Melamine Finish

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hokie

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May 29, 2017
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Hello everyone!

Fairly recently there had been discussion about achieving a "wood-like" feel to a finished pen and the possibility of using melamine lacquer had been suggested. I responded indicating I had recently purchased some along with the recommended sanding sealer, but had only done a simple test on a scrap blank.

I've finally gotten to a point with a recently turned pen I've made where I think it's worth sharing the results of my experience with melamine. Pictured below is a kitless pen cap/body turned from Macassar ebony.

My process was as follows:
  1. Turn to shape, final sand to 400 grit along the grain to avoid circular grooves around the cap/body, wipe clean with denatured alcohol and dry
  2. Soak with one heavy coat of *thin* CA applied with a piece of aluminum foil. The foil (or alternatively a piece of plastic bag) prevents premature curing that might happen using a piece of paper towel and allows more time for the the CA to soak into the wood.
  3. When the wood won't take up any more CA, I wipe down with a paper towel which kicks off the cure and hardens quickly. No more CA after this.
  4. Sand with 400 grit along the grain and wipe clean with denatured alcohol
  5. Apply two thin coats of cellulose sanding sealer (they dry *very quick*) and rub down with 0000 steel wool
  6. Apply several (six or seven) thin coats of the melamine lacquer much like applying wipe-on poly, however, melamine seems to dry much faster and allows for many coats in a session (though not "cure")
  7. Allow to dry thoroughly and rub down with 0000 steel wool to cut the *maybe* semigloss finish to matte. Cure time may take several days (see my notes below), but is easy to handle without harming the finish right away.

Here are a couple pics of the results:
First an overall look of the pen...
dRAxMQ8.jpg


Next, a close-up of the grain...
uAznGzS.jpg


Hopefully you're able to see the grain is still not filled in like it might with several coats of CA. Macassar ebony is not what I'd consider anywhere near an open grained wood either. The finish is obviously quite thin, yet shows no signs of wear with fairly firm nail scratching. According to one manufacturer, "90% of the curing process happens in the first seven days after application, making the lacquer very hard wearing, the remaining 10% of the process can take up to two weeks more to give maximum toughness, something you only need to consider if the lacquer is going to be subjected to extremely hard use."

The pen does have a warmer feel in my opinion and the matte finish certainly helps with a softer feel as well. The I definitely plan to use this technique on many of my pens going forward. It's relatively pricey from CSUSA, but my small can will probably last me forever.

I hope this helps folks. Please let me know there are any questions. I'm happy to be contributing back to the community after all I've received so far!
 
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Chief TomaToe

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Thank you for sharing your process. I think I'm going to put this list on my things to try! I appreciate the look and durability of a high-gloss CA finish, but there is something about a dark piece of wood with a matte finish that has its own allure. It may not be everyone's cup of tea, but it might be worth trying just for myself.

I'm assuming the CA stabilizes the wood while the melamine is what provides the "soft" feel?

Beautiful pen by the way!
 
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hokie

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I'm assuming the CA stabilizes the wood while the melamine is what provides the "soft" feel?

Beautiful pen by the way!

Thank you!
Regarding the CA as a stabilizer, yes, that was exactly the intent. The macassar ebony I was using seemed a bit less dense than I was expecting, so I thought it would be best to flood the thing with the thinnest CA I had to wick into the wood fibers. Hopefully preventing dings and dents, but not providing any sort of finishing or grain filling effect. It's part of my standard operating procedure for any pen I do these days. Super dense woods probably wouldn't benefit, but when in doubt, I don't mind spending the extra few minutes for the preventive measure. Everything after that was to prepare for and application of the melamine lacquer.

Some things I forgot to mention in my write-up...
  • The chemical smell is *much* stronger than CA. Adequate ventilation is recommended.
  • I also used old cotton t-shirt material made into small pads to apply the melamine. I am not sure if pieces of paper towel would work the same (like I typically use for CA). I might give it a shot to experiment. I went with cotton because I thought I saw videos or other instructional materials about melamine recommending it, but don't quote me on it.
 

hokie

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May 29, 2017
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DC Area
Thanks for posting this, it looks like a lovely finish. And the turning is very finely done as well.

Thank you! I look forward to trying this method on all kinds of species, especially bog oak. Bog oak was the primary reason I even pursued this kind of finish, since there would practically be no difference between woods like ebony and bog oak if the grain wasn't able to be featured.
 

magpens

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Feb 2, 2011
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Coquitlam, BC, Canada
That is a beautiful pen !!! . In due course, it would be nice to see it with the cap off. . I do know that this thread is more about the finish and less about the design of the pen itself ... that's why I said "in due course" - Maybe another thread.

Thank you for sharing, and thanks for the important details about your process.

I really like the finished look.

I would like to try this if I can find a local source for the melamine.
 
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hokie

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May 29, 2017
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184
Location
DC Area
That is a beautiful pen !!! . In due course, it would be nice to see it with the cap off. . I do know that this thread is more about the finish and less about the design of the pen itself ... that's why I said "in due course" - Maybe another thread.

Thank you for sharing, and thanks for the important details about your process.

I really like the finished look.

I would like to try this if I can find a local source for the melamine.

Thanks! Funny you ask for the cap off...
Like I briefly might have mentioned, it is a pen in progress, but it follows the same basic steps I followed to win the 2018 Kitless Contest Summer Extravaganza entry number #5. Much has changed since then and my style has improved a bit with experience. I plan to post a pic with a section made with a #6 bock or jowo shortly.
 
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