Once you have decided on the perfect kind of wood for your project another equally important question needs to be answered. What kind of finish do you want? Once again, you’re blindsided. You have no idea what the finishes are, let alone how they affect the final product. Hopefully this short breakdown will make it easier for you to select the aesthetic choice you want for your project.
Oil finishes are easy to work with and repair if damaged. If your piece gets scratched or dinged all that’s required to repair it is to sand it down and apply a new coat of oil! It offers good durability and the ease of repair makes it a good choice for projects. However, this finishing technique is not very glossy and since the oil permeates the wood a slightly longer drying time is required. The obvious pro to choosing this finish is the ease of repair. There are various oils on the market such as Tung Oil and Danish Oil. Tung Oil brings out the natural color of your wood; whereas, Danish Oil tends to darken the color of your wood. Not all Tung Oils are the same, in fact some so called Tung Oils contain little or no Tung Oil. Danish oil is actually a mixture of oil and varnish.
The word “Varnish” is often used generically to refer to the protective finish applied to wood. In reality there are 4 basic finishes:
- Shellac – a natural product that is very safe once dried. However, it can add a warm amber color to your wood. It also is affected by heat. If something hot is placed on the wood surface, white rings will appear. Although it provides a great finish it would not be the correct choice for table tops. Also, you may want to avoid using shellac if the slight change in wood color will affect the outcome of your finished project.
- Lacquer – provides an extremely glossy finish. It is very durable and damage resistant, however over time it can discolor and scratch. This finish is often seen on ultra-modern furniture pieces. It is applied using a HVLP sprayer so not the finish for the do-it-yourself project.
- Varnish – a great product for outdoor use. It is very durable and provides natural UV light protection. Since it contains a higher ratio of solids it is great for use on raw woods or near water. Perfect for decks, beach chairs or wood boats
- Polyurethane – probably the most commonly used product. It is essentially a plastic in liquid form. There are two types of polyurethane, water or oil based, and both are equally good. Water based dries faster and goes on clear; however, it does not hold up well when exposed to heat or chemical. On the other hand, an oil-based polyurethane is more durable and withstands heat better. The downside is that is adds a slight color and thus affects the tone of your wood. In most cases this is irrelevant; however, on lighter woods you may want to use a water- based product. Polyurethane also comes in a variety of sheens. They include:
- Satin Sheens: This sheen leaves the surface with an “eggshell effect”. This means that after application the surface will be about as shiny and reflective as an eggshell. The wood appears natural and unaffected.
- Semi-gloss: This sheen is often seen as the perfect compromise between natural beauty and glossy brilliance. It allows the wood’s beauty to shine through while enhancing it with a little shine.
- Gloss: This sheen is the shiniest and most reflective of all. This adds a fancy brilliant beauty to the wood. Great on projects in which you want lots of shine; however, you may not want to use this high gloss finish on hardwoods floors as it shows dust and dirt easier than the other sheens.
There is no doubt that certain products should be used in certain applications and that some products are easier to work with than other. However, in the end most home décor items can be finished using any of the above methods. The most important thing to keep in mind it what you want the finish product to look like with regards to sheen. After that you can pick the product that will work best for your application.