Tips for a Black Finish with Rub-Through

Advice on formulas, application, and sanding for a distressed black-over-brown sand-through finish. September 30, 2009

This is one finish that has managed to elude me through the years. They are asking for a black finish with distressing and rub-through to show some deep brown stain grade wood below. I'm taking an educated (and somewhat wild) guess at the time involved in this finish. Would anyone with experience be willing to either give me a percentage of time and/or cost upgrade for this finish from, let's say, a simple stain and topcoat job?

For example:
Alder door stained = x amount of hours
Door above = x hours x 2

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor B:
Figure at least twice the work and finish as you would do a regular stain and finish door.

From contributor T:
The last time I did this finish, I thought I could eliminate the full stain and seal steps by just staining the sand-throughs. If I hadn't been matching an existing finish, this would have worked, but since the match had to be pigment stain and my sand-throughs were done with 220 and 320 grit, then the wood was too polished to accept the stain. The next time I am assigned this type of faux finish I will do it like this:

1. Distress.

2. Break edges heavily to avoid the sand-throughs from cutting into raw wood.
3. Spray only dye stain concentrated on the areas I know will be sanded through.
4. Seal twice (back to back).
5. Sand sealer.
6. Paint two thin coats back to back.
7. Sand to desired look.
8. Topcoat twice (back to back).

In my book that's an eight step finish schedule. Others may say it's more because of the extra coats. I believe each step in a finish schedule should be assessed at ten minutes per step per cabinet door and/or drawer front and/or piece of trim, etc. Granted we don't spend ten minutes for every step, but this accounts for the time it takes to steam out dents, fill gauges with putty, re-sand after stain reveals mill marks, fill knot holes, re-glue broken joints, position loose panels, sand poorly routed profiles, sand rough end grain, sand glue spots, etc, not to mention the uncountable dilemmas that the weather conditions and chemical invariance may bestow upon us.

Ten minutes per finish schedule step; I stand behind it strongly. It may sound expensive to some, but it should be. We're not just making the woodwork pretty. We're making it scratch resistant, water resistant, chemical resistant, as well as preserving our art.

From contributor J:
I do this finish all the time and it doesn't take much longer. 30 doors add about 4 hours to the process. The key is to use a spray stain or NGR. If you have to use a wiping stain, it takes a few more hours.

Sand to 150 grit.
Spray stain or NGR to areas to be rubbed through.
1 coat of Krystal.
Sand 320 grit sponge.
1 coat of Clawlock tinted to correct color.
Sand 320 grit sponge.
2nd coat Clawlock tinted to correct color.
Rub through areas gently with 220 grit paper.
Sand entire door with 320 grit sponge.
1 Coat of Krystal.

From contributor B:
Contributor J's process takes 10 steps... longer than any stain and topcoat finish job. Regardless, anyone who says it doesn't take longer has got to realize that a 10 step finish does just that!

From contributor K:
I add about 30% of my finishing charge if it is to have a stain or paint color under the topcoat. We do this with the solvent method. It is much less likely to burn through your undercolor. Sand and stain as usual. Then 2 coats clear. Let dry overnight.

Color to be rubbed through should be a fairly solvent friendly finish. If you are using a solvent based system, use a tinted vinyl sealer. Let that dry to the touch and do your rub through with your solvent of choice. Something hot and fast works best; it will let you rub without having to go too hard and risk getting through the clear. We use waterbased and our primer and acetone to rub through. Then 320 and scrubby pad. Clear coat as usual and you're done.

This is not the fastest way to do this finish, but it has served me well for years. I have done this using MLC system with Krystal as well as the Fuhr waterbased system.

From contributor J:
Like I said, it does take longer, but it isn't huge. It adds 4 steps to the finishing process, none of which are a big deal. Step 2, 3, 4, and 8 are the extras. Estimate how long each of those steps will take you, then tack that onto your price. Usually takes me 2 days, including dry times, to complete a stack of 30 or so doors start to finish with this method. Without the rub through, I would be 1.5 days, including dry times, from sanding the raw doors to spraying the last coat.