Most woodworkers hate to apply finishes, just as most carpenters hate to paint. But Peter Gedrys is wired differently. He doesn’t build anything — all he does is apply finishes. To appreciate what Gedrys does for a living, most of us can’t rely on direct experience, because not many operate at his level.
“There are cooks, and there are chefs,” Gedrys says. By any measure, Gedrys is the latter, bringing museum-quality furniture finishes to architectural woodwork. A typical stain-grade finish might include one coat of a pigment stain followed by two or three coats of polyurethane. Gedrys’ process typically involves multiple layers of wood dye, shellac, and glazing before he even gets to the topcoat, which, on an exterior door, will include a minimum of five coats of varnish. The resulting finish has color, clarity, and depth that cannot be achieved any other way. “Do it right,” he says, “and you’ll have something that changes color in different light and just … glows.”
Thirty years ago, Gedrys started out stripping furniture for a man who would turn his back whenever he refinished a piece so Gedrys couldn’t watch. As a result, Gedrys is largely self-taught, but he has a very different attitude about sharing what he knows. In addition to running his business, Architectural Finishes, in East Haddam, Connecticut, Gedrys also teaches all over the country — at schools, at conferences, and even in private lessons. Teaching, he says, helps him learn and improve. “That’s what drives me. I want to be the best. But there’s always somebody better. Always.” And then he adds, without a hint of irony, “I feel like I’m just scratching the surface.”
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