5 Steps Finish Wood Properly [Wood Finish How To]

A wood finish is a very personal thing. Woodworkers have different preferences on the finish type and whether to use oil or lacquer finishes. In this article, we will discuss wood finish how to, the five steps that will get you a fantastic wood finish, and how to choose the perfect wood finish for different projects.

The first step is to clean the wood with a mild furniture cleaner and a soft cloth. Do not use strong chemicals or steel wool. After the solvent has evaporated, a thin layer of high-quality furniture paste wax should be applied. Wait ten minutes for the wax to harden before buffing, wipe with a clean, soft cloth, then apply a wood finish.

Wood finishes can be divided into two broad categories – penetrating and film-forming. The penetration finish enhances the grain’s natural beauty by filling it in, while a film-forming treatment protects surfaces from liquids, dirt accumulation, wear, and scratches. In this article, we will focus on how to apply both types of finishes.

Step One: Prepare The Wood

Let the wood dry for a few days before staining it. Sanding lightly in the direction of the grain with medium-grit sandpaper, followed by one with fine grit, will ensure that the wood is ready to stain. If you’re applying a water-based stain, use a pre-stain wood conditioner; this will help the stain absorb into the wood evenly.

Step Two: Pick the Right Wood Stain & Sealer for Your Project

The first step in achieving a flawless wood finish is to choose the right type of sealant or stain. The choice will depend on numerous factors, including what material you are working with and whether you need protection from water damage.

The penetrating sealer is the most popular type because it enhances the wood grain, keeping its natural colors and beauty by filling tiny pores on wooden surfaces with a thin film of wax or oil. This makes them more resistant to liquids such as water, wine spills, milk stains, etc., but they are prone to fading over time, changing their appearance.

The film-forming sealer is the most preferred choice for high-traffic surfaces or hardwood furniture pieces exposed to water damage regularly. These substances create an impervious layer over the wood’s surface and penetrate deep into its pores. They may be used alone for matte finishes or with transparent dyes to give a glossy sheen.

Step Three: Cleaning Your Wood Surface Before Finishing

Regardless of the type of wood finish you choose, your project will not turn out as expected if you don’t clean it first to remove dust and other contaminants from its surface. During this process, make sure you use a mineral spirit-based cleaner or an acrylic solvent recommended for the type of wood you are working with because it will create a better bond.

Step Four: Protecting Your Wood Surface Before Applying Finish

Before applying any finishing product, protect your wooden furniture from spills by covering them with newspaper or thin plastic sheets. The protection also applies to surrounding areas where possible drips can fall onto.

Step Five: Using Wood Finish Applicator to Apply the Product

Wood finish applicators are designed in a way that enables you to achieve an even coat of wood sealer or stain, without leaving visible streaks on your project’s surface. If you don’t use one for this step, make sure you wipe out any excess product using a lint-free cloth to avoid creating any unwanted marks.

Step Five: Let the Product Dry and Then Clean Up Any Mistakes

Once you apply your desired finish, please leave it to dry for at least 12 hours before cleaning up any mistakes or wiping excess products with a clean rag or paper towel. Lastly, ensure you protect your newly finished project from direct sunlight, which can fade the wood’s color over time, giving it a hard finish.

RELATED: Types of Wood Finishes: A Complete Guide By A Professional

Types of Wood Finishes

The most popular types of wood finishes are penetrating, and surface finish. Each has a distinct look and level of protection, necessitating the appropriate finish type.

1. Penetrating Wood Finishes

The look of a natural wood floor is enhanced by penetrating wood finishes, which go deep into the surface of the wood. To create a protective layer of wood oils and better sheen and penetration, you may need to wipe it off with a rag. They’re simple to apply.

Tung Oil

Tung oil, extracted from the tung tree nut or seed, is one of the most penetrating finishes. It’s an environmentally friendly wood finish that’s fairly safe when properly dried.

Linseed Oil

Linseed oil, obtained from flax plant seeds, is a simple-to-use wood finish that may be applied with a brush or cloth. Curing, on the other hand, might take longer. It penetrates the pores and leaves your furniture with a gleaming sheen quality.

Danish Oil

It combines oil (usually boiled linseed oil or tung oil), varnish, and thinner. The surface protection of Danish oil is superior to that of pure oil wood finishes. It’s simple to apply, and it has a medium lifespan.

Cedar Oil

Cedarwood oil, often known as cedarwood oil, has a distinctive woody fragrance. It can improve the longevity of your furniture by providing natural resistance to insects, sicknesses, and decay caused by dampness or water exposure.

2. Surface Finishes

Surface treatments provide a protective layer on top of the wood. This sort of wood finish is excellent for furniture and other items that get a lot of usages.


On walnut, fine veneer, and mahogany-made products, natural or semi-gloss varnish on a lacquer base is an excellent choice. However, it is not long-lasting and dissolves in water and solvents like alcohol.


