My Finishing Process – Ask Matt #12

April 24, 2015

Surface prep is as important as applying a wood finish well.  If there are any defects in your workpiece, they will become painfully obvious once a finish is applied.  A good surface prep regimen is essential for a great finish.  My go to finish is Arm-r-Seal from General Finishes.  It is a wiping varnish that I apply with a rag.  I’ll typically apply 5 coats of finish.  The first coat I apply heavily, allowing the finish to soak into the wood.  I follow up each coat sanding with 600 grit sand paper.  For the last coat, I’ll more aggressively sand the dried 4th coat to fully clean up the surface and then I will apply a very light coat of finish.   This final coat of finish cleans up the scratch pattern from the sandpaper and restores the sheen.

This is the twelfth episode of my Ask Matt series where I answer broader topic questions.  If you have an idea for a topic for a future episode, please let me know.

Products Used
General Finishes Arm-r-Seal Semi-Gloss:
Painter’s Pyramids:


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  • Chad North says:

    Your comment is awaiting moderation.

    Regarding your finishing process with Arm-R-Seal, is it 400 or 600 grit you use between coats?
    Also, you mention using different sheens when applying multiple coats. Will the sheen of the final coat be what the finish looks like, or will that depend on the sheen of the intervening coats as well. In other words, if you use satin for first 4 coats but decide you want higher gloss in the end and use semi-gloss, will the end product look like semi-gloss?


  • David Martin says:

    Great video on using arm, r. Seal, you certainly sold me on that excellent product. I now want to use it on some river tables I’m making. One problem I’m in England and can’t seem to find the product even on amazon. Any help with this would be great,thanks again.

    • I’m not sure General Finishes has a distributer in the UK

  • Ed says:

    Have you noticed any changes in Arm-R-Seal? I used to apply it in a way similar to what you show and got excellent results. In the last year or so, I’m having trouble with getting cloudy, streaky results. I don’t see anything that I’ve changed in what I do and wonder if you’ve seen this. Usually, I use satin, but I think I’ve seen this with other sheens. Thanks for any ideas you might have about this.

    • I haven’t had any issues. Maybe they did something with the flatteners?

  • Michael J Hach says:

    How come you don’t just use a polyurethane neet and apply with a brush? I’ve never heard of your technique using poly and linseed and mineral spirits together or using Arm-R-Seal. I dont know whether its available in Canada.

    I do like your results though.


  • John Hilgeman says:

    Do you ever thin your top coat with mineral spirits to make the finish even thinner? Does thinning a top coat ruin its durability?

    • I haven’t felt the need to thin it. It’s pretty thin out of the can.

  • […] Now for some finish.  I applied 5 coats of Arm-r-Seal with a rag, sanding between each coat with 600 grit sandpaper.  A much more detailed explanation of this process can be found here. […]

  • Ben Alexander says:

    When finishing cherry or alder how do you take care of the ‘splotches’ ? Sealer? Condtioner?

    • I used to worry about it and use a sealer before applying finish but its not something I worry much about any more.

  • Heath Bragg says:

    Matt watches your video. Doing a set of cabinets for my house. I noticed u only wait 4-6 hours before sanding. Is the finish not still slightly tacky. I would love to do the same but have been waiting 24 hours. If I could get in two coats a day that would be great! Are you adding a dryer.

  • Eric says:

    Your comment is awaiting moderation.

    3 questions, Matt. I just recently decided Arm R Seal is what I’m going to use on my very first walnut live edge slab table. As far as sheen, do you more commonly use semi? Or satin?

    Secondly, do the little plastic triangles leave any dents on the good side (walnut being fairly soft, and the table top I’m doing fairly heavy?

    Finally, the 1000 grit final sand, will that turn the semi into more of a satin finish anyway?

    I’m kinda a finishing newbie, so apologies if you’ve covered all this elsewhere. I’m a mn resident as well and just discovered you!


  • […] It is Honduran Mahogany with Elm and Poplar drawer sides and backs. Some of the interesting features are 36 floating tenons that you can see in the 72 mortise picture in the first email. Those make the leg components. The hairiest part of the project was the mitered corners on the bed rails which need to come apart for moving the bed. They are held together with a spline for alignment with a bolt and threaded insert arrangement on the underside to pull the miter joint tight. The side rails are adjustable against the legs in case they get any warp or twist over time. The headboard has adjustable height to be just proud of the mattress. I still need to make a valence that hangs above the headboard that completes the look. I made this bed on commission, so the look and feel was my client’s idea, I then designed the construction based on that in SketchUp and some occasional modifications along the way. The finish is Arm-r-Seal using your method as detailed in the disappearing facial hair video. […]

  • Great finishing summary! Have you considered building a clean room so you don’t get dust nibs?
    Also, love the beard trick.

    • Thanks! At this point, I don’t really have the space for one. The nibs aren’t too bad. They’re plenty manageable with a little sandpaper 🙂

  • Matty King says:

    How long in between each coat?

    • about 3-4 hours