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Tack cloth is material used most often woodworking and is simply a piece of sticky, or tacky, cloth that is used to wipe down the surface of a piece of wood before applying paint, stain, or sealer. It works much better than a plain rag, but is a tool many do-it-yourself homeowners might overlook in the paint store.
When crafting a woodworking project or restoring an old piece of furniture, tack cloth is used in a step between sanding and painting or varnishing. It is only slightly sticky so that it will easily pick up small pieces of sawdust and debris left on the wood but will not leave behind any residue. Many expert craftsmen will brush a surface with a dry paintbrush and then go over the surface with tack cloth before painting or staining.
This cloth is also useful between coats of stain or sealant. Because the project must be left somewhere to dry between coats, small pieces of dust or debris can land on the surface of your project during drying. It can be used to re-wipe the surface without damaging the first coat. Though paint can be a more forgiving finish than stain, tack cloth is perfect for any finish and help eliminate pieces of dust that might mar the finish and be visible when dry.
The majority of retailers who sell paint will also sell tack cloth. In some stores, it is located near sandpaper, but it might also be located with varnish or even paint brushes. It is sold in individual packs or multi-packs, but each cloth is usually individually wrapped. Some experienced woodworkers make their own tack cloth by rubbing a small amount of stain into the weaves of a soft cloth until it is slightly tacky. This works fine for some, but commercial cloths are not expensive and greatly help with the finishing of a project.
To use tack cloth, simply run the cloth over the entire surface of the project to be painted or stained. Do not rinse out the cloth. If you’re preparing a large surface, you should throw away the cloth when the project is complete. If you’re working on a small surface, store the cloth in a plastic bag for reuse.
A professional woodworker or furniture restorer may have better luck with tack cloth than an amateur who wants to stain one or two older pieces of furniture.
For example, it's hard to tell if a layer of paint or stain is dry enough for tack cloth. If it's not, using the sticky cloth could remove the paint or leave marks and might mean you will have to start over again.
If you're redoing a piece of furniture for personal use, it will most likely turn out just fine if you make sure all sawdust and other debris is removed after sanding and before painting or staining.
The effort and heartache saved will most likely be greater than the inconvenience of a speck of dust or two.