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Steel wool for wood finishing.

Steel wool is a bundle of metal or steel fibers arranged in the thin pad form. Steel wool is available in several grades; the #3 is the coarser and the # 0000 is the finest. Steel wool has many uses in the finishing industries. It can be used to polish the metal, brass, ceramic, marble, stone, granite or paint and coating. In the wood finishing the steel wool is used to rubbing, polishing and highlighting.

steel wool grade                                 remark

     # 3                                                   coarse
     # 2                                                   medium coarse
     # 1                                                   medium
     # 0                                                   medium fine
     # 00                                                 fine
     # 000                                               extra fine
     # 0000                                             superfine

Highlight is the erasure of stain or glaze layer to produce the finish with more lively or antique looked. The steel wool is a very ideal material to do the highlights. It is a flexible material but quite aggressive to remove the stain layer quickly and easy to be controlled. You can go to our previous post: highlight in the wood finishing.

highlight stain with steel wool

Rubbing is the process of finishing the finish film layer. Steel wool is the perfect material to do the rubbing or polishing at the uneven surfaces and complex form. In the furniture rubbing, the steel wool is usually used to do the rubbing at the bottom, leg, or side part when the rubbing machine and buffing machine cannot be used. While at the top panel we can use sandpaper, rubbing machine and buffing machine.

Steel wool is also used to do the simple rubbing, when a "low gloss" finish is needed. The dry finish can be rubbed with steel wool by hand or machine. The steel wool can be applied with rubbing machine to rub the flat surface, and the sheen resulted is about 60 to 70 sheen.  See our previous article: rubbing and polishing.

rubbing with steelwool

Sometime the steel wool is also used to sand the sealer or top coat. We can use the coarse steel wool to sand the sealer or top coat at the complex shapes. The sanding with steel wool is actually not advisable. The steel wool tend to fall out and produce iron dust that can be left inside the pores of the wood grain and pores and affect the finish.

Tips in the caring and using of the steel wool.

 the water will make the corrosion to the steel wool
  •   Keep the steel wool in the dry place
Steel wool is made of iron (steel), since that he should be away from the water. The water will react to the iron to make corrosion not hit the water. Take some amount of steel wool when we are going to use it, and keep the rest in the dry place or wrap it with plastic.
  •  The steel wool dust.
Steel wool will fall out and form a dust when it is used. The dust could fill in the pores or grain or stay at the finish and interfering the finish. Clean the dust with dry brush or blow the dust with air gun to make sure the clean finish is obtained.
In the wood finishing for wood with large pores such as oak, teak or mindi, the dust tend to fill in the pores and grains. Since that, the steel wool should be used when the wood is already covered by a fairly thick film layer.
  • The steel wool on white finish.
The steel wool should not be used to rub the white pigment. The white pigment is made from titanium that will react with the iron of the steel wool to make black stain. The highlight for the white paint, white base coat or white glaze should be done with scotch brite or sandpaper. The polishing, rubbing or sanding with steel wool should be done after the white stain is already layered with clear coating, sealer or top coat.

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