Selecting the perfect wood finish is crucial not just for aesthetics but also for durability. The right wood finish accentuates the wood’s inherent charm, shields it from potential harm, and ensures its longevity.
In this article, I’ll guide you through the different types of wood finishes, ensuring your project not only looks stunning but also stands the test of time!
Different Types of Finishes for Wood
There are two primary classifications of wood finishes for wood: surface and penetrating finishes.
Penetrating wood finishes are transparent wood stains or sealers specifically designed to protect and beautify the natural look of wood.
Cedar Oil, also known as cedarwood oil finishes, is an amber-colored essential oil that is obtained from various types of conifers and cypress trees.
Danish Oil finishes are wood-finishing products that has been around for centuries and is still a popular choice for modern woodworkers and outdoor furniture.
Linseed Oil finishes are a natural, multi-functional product with ideal uses. It comes from soaking flaxseed until the boiled linseed oil is released.
Tung oil is a type of drying oil derived from the seed of the tung tree and has an attractive, honey-colored hue.
Also Read: Teak, Tung, and Linseed Oil Comparison
A wood surface finish does more than just protect the wood from wear and tear. It can also bring out the natural beauty of the wood grain and highlight its texture.
Wood dyes as a wooden surface finisher are becoming increasingly popular due to their versatility and range of colors available.
French Polish is an oil-based wood finish that is perfect for furniture pieces such as cabinetry, chests, and other high-quality wooden furniture items.
For applications requiring a sleek, glossy look, lacquer is the ideal choice. Available in colors ranging from bright shades to darker tones.
Polyurethane is one of the popular types of wood finishes as it offers durable protection and a vibrant aesthetic. You can choose to use water-based or oil-based polyurethane, depending on your project.
Paint is a standard finish used on wooden surfaces to create an aesthetically pleasing look.
Shellac is an ideal wood furniture finisher as it is highly durable, can easily be applied with a brush or rag, and dries quickly. There’s also a dewaxed shellac, where you can use it to prevent water absorption.
Different wood stains are ideal for different applications and should be carefully chosen based on their intended use:
It is a transparent or semi-transparent protective coating that is applied to wood or other surfaces to enhance their appearance and provide durability. Also, it forms a hard, glossy, and protective layer that helps to protect the surface from damages.
Water-based wood finishes are ideal for increasing longevity and wood finish durability.
Wax is a popular choice for those seeking to finish a wooden surface. Wax finishes provide deep, luscious color tones that promote the natural appearance of different wood types.
Here are the different types of wax you can choose from:
Wood preservatives can penetrate deep into the wood and protect against rot, fungus, and termite damage.
Choosing a Wood Finish: A Buying Guide
Color and Look
Color helps create a feeling or atmosphere in a space. A light color may help an area feel more open and bright, while darker colors might create a sense of warmth and coziness.
Type of Project
Different types of finishes, varnishes, and stains work better for different materials and objectives.
Humidity and Sunlight Exposure
Certain wood finishes are more susceptible to damage at certain levels of humidity.
Your Skill Level + Ease of Application
Consider factors like the coverage area, the type of surface you are covering, environmental conditions, drying times, and the required number of coats.
Decide if you’d like to use a water-based or oil-based finish. Different types of finishing products necessitate the use of proper application tools.
Safety and Sustainability
It is important to look for finishes that use non-toxic ingredients, such as natural oils or waxes.
Oil-based products tend to break down over time, but they can provide longer-lasting protection against mildew and UV rays when applied correctly.
Drying Time & Process
Many products claim to dry quickly, but this does not necessarily mean that they will be dry within a few hours; some could require days of curing before the full effect is realized.
Finishes can range from relatively inexpensive options like wax and shellac to higher-priced selections such as lacquer, urethane, and varnish.
Process Involved in Wood Finishing
There are two steps involved in wood finishing:
Step #1: Get Rid of the Old Finish
This process helps smooth and shape the surface, helping to create a more professional-looking finish.
Blending chemical additives with Danish or Tung oil can yield a notably smoother and more professional finish on wood surfaces.
Utilizing solvents can be an efficient way to achieve smooth, high-gloss wood finishes without leaving brush marks or streaks.
