How to Choose the Right Finish for Wooden Furniture

Right Finish for Wooden Furniture

The finish on wood furniture is a key component of its beauty and durability. It protects the wood from oils, water and other elements that can damage it over time. There are many different types of finishes that can be applied to wooden furniture, each with its own pros and cons. The right wood finishing material will depend on how and where the piece will be used, as well as personal preferences.

Among the oldest, most traditional and most durable finishes are oil-based ones like linseed or tung oil, which penetrate the wood to make it shine. These natural-looking finishes deepen the color of the wood and increase surface luster, but can be slow to dry and require regular reapplication. They also tend to be sensitive to heat and certain solvents and aren’t suitable for high-traffic pieces or those with exposed edges.

A related option is shellac, which offers a beautiful sheen to the wood with moderate durability and is quick-drying. It is best applied with a high-quality natural or synthetic brush, photo below, although you can also use foam brushes on smaller pieces (be sure to avoid those made with recycled rubber). Shellac should be thinned with alcohol before applying, as thicker coats will leave noticeable brush marks and may blush when exposed to moisture.

How to Choose the Right Finish for Wooden Furniture

Another popular finish is varnish, which can provide a nice sheen to the wood while offering good protection. It can be brushed on or sprayed on, and comes in a range of gloss levels including satin, semi-gloss and high-gloss. It can yellow and lose its sheen over time, especially in humid conditions. Varnish can also be difficult to repair if it is scratched or damaged.

Other film finishes include polyurethane, which is more durable than varnish and can be buffed to a higher sheen. This type of finish can be either oil- or water-based, but the oil-based version is more durable and offers better resistance to heat and chemicals than its water-based cousin.

Water-based poly can be a great choice for light colors of wood and is quicker drying than some other finishes, but it’s not as durable or resistant to heat and chemicals as the oil-based version. It’s also not as glossy as a wax or shellac finish. While these finishes are generally safe to apply over the course of a few weeks, it is important to test each in an inconspicuous area for any reaction or negative effect. It’s also important to take precautions when using paint and other chemicals that can dissolve even cured finishes.

Once you’ve decided on the right finish for your wood, it’s important to sand down the surface before applying the coating. You’ll need a variety of tools, such as a power sander, thick and thin stripper, power sandpaper, a good quality rag cloth, natural bristle brush and spray equipment. Before you get started, it’s a good idea to read up on the various techniques for applying the finish, so that you can apply it with as much skill and precision as possible.

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