I would not consider myself an authority on finishing, but I have a blog and can talk about whatever I want, so here it is.
But this is no trick. One thing I have learned is that the surface doesn't get any better when you apply finish, no matter how bad you want it to. In fact, it is quite the opposite; finish will accentuate any defect in the wood as a result of being in a hurry.
That being said, I don't go nutso polishing every completed surface down to a half-micron. It kind of depends on the wood you are using combined with the intended finish and look you are going for.
Ninety-nine percent of all the finishing I do goes on directly after smoothing with a plane, with the exception of one step I recently started.
Burnishing. My current surface prep regimen now ends with a polissoir. I think you should, too. Don Williams sells these, but I think it could be easily made with some broom straw.
Almost every piece I make now gets burnished with this thing before the final finish goes on. All you have to do is wrap your fist around it and scrub like crazy more or less in line with the grain. The burnishing effect this imparts makes the wood smooth and shiny.
If you are using a wax finish, you can charge the polissoir with molten wax, but I often use a dry one first whether or not the piece gets wax.
I find that this step, more than anything else I do, really makes the finish sing.
I almost never use sandpaper to smooth. I go straight from a smoothing plane to the polissoir, to finish. If I have some plane tracks, I remove them with a scraper, and only use sandpaper for some little parts where it just takes a minute.
The very first piece I built (a bookshelf from home center fir) the instructor had me glue and assemble before he gave me a random orbit sander. I wouldn't think of this anymore. Definitely plane each piece smooth, burnish the parts that show, and finish to suit.
Next in the series: wax.
If you enjoyed this post, check out the first post: Introduction.