Chatter Marks in Production Moulding

It's hopeless to think of sanding milling defects out of cheap moulding. The lucky thing is, most customers won't necessarily consider this visual characteristic to be a defect. December 9, 2010

I've got about 600' of clear pine baseboard and about the same amount of casing to stain, lacquer, and install in a customer's house. The case and the base have vertical lines that run against the grain, from the mill I guess. They run pretty deep. I am sanding with a 1/4 sheet palm sander heavily with 150 grit, then 220, wiping on the conditioner, then SW wiping stain. Still the lines in the wood appear. It's impossible to see them even after the conditioner goes on.

I am to the point that I'm using a belt sander on the flat face of the baseboard and rubbing 150 grit along the grain with a block - 1200'. What a nightmare. I need to find a way of quickly getting rid of those lines. The 150 grit on the palm sander leaves swirl marks on the wood even after sanding heavily with 220. I find it ridiculous that I should have to belt sand the mouldings.

I'm in the Pittsburgh area. If anyone has a place with better stock, by all means let me know. I bought all this from a box store - I knew that was a mistake as I was loading it, but I needed it fast and didn't know where else to go.

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor J:
Return both. You will need to buy a quality stain grade moulding from a reputable commercial dealer. There should be very little sanding to do for a typical stain grade trim out.

If you can't return them for some reason, start with a quality 5" orbital and throw that 1/4 sheet sander in the ocean. 120 grit should easily remove scratches. Make sure you buy 3M pro or equivalent. The pads they sell at box stores are useless.

If that doesn't work you can get a 12" portable planer for around $250. Delta's is a real hog. Had one for 8 years now and use it daily. Make sure you have newish knives and just take a heavy 32nd of the face of the base. Casing, you're screwed.

From contributor M:
I just went through some problems with a new orbital sander leaving swirl marks in pine, so I bought a new ultra soft pad for it and the swirls went away!

From contributor P:
Another option would be to seal the wood with your normal sealer, sand, then put on a tinted topcoat. There will be a change in the appearance versus the stain, but it may be acceptable to the end customer. The color will come out fairly uniform. Be sure to not over-pigment the topcoat, as it will cover the grain and look like paint if you do.

From contributor D:
This is a base and casing moulding. You are all dreaming if you think either a better sander or different grade of paper will remove marks from poorly sharpened moulder blades. Sure, you may be able to remove marks from one casing leg or length of base, but not the quantity we are talking about here. Take it back if you can.

Or find a shop that can cut a new knife in the same profile and try to run the stock through, removing a 16th, giving you smooth new trim. Sure this will be expensive, but not as expensive as buying new mouldings.

I wouldn't advise the shading technique either. Once finished with a topcoat, the chatter will become more pronounced and look like crap. My advice, get new moulding.

From contributor S:
Return and tell them it's junk and it's killing you and your customer is severely dissatisfied. And look for a shop that can make it. Light hand sanding will be needed, if any. The steps for natural pine casing is bad enough, let alone starting off with junk. Finding a shop to mill and finish would be cheaper than you could ever think of doing it. Return it!

From the original questioner:
Everyone is reinforcing my thoughts. I was complaining about the moulding and they acted like "well everyone else seems to be fine with it." Yeah, and everyone else that buys trim from a box store obviously has little idea what they are doing. I guess I fit into that category. It didn't look that bad until the stain hit it. Live and learn, I guess. Thanks for the help. I talked to a few local mills. I'll never make this mistake again.

From contributor E:
Unfortunately the box store is right. You bought cheap molding from a store that sells cheap stuff. Buyer beware! They sell many thousands of feet of that junk and don't care if it's not good enough for you. As you said, you learned your lesson - complaining to them is pointless. I'm sure we've all learned this lesson the hard way. I know I've seen moldings with chatter marks in plenty of houses.

As for sanding, 150 grit is a final finishing grit and is not going to remove any kind of marks. You need a ROS with 100 grit to get those marks out. Follow with a 120 and 150 grit pass and you'll be in good shape.

From contributor D:
There is absolutely no chance of removing moulder chatter from moulding with any kind of detail! He needs to get new mouldings.

From contributor E:
Of course not, but box store baseboard (and I'm guessing speedbase here) is mostly flat with a small cove at the top. Should be pretty straightforward as far as sanding goes, no?

From contributor C:
Here is one way to look at it. Chatter - a washboard look across the grain - is a mill defect that is so prevalent in woodwork today that many see it as part of the beauty! I have seen people at restaurants, cabinet showrooms, all sorts of places, rub their hand on the chatter and say "ooh, isn't it nice - real wood!"

So... the maker doesn't care and may not know that chatter is a defect. The buyer, the installer, the finisher, the owner don't know what they are doing, so it passes with all them.

I can hear it now - "This is what the mill sent, so it must be what they want," then the carpenter says "No one sent it back, so I'll put it up." The finisher sees it in place and figures it must have been accepted, then the owner sees it and assumes it is right or the GC would have sent it back, and the public thinks it is great.

This is the upside of ignorance. With this Confederacy of Dunces, you are probably worrying too much. Just rub your hand on that chatter, give a low whistle, and say "Oh man, feel that grain!"

From the original questioner:
That is really funny because it's completely true. My customer loves it and just added two bathrooms to my bid. The most idiotic thing about that is the fact that I actually strolled into the box store and bought the trim for the baths after cursing them out. I won't be buying trim at box stores anymore after this one finishes up.