Step #2: Apply the New Wood Finish
Prepare the Surface by Sanding
Sanding smooths out any bumps or unevenness in the surface, resulting in a more even coat of finish.
Apply the Stain
When applying the stain, make sure you use the right brush or cloth. Spread it evenly across the surface for a flawless finish.
Apply the New Finish
Apply a sealer coat to protect the wood from any discoloration that could result from applying the final finish.
Wood Stain vs Wood Finish
Wood stain is designed to color natural grain and textures in the wood, adding depth and character. Meanwhile, a wood finish is a protective layer that coats the surface of the wood.
Both are applied either with a brush or rag, but the wood finish takes longer to dry due to its thicker texture.
What is a Wood Stain?
Wood stain is a transparent, colored liquid that penetrates the grain of the wood.
|Consistency||Drying Time||Purpose||Application Time||Results|
|Wood Stain||Liquid||24-72 hrs.||Seals wood pores||4-6 hrs||Rich color|
|Wood Finish||Thin||8-24 hrs.||Prevents cracking||12hrs +||Natural appearance|
How to Distinguish the Type of Finish
Finishes are designed with specific characteristics in mind. Take a look at the table below:
|Testing Method Used||Type of Finish||Reaction/s|
|Acetone||Shellac||The swab becomes tacky|
|Polyurethane||The swab becomes beady|
|Denatured Alcohol||Varnish||Finish dissolves slowly|
|Shellac||Finish dissolves quickly|
|Lacquer Thinner||Lacquer, Shellac, and water-based finishes||Finish dissolves|
|Urethane, Alkyd, or Phenolic varnish||No pronounced effect|
|Oil||Shellac, Lacquer, Varnish, or Polyurethane||Oil beads on the surface|
|Xylene||Water-based finish||Removes the coating|
|Oil-based finish||Doesn’t remove the coating|
|Paint Thinner/ Naphtha / Turpentine||Wax||Finish dissolves|
|Mineral oil||Wax||Waxy yellowish-brown stain|
|Simple scratch test||Wax||Scratch marks|
Tips When Applying Wood Finish
Make sure to take the necessary precautions before embarking on your project for the most durable finish:
1. Get All the Supplies Ready
You don’t want to sacrifice safety. Gather some key supplies for the best possible outcome.
Thick & Thin Stripper
They offer a one-two punch for tackling old finishes. These two tools can help get your project looking brand new again!
Equip yourself with sandpapers of various grits ranging from 80 to 220. If you’re looking for speed, consider investing in a power sander for a durable wood finish.
For a more professional finish, consider investing in spray equipment.
Not only will it help remove extra stains and finish, but it will also clean the surface of any debris from sanding.
Fine Steel Wool
For a stunning silken finish, apply fine steel wool and paste wax – the perfect combination!
Brushes spread more product faster while avoiding any frustrating bristles.
Stir sticks can be used to blend finishes and stains with thinners or solvents.
Some finishes and stains contain solvents that can fill the atmosphere with harmful fumes. Make sure to don safety glasses to avoid accidental splashes.
Masks can provide a shield from hazardous air, just like glasses protect you from the sun’s rays.
Always lay down drop cloths and newspapers in your workspace. It’s a simple step that goes a long way in preventing unwanted messes and ensuring a clean working area.
Protect your skin – avoid contact with stains and varnishes.
2. Utilize the Right Brush for the Project
Achieve a professional wood furniture finish with the perfect brush.
3. Safety First
When taking on any DIY project, safety should always come first:
4. Apply Useful Tips
Want perfect finishes? Follow these tips!
Which wood finish is best?
The best wood finish is the pre-catalyzed lacquer for hardwood floors and furniture.
What are high-end finishes?
High-end finishes include oil-based finishes, varnish, water-based coatings, paint, shellac, and lacquer.
Which is better, varnish or polyurethane?
Polyurethane is better if you’re looking to protect your indoor wooden surfaces. It dries quickly and requires fewer coats than varnish.
Can you apply polyurethane over stain?
Polyurethane can be applied over oil-based stains but not water-based stains. However, you can use polyurethane over gel stains with no problem.
With the knowledge of all the different types of wood finishes, you can give your wooden furniture the finish it deserves, and watch it stand the test of time!
I hope that this guide has shed light on your options, empowering you to craft pieces that not only look stunning but also last for generations!
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