Mikey, sure your post will be helpful for a lot of people. Big +1 from me on all of it. I absolutely agree.
Originally Posted by mkriggen
My method for most of my woodworking projects is very similar. Only a few subtle differences. For me, I'll initially sand to anywhere from 120 to 180 depending on the wood and grain pattern. I seal-coat with either a home-brew of dewaxed shellac in alcohol, Zinnsers or a water-based shellac called Ultraseal. Which one I use depends in part on the type/size/function of the project (relevant for furniture, not so much for handles), and the type of wood. Old school shellac is for pieces that I want to make the grain pop a lot and add depth, or where a little hint of gold to amber color is wanted. Zinnsers my backup option and the water-based product is my preference for most because it serves the dual purpose of raising the grain before filling it, and filling it once sanded. The same effect can be achieved by wiping the wood with a damp sponge prior to the shellac phase, but it's convenient to have it all in one. Once dry to touch, I'll wet sand with drops of mineral oil as lubricant to take it back down and fill the pores. From there, I'll work through the sanding progressions with the stopping point determined by whether there's a top coat to apply like waterlox (where I'll stop at max 320 before coating, then sand and polish once cured) or a penetrating oil/wax coat (sand most of the way to final with repetitive oil coats between and after the late very high grits).
Stefan -- I agree. I, like you, like a bit of imperfection. The "wabi sabi" element, to me adds to the character of the work and makes a piece feel more alive. It's also a reminder of the hand craft involved. At the same time, I think there's a place for the different levels of finishing and the different techniques (which is, I think the same point you were making).
For me it's like seeing a Kurouchi blade versus one's that's beautifully etched, and painstakingly crafted Damascus. Personally, I like and appreciate them both...