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Selecting a Finish Wood Finishes Types for Furniture Restoration

Wood Finishes Types Selecting a Finish

selecting a finish

Hi, Before I start I need to get one thing clear and alleviate any confusion in this article and in any others you might read here or elsewhere. The term Varnish is nearly always misused, meaning it is used to describe all types of wood finish ie used as a generic term.

A guide to some of the popular types of varnish/ lacquers which can be used on furniture refurbishment and other uses for DIY. It’s not a definitive list but I hope you find some of the information useful. All these products can be found in most high street shops or online.


Selecting a finish without going into anything too technical basically, oils fall into two categories, linseed and tung, both get yellowish over time but tung oil-less so, which makes it ideal for furniture. Today most propriety brands are mixed together with thinners and other chemicals for easy application.

As with any products you may wish to use, I would suggest always read the information on the tin and try a practice piece before you commit to your precise piece.

Danish Oil

This oil is one of my favourite wood finishes types. It gives a depth of colour and adds a fairly robust finish to the surface. It can be used on most surfaces with a fair degree of protection, it’s use is favourable in places where children are in attendance or on products that are used in kitchens where food preparation is carried out.

The oil gives a natural finish to wood, enhancing the colour. The oil tends to turn it slightly darker than the natural sanded wood. You can apply several coats sanding in between each application for a slightly more glossy finish. Although it never gives a true gloss, it cures to a hard surface, giving a water-resistant, lovely satin finish.

Application is pretty straight forward as opposed to varnish. Two or three coats, wiping off the surplus in-between. Drying time can be anything between 4 and 24 hours, depending on temperature and which brand you have used.

Varnish

There are times when selecting a finish finishing your furniture requires a high gloss finish. Varnish is one of the more popular wood finishes types. It is mostly used for a high gloss finish although it can be obtained in different formulations which will give a satin or semi-gloss finish.

An oil-based varnish is transparent so gives very little colour to the surface of the wood being treated. Oil based varnish enhances the natural tones and brings out the grain of the furniture you are protecting. If using Water-based Varnish you will find it will stay true to its colour for longer than Oil based varnish, which will tend to turn slightly yellow over time. Again as with other types of varnishes, a light sanding between coats using a 240 or 320 grit is recommended. You can also use fine grade wire wool between coats. The more coats of varnish you use the more durable the protection, anything from three to five coats depending on how the furniture is to be used.

To make it easier to apply you can add thinners to the varnish or water if its a water-based Varnish. This, of course, will extend the drying time slightly. When applying the varnish you can use a spray, brush or cloth. Always follow the direction of the grain and leave to dry before each subsequent application, normally around 24 hours for Oil-Based varnish and one to two hours for water-based.

Varnish Polyurethane

Polyurethane varnish, as with ordinary varnish, is available as an oil based product or water-based. Why use polyurethane? Well, it gives a very hard surface and will last longer than traditional varnish. It is easy to apply, especially the water-based type which is, ideal for the DIYer. Oil-based takes longer to dry. Both of the wood finishes types of polyurethane give a very durable long lasting finish with very little loss of colour due to exposure to ultraviolet light.

The only downside as far as I’m concerned, is that in my opinion when it dries it looks and feels ‘plasticky’ which is due to the polymers it contains. It is suited more to wood flooring or certain types of furniture ie tables etc that have flat surfaces. If you are happy with the look then it’s a winner. You can apply several coats of polyurethane Varnish to give the wood a great glossy and durable finish. As with traditional varnish, sanding between coats using 320 to 400 grit glasspaper. Use the finest grit on the last coats to give a smooth finish.

Many of the oil-based varnishes are quite toxic, so not all will be available to use in and around the kitchen or where children are present. Always check the labelling.

wood finish

Pure Tung Oil


Selecting a finish oil can be used pretty much any where inside or out. As always, check the tin for precise usage as they may differ from each manufacturer.

Tung Oil is obtained from nuts and is, therefore, a so-called ‘green’ product. Because it dries to a hard finish it is safe to use in bathrooms and kitchens. An application can be done by brush, cloths or spray. Diluting the first and second coats with thinners (white spirit) will make it easier to apply and give a good foundation for your other coats. Leave to dry between each application, normally about 24 hours. Four or five coats will give a great finish.

Sanding between each coat with a fine grit sandpaper 320-400, or if you prefer, steel wool fine grade. Tung Oil will bring out the grain of the wood to enhance its appearance. If you’re not sure what it’s going to look like, then try a test piece first. Use the same wood to see if you like the result. Tung oil dries to a matt finish so you may want to use wax polish after you have completed the application (leave to dry for 24 Hours first)

Once you are happy, buffing up with a good wax polish will give the wood an extra sheen.

You can give your furniture a coat of Tung oil every year or so to keep it in top condition – more times if the wood you have treated is left to the elements

Linseed Oil Wood finishes types

Ah, now Linseed oil – the original oil used for cricket bats and the like. Ideal for interior furniture giving a natural warm colour. The oil comes from the Flax plant, I won’t go into how its obtained, I will save that for another post. This is another oil like Tung that is a drying oil, meaning it forms a chemical reaction and dries hard with no residue.

Linseed is not waterproof and will let water soak into the wood if left exposed. If you’re using it on furniture as a finish it will give a shiny finish. It soaks into the surface, as opposed to varnish or polyurethane which just coats the surface. Linseed oil enhances the grain and helps protect it from bumps and scratches.

When applying Linseed oil make sure the surface to be treated is clean, dry and dust free. The application can be made with a brush but I prefer to use a cloth. After applying leave for around 30 minutes then wipe off the residue to allow the next coat to soak in. Use fine sandpaper or fine wire wool between coats, up to 3 or 4 coats should be applied for the perfect finish. Leave to dry for a good 24 hours so it loses all its tackiness.

Boiled Linseed oil

Boiled linseed is much the same as Natural Linseed oil but it has been heated and solvents added to enable it to dry quicker. It dries to the same natural warm finish. The same preparation applies as for Natural linseed oil. Generally not suitable for outdoor use bare this in mind when
selecting a finish.

Shellac French Polish

A traditional finish used for many years by french polishers. A natural product that comes in many shades. You can buy this in a ready mixed formula which saves having to mix it and maybe get it wrong (especially for the DIYer). It’s not as durable as other finishes but gives a lovely gloss surface. It will take some time to get the finish correct as it’s a bit of a learning curve. If you go wrong you can always go over it again and correct it.

The surface needs to be clean and dust free. Let your first coat dry for about 4 to 5 hours, then wire wool between each application until you have the gloss finish you require. Apply with a lint-free cloth or brush for best results.

https://contemporaryrefurbs.co.uk/vintage-parker-knoll/parker-knoll-chairs-for-sale/

Walnut Oil

When applying walnut oil make sure your surface is smooth and dry. The oil can be applied with a lint-free cloth or a brush, leaving about 40 minutes before wiping off any surplus oil. Use fine abrasive sandpaper or wire wool between coats. It takes quite a long time to dry, so leave it for a day or so before applying any extra coats.

The oil brings out the grain nicely and is quite neutral in colour. It is sometimes mixed with beeswax. Often used on items in food preparation areas -chopping boards etc. Walnut oil is not used so much these days as it’s quite expensive. You can buy other oil for finishings considerably cheaper.

https://contemporaryrefurbs.co.uk/vintage-chairs/a-new-life-for-vintage-parker-knoll-classics/
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