Lacquers are a mix of many gleaming wood finishes. For example, you can get a lacquer wood finish based on shellac, nitrocellulose, or urushiol, among other things. Solvent evaporation is generally required during drying to achieve a hard and long-lasting finish.


Varnish is a transparent and clear finish that consists of drying oil, resin, and thinner or solvent. There are many varnish wood finishes, including lacquer, alkyd, polyurethane, acrylic, shellac, and resins.


Carnauba wax is the most prevalent. However, almost every wax has some amount of carnauba. Waxes with various types of wax are now available. Wax furniture finish is simple to use and provides abrasion resistance. It isn’t, however, long-lasting and must be reapplied regularly.


The epoxy polyurethane wood finish is resistant to moisture and hardy, making it a great choice for a long-lasting outdoor table. It can give the wood a warm and golden glow. However, it may be difficult to repair damage to it.


If you know how to color wood, you’re probably aware that most wood dyes are powders that may be combined with water or alcohol. Because the tiny dye particles go deep into the wooden surface, no binder is required.


Pantone colors include pigment, carrier, and binders. The binder binds the pigment to the surface. When they highlight the grain pattern, stains often bring out wood furniture, particularly oak and ash woods.

French Polish

Polishing is a method of finishing wood that usually entails using shellac. It’s possible to get an extremely glossy finish with a deep depth that adds to the grain pattern. It’s long-lasting. However, it is also time-consuming and laborious.

Water-Based Finish

Water-based wood finishes dry rapidly. On the other hand, water may not be used to clean water-based wood finishes. The finishing process is aided by water. This finish can provide adequate protection against dampness.


Wood paint is simple to apply. Many more color options and combinations are available for furniture paint finishes. Glossy to high-glossy finishing levels are available.

Things to Consider When Choosing a Wood Finish

You’ll need to make a knowledgeable decision when selecting a wood finish since there are so many options. When it comes to choosing the right wood finish, you’ll need to think about a few things. Here’s a rundown of everything you should consider.

1. Your Project Type

The first thing you should consider is the project you’re working on. Consider the sort of wood and its intended appearance when choosing a type of project. For example, if you want an extremely high-glossy surface, consider applying a varnish finish made of wood instead.

2. Exposure to Sunlight and Humidity

Another important consideration is the environmental effect. While some finishes display ecological flaws, others have better resistance. Varnishes, for example, provide excellent UV light protection and heat and everyday wear and tear resistance. They’re also good water-resistant wood treatments that may be used on outdoor furniture.

3. Skill Level

You may use a brush, a cloth, or a spray device to apply wood finishes. You may also need to lay down several coats and add a binder or stain. To put it another way, if you’re a beginner, opt for simple-to-apply hardwood protective finishes instead of difficult-to-use techniques.

4. Ease of Use

Using a wipe-on and wipe-off solution, you may also make your protective coatings for wood. Using Danish oil to provide a protective layer to your wooden furniture is one of the most straightforward methods imaginable.

5. Color

Water-based wood finishes are the way to go if you’re looking for a way to brighten up your dark wood furniture. Water-based polyurethanes and lacquers may leave a yellowish or yellowish-orange tinge on dark woods like mahogany, particularly over time. The color of most water-based wood finishes typically darkens over time. As you can see, there are many different things to consider when choosing the right wood finish for your project. Understanding what each type is best suited for will help you make an informed decision and get quality results every time!

6. Tools Required

You’ll need a range of tools, from thick and thin strippers to sandpaper, power sander, good quality rag cloth, natural bristle brush, and spraying equipment, depending on your wood finishing approach. Make sure you have all of the necessary tools before selecting a technique so that you can use them.

7. Durability

A hardwood floor’s long-term preservation will require more than periodic maintenance. A durable wood finish should not only protect against the elements and heat but also from physical harm such as scratches, chemical abrasion, and solvent damage. Wood finishes come in a variety of levels of durability. Wax is resistant to acids and alkalis but susceptible to water damage and heat.

8. Safety

Wainscoting is a beautiful touch that adds value to any room. However, wainscotting can be expensive; labor charges may make up some or all of the cost. Many wood finishes contain organic solvents that harm your health and the environment. Some of them are combustible as well.

9. Drying Time

The time it takes to dry and cure a finish varies from one to the next. Varnishes need at least a 24-hour drying period and a week of curing. Conversely, Lacquer dries rather rapidly, usually taking only a few hours for all of the solvents to evaporate.

The Difference Between Wood Stain and Wood Finish

Wood stains and finishes are frequently confused, yet they are quite distinct. They’re not the same, however. To get the finest wood finish, you must know how to distinguish them.

What Is Wood Stain?

A wood stain is a relatively simple technique to give your floors a new look. It may bring out the natural wood hues and patterns while leaving the original overall look benign.

