polyurethane.

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