Wood furniture or flooring made of oak, pine, cherry, mahogany and other woods add rich colors and lustrous surfaces to any home. Wood surfaces also need protection from light, water and potential damage from everyday use. This guide reviews the different types of wood finishes and the most suitable applications for them.
Oil based interior stains are the most popular type. They are simple to use, penetrate deeply into wood and give the wood a durable finish.
Gel-based stains don’t require as much preparation as other stains. They adhere well even if the wood is not sanded down to the bare surface.
Water-based stains dry faster than other types of stain and are easy to clean up. They apply easily with either a brush or a rag.
Polyurethane Wood Finish
Polyurethane wood finishes are synthetic coatings that are highly durable and water resistant, making them the best clear coat for wood protection.
They provide a natural appearance with a variety of satin, semi-gloss and glossy sheens and are ideal for kitchen cabinets, doors, furniture and floors, but not recommended for outdoor use.
Water-based polyurethane dries quickly and can be used on bare, stained or painted wood. It provides a clear, natural sheen that does not yellow with age. Ideal for protecting decorative finishes, it is not as durable as other finishes. Synthetic brushes are recommended for application.
Oil-based polyurethane dries more slowly and has a stronger aroma than a water-based finish. It is ideal for furniture and low-traffic areas but shows water or alcohol spills. It is easy to apply with a brush or cloth.
Lacquer Wood Finish
Lacquer is a wood finish typically made with a solution of nitrocellulose and solvents to make a glossy or matte coating. Frequently sprayed on, it leaves a thin coat that dries faster than other finishes.
While lacquer is ideal for furniture, but it is not recommended for use over old paint or varnish. It’s more durable than shellac, and is considered one of the best wood sealants.
Tip: Lacquer can give off strong fumes when applied, so apply in a well-ventilated area and take necessary precautions.
Shellac Wood Finish
Shellac wood finish is made from a protective waxy resin secreted by the lac insect.
It is mixed with a solvent, such as alcohol, that makes it easy to apply as it dries quickly, but it may need to be thinned before applying. It provides a hard finish suitable for floors, antiques and fine furniture. Shellac is not recommended for wood that will be exposed to moisture or alcohol spills, as it may dissolve or break down over time.
Wood Oils & Penetrating Finishes
Most of the different wood finishes are either penetrating or surface types. Penetrating finishes infiltrate wood pores and fibers for a beautiful decorative finish. Penetrating finishes provide a low sheen and take longer to dry than surface finishes. Most are oil-based with the most common types being Tung oil and linseed oil. They provide some of the most visually attractive wood finish types.
- Tung oil comes from the Tung tree and provides a beautiful, natural-looking finish.
- Lemon, walnut and soy oils are sometimes used for a penetrating finish.
- Danish oil is a hybrid of oil and varnish that provides added durability.
Application Tips for Types of Wood Finishes
Consider these tips when selecting and applying different wood finishes.
- When choosing a wood finish, apply a small amount to a piece of wood that matches your flooring or furniture to make sure it has the coating you want.
- Stir the finish in the container before application.
- Apply the finish in thin coats.
- Use a synthetic or natural bristle brush or an application pad to apply the finish according to manufacturer’s directions.
- Allow the first coat to dry completely before applying any additional coats.
- Lightly sand between coats to remove drips and bumps, then wipe thoroughly.
- After the final coat has dried, wipe down the entire surface to remove any remaining particles.
Safety Tip: Wear a respirator mask and work gloves when applying finishes, and always apply stain or finish in well-ventilated areas.
The different types of wood finishes provide varying levels of protection to your wooden furniture and flooring while enhancing the wood’s appearance. If you need to protect the surface, the best clear coat for wood may be polyurethane.
Looking for the right wood finish to complete your project? The Home Depot delivers online orders when and where you need them.