What Is Wood Finish?

The final layer of covering on the stain is a wood finish. It gives the wood a glossy sheen and protects it from harm.

Wood Finish How To; Surface Finishes

Surface finishes, while not as natural-looking as penetrative finishes, provide more long-lasting protection. They’re a superior option for day-to-day items that get a lot of use.

Shellac and varnish, for example, dry on top of the wood to form a protective layer rather than drying within it as tung oil does.

Several types of brushes are available, each with its own characteristics. Oil-based finishes may be applied using a natural or synthetic brush. A synthetic brush is preferable for water-based finishing because water might cause natural bristles to expand and become ineffective. Avoid low-cost foam brushes since they wear out quickly and finish rough.

Select a mid-priced brush with a tapered end and springy bristles. Tug on the bristles to ensure that they are firmly connected. Brushes produced poorly may shed bristles into the finish due to poor craftsmanship.

Because it isn’t very resistant to water or alcohol, today’s nail technicians favor a different finish: Shellac. Because varnishes provide considerably better protection, the most durable of them is polyurethane; they are often utilized.

Natural or synthetic brushes can apply polyurethane varnish, which is oil-based. Before putting it on, clean the surface with a tack cloth. Stir the varnish in a figure-8 pattern with a stirring stick. Never shake varnish; this may produce bubbles that dry into the surface and cause damage.

Apply the varnish in thin coats, allowing each coat to dry before applying the next one. Apply it using a natural or synthetic brush and work from top to bottom with long strokes that overlap slightly. Ensure you cover every area; incomplete areas will warp as they’re exposed to moisture while drying.

Begin brushing from the center of the board, working toward the edges, to minimize runs and drips. To smooth out bubbles, hold the brush at a 45-degree angle and gently, without halting, pull it in strokes along the whole length of the board.

Allow plenty of time for the coating to dry after it has been applied. Don’t dab or add more finish until it’s completely dry.

Note: To keep your brush from drying out between coats, clean it, store it in a jar of mineral spirits to keep it soft until you’re ready to apply the next coat, or encapsulate the whole brush in a zipper-top plastic bag and freeze it.

Creating a Professional Look

Although this finish is called a surface-building finish, most of the first coat of polyurethane is absorbed by the wood. When the second coat of varnish is applied, many carpenters’ methods will allow you to produce a smooth, protective sheen on your wood.

Because the first coat of polyurethane filled all the pores in the wood’s surface, the second coat will not have as much to adhere to. Make tiny scratches using #220 sandpaper to assist the second coat in adhering to the first. Scuff sanding is a term used for this process.

Wipe the dust off with a tack cloth after sanding to keep it from collecting in future coats. Then, apply the second coat using the same technique as the first coat of varnish.

The end-of-the-day result may be rough if dust falls on it as the finish cures. Try the method of wet sanding, which removes dried-on dust without leaving visible sandpaper scratches, to remove roughness from the final finish. Make a little square with a piece of #400 or finer sandpaper. As soon as you’ve sanded the surface, wipe it with a tack cloth to remove any dust.

Preserving Antique Finishes

Even if a piece of furniture is professionally refinished, it’s more valuable with its original finish than if it has been polished. Even though the following techniques are simple, they may save you money in the long run by keeping your antiques looking spectacular for longer.

The first step in Wood Finish How To for an old finish is to clean it with a mild furniture cleaner and a soft cloth. Do not use strong chemicals or steel wool.

After the solvent has evaporated, a thin layer of high-quality furniture paste wax should be applied. Wait 10 minutes for the wax to harden before buffing vigorously with a clean, soft cloth.

On the other hand, a paste wax coat provides a hard, thin shell of preservation over an existing finish and is accepted as a preservative by antique collectors and museum curators alike.

To prevent excessive buildup, apply paste wax no more than once a year.

Follow the procedure to restore aged hardware and fittings that have become discolored. After cleaning with a soft cloth, apply paste wax in a thin layer with a clean cloth.

Not only must the original leather upholstery be kept and safeguarded, but it must also be maintained. Leather isn’t harmed by a little water like wood is, so cleaning dust and debris off it with a wet cloth is safe. Softening leather as it ages gets brittle; therefore, use a leather conditioner to keep it flexible.

When dusting, use a damp cloth to wipe antiques. Wipe the polish or oil onto the rag rather than the wood; spraying an aerosol directly on an antique can harm the finish. Because lemon oil does not truly enhance the wood – it only aids in the removal of dust from the cloth – clean any remaining oil.

Conclusion on How to Finish Wood

There are many ways to get a beautiful wood finish. The method you choose depends on the look you want, your budget, and how much work you want to do. You can use this article as guidance for which product will be best for your project. If any other question should be added, please let me know in the comments below.

All the best.

Reference: Wikipedia