Circular marks on table

Q: I just had an end table top refinished by a local guy who has been in business for 25 yrs. A lamp is on top and shows off the finish very clearly. Under this light, I can very clearly see circular motion from his buffer (he told me before he used one).

I’ve always understood that you should always sand, steel wool or anything else with the grain, and, in fact, have never heard of anybody using a circular buffer. Am I right about always going with the grain?

I sent it to a professional because I was pressed for time and couldn’t do it myself, but I have finished many projects in the past and have never been able to any finishing marks. I’m planning to approach him with my disapproval as it was expensive to have done, but I want to be armed with accurate information about accepted procedure.

A: I don’t want to get into “Dutch” with another professional. These marks you describe have been a long standing issue in my trade because we have to buff each coat of finish to scratch it and gain adhesion. Polishers and smaller hand sanders all work in some sort of orbital/random orbit fashion and at times can leave these marks that are especially revealed under certain lighting conditions, especially with a shiny finish. There have been several buffing pads developed to eliminate or lessen the occurrence of swirl marks in my trade. I would be surprised to find such “machine” marks in an end table. With such a small surface to work with, I would think one would do the buffing manually, with the grain using an appropriate abrasive, depending what the finish is.

It may be that the finisher did not see the marks under the lighting he worked in and would not be happy himself if he saw them. A gentle buff with the grain and an addition thin coat should take care of the problem. However, if you are going gloss, or hi gloss, be warned that these finishes are very unforgiving.