Applying a finish doesn’t just help your wood product look its best. It also helps your furniture remain sturdy for years to come. Unfinished wood is vulnerable to moisture, which expands the material. If it swells too much, then shrinks, the product’s joints will lose structural integrity. It can start to develop cracks and wear that will ultimately ruin the piece. When you apply the right wood finish, you make an investment in your product’s future and ensure it will remain useful for years to come.


While the finishing process is essential, it can be difficult to know which finishes work best for your woodworking needs. Each one has a different impact on your project, so the right option will depend upon the effect you seek. Your overall purpose will also determine the best finish for your project. If you have a piece that will need to withstand a great deal of external wear, you should avoid penetrating finishes, for example.


You’ll need to think long and hard about your project’s goals before you apply a finish. Luckily this guide will help shorten that search. Read on to find out how your product can benefit from the right wood finish.

Tung Oil

Tung oil is a type of penetrating finish that imbues furniture with a smooth, natural appearance. When exposed to oxygen, the material hardens upon wood, creating an even coating that’s light in colour. Woodworkers generally apply polymerized tung oil to give their products a range of different polishes, though pure tung can also be used for projects that require a matte surface.


You’ll need to completely clear any sawdust or debris from your work environment before you start to spread the finish on the wood. While other substances require a brush for application, woodworkers usually use a cloth for tung oil. You’ll generally need to put on about four coats’ worth of oil before you achieve the right consistency, but you’ll be rewarded with a vibrant surface that will bring out the wood’s natural beauty.


If you want a durable surface finish that hardens quickly, shellac is an ideal product for you. This resin and alcohol-based substance can create a range of colours and stains based on your unique requirements. Your can use a brush or pad to stroke or dab the shellac onto the wood. Just be careful, as heat can leave permanent marks in wood that has a shellac finish. Shellac is known for providing beautiful finishes on the finest interior furniture.


While the previous entries on this list tend to produce more naturalistic tones in your wood products, lacquer will create a highly glossy effect. They also dry quickly and repel moisture, so it’s an ideal substance for woodworkers who are worried about water damage. Professionals typically apply the material using a spray, with each coat creating an unyielding strength that will prevent wear. If you don’t want any brush strokes on your furniture, you should definitely consider using spray lacquer.


While lacquers derive from varnishes, there are a few differences between the two materials. Varnish can encompass anything from shellac and polyurethane to lacquer, while its name is often used as a shorthand for finishing a piece of wood. Turn to water-based acrylic varnishes if you want a finish that is low odor, cleans up easily with water, and is more environmentally friendly. These finishes were once considered inferior to high odor, oil and solvent finishes; however, modern improvements in their chemistry make them as good or better than solvent finish alternatives.