Nitty Gritty Furniture Design and Restoration


While some large companies operate automated finishing lines, all of our custom finishing is done by hand.  This ties in well with the huge amount of custom cabinetry we build, and the refinishing we do for others..  Whether the “look”, character, or depth of finish requires layers of stains, glazes and lacquers, or employs varying paints, hand rubbed oils & waxes , most furniture finishing jobs can be completed within  2-3 weeks.  It goes without saying that proper finishing takes time. While we work in all traditional finishes, we are particularly adept with water-based and other natural finishes.


Whether we are finishing our own cabinetry, or others, we start with a complete inspection of every piece. We pay particular attention to each of the following:

1.The joints

2.Excess glue

3.The nature of the surface (sanding)

4.Any wood movement

5.Obvious damage

  1. 6.        Any defects 

Plus anything else that might affect the visual, the per-formance, or the longevity of the piece. If we we find any defects or trouble spots, they are dealt with in Prep-work.

Stains, Paints, Toners, and Glazes

Water Based Stains, Toners and Paints 

Todays most common paint, latex, is actually an acrylic paint.  The Paint base often has very low VOC's, however, remember that the pigments added to create your colour,  often do have VOC's.  We use acrylics, mostly from Benjamin Moore and Farrow and Ball, to achieve certain simple finish effects, as well as colour values.  We also use water based stains to achieve certain specific effects, that oils do not provide.

Milk Paints

While also a water based product, Milk Paint is so powerful in it's effect that we have broken it out under it's own category.  In fact it is so different from other finishes, we are writing a book about it. 

There are three main reason why customers choose Milk Paint.  First is for environmental reasons, either to support the environment, or to avoid their own sensitivities to more common paint products.  The second reason is to mimic historical pieces, or to give an authentic finish.  The last reason is to create a look; one that can’t be mimicked by any other product that we know of.   An example of this is using Milk Paint on a contemporary styled piece of furniture.  The multi dimensional earthy effect softens the hard edged look of most contemporary furniture.  It is both more labour intensive and takes more time than standard paints.  See also Milk Paint FAQ’s.

Oil Based Stain & Toners

We prefer using oil based stains and glazes.  They give us the greatest control, and depth of finish.  The open time allows us to work in an unhurried fashion.  Often we use Minwax stains, and Daler Rowney “Georgian” Artist Oils as glazes.

Water/Acrylic Based Sealers

The 1990's saw a huge explosion of investment and development of the water based finishes and sealers market.  This was all related to a California law that required zero base emission finishes within 10 years.  While huge strides were taken in development, the law was repealed and the funding was dropped.  Unfortunately, many of the development companies went bankrupt.  There continue to be small gains every year from the established research companies, but more research and development needs to be done to get water based finishes to perform like the other more common, but less environmentally friendly finishes.

Having said that, we have used water based lacquer and urethane finishes for over 15 years with great success.  It takes a very different approach, understanding, process, as well as practice to work with water based finishes to achieve a good finish.  We use water based finishes on request, regularly.

Finishing - the Process and Products


After inspection is complete, we start disassembly.  We number and mark each backboard, drawer, drawer face, door, and any other item that needs to be placed back exactly where it was.  

We put all the hardware into separate containers relating to their position or function.  This is particularly important as we use screws of varying lengths in our cabinetry, and clearly the right screw needs to be replaced in the correct spot.

Once all the pieces being finished for a given job are 80-90% complete, we put all the elements together to ensure consistent depth, coverage and colour throughout, before completing the finishing process.

Inspection of joints, edges and surface

Disassembled Armoire after initial staining

Hardware labelled for re-installation

Satin Lacquer Finish on Maple

Milk Paint and Water based Finishes on Entire Kitchen

Butcher Block Counter Oiled with Mineral Oil


During disassembly, we revisit any issues identified in Inspection.  Any defects are fixed.  Any areas needing further fine sanding are dealt with here

Island Counter Finished in Urethane


We use many different kinds of finish as well as different processes to achieve the many looks and character you see through-out the site.  Only the most popular finishes are discussed here.  If you have further questions, please email us.

Lacquer Finishes

There are many different lacquer finishes.  We use 4 different ones on a regular basis:

Nitrocellulose - is the softest and most visually appealing of the lacquers.  It can look like French Polish from a distance.

Pre-catalyzed - Is a stronger 2 part lacquer, mixed in the factory.  It is mid range strength lacquer which still gives a beautiful look and is to some degree fixable, if damaged.

Post-catalyzed - is a 2 part product mixed only when using.  It is much tougher than Pre-cat and is not easily touched up.

Porcelene - is a product used on Kitchens, and commercial applications that require a very tough finish.

Oils and Waxes

One of the most popular finishes we offer is hand rubbed Danish Oil and paste wax.  There are many different oils used for finish, and each has it’s own characteristics.  We have our own formulated blend of three different nut oils.  It is thin enough to soak down deep in the wood, but has enough body to create a surface film after just 3 or 4 coats.  Once cured, we apply two coats of paste wax overtop to give a soft elegant sheen that looks spectacular and lasts for years.

Oak Parquet Table with a French Waxed Finish

Oil Based

Varnishes and Urethanes are the most common forms of oil based finishes we use.  These are challenging finishes because they take so long to dry between coats and they create a bottle neck in the finishing shop.  However, we do like them and choose them typically where the finish needs to be tough, resilient and flexible.  A good example is a cottage porch table, which while out of direct weather, can still be impacted by rain and certainly by highly fluctuating humidity ranges.  Another example is a recent 15' boardroom table we built from solid quarter cut oak.  Most boardroom tables are built with 90% veneer, but this one was solid throughout.  Even though the air handling system would keep the humidity in a decent range, the lateral movement of the Oak over 15' would be relatively significant, and we decided that urethane would be tough enough, but also resilient for the wood movement to come.

French Polish

Finishers and fine furniture aficionados would say that French polish is the ultimate of finishes.  It is not appropriate fro a child’s play room, but it is an exquisite finish for fine woods to be shown off.  It is very labour intensive, with hand rubbed shellac applied coat after coat, with a light oil between coats.  It is the pinnacle of finishing.

French polished Mahogany console table

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2222216 Ontario Inc.

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