How To Choose A Finish For Wood

Finishing Wood

When choosing a wood finish, it is important to consider three things, the final appearance, the durability of the finish, and the ease of application.  Here are a few tips that may help you with your selection.

1.  ENAMEL  Enamel is a great choice for several reasons.  It is very durable, requires little maintenance, and is relatively easy to apply.  It also comes in an infinite range of colors as well as finishes from matte to high gloss.  However, by using enamel, you are hiding the grain of the wood.

2.  LACQUER  Lacquer can be applied with a brush or with a sprayer.  It comes in clear and a wide choice of colors.  Lacquer dries rapidly to a hard, glossy finish, which provides protection against moisture, even alcohol.  It is not an easy finish to work with, if you are an amateur.

3.  OIL  Oil is easy to work with.  It is rubbed into the wood by hand, and does show the wood grain.  An oil finish dries slowly and protects against moisture.  It has a matte appearance.  Oil does tend to darken the wood slightly.

4.  OIL WITH RESIN  Oil with resin is as easy to apply as oil.  It also dries quickly, is more protective than oil alone, and requires less mainentance.

5.  SHELLAC  A shellac finish can be matte or gloss.  It has a slightly cloudy finish, which comes in a narrow range of white through to orange.  Because shellac is not waterproof, it usuially needs a top finish.  Shellac is easy to apply by brush and dries in a matter of hours, depending on the humidity.

6.  VARNISH - NATURAL  Natural varnish is applied by brush and gives a durable finish.  It is easier to apply than shallac, but does tend to yellow with age.

7.  VARNISH - SYNTHETIC  Synthetic varnishes dry more rapidly than natural varnish, and provide superior protection.  They are also heat resistant.  They are applied by brush.  Synthetic varnishes are not as hard as shellac.  For more lasting protection from sun, on outdoor projects, use spar varnish.

8.  WAX  Wax provides an attractive finish, if you want to show the grain of the wood.  Application is labor-intensive and considerable hand rubbing is required.  A wax finish alone requires some maintenance and for this reason it is often applied over another finish.