Creative Wood Finishing Techniques


Creative Wood Finishing Techniques

Nothing rivals the elegance and timelessness of wood in terms of interior design and architecture. Wood has an unusual capacity to bring character into a home, whether it’s utilized for furniture, flooring, or front porches.

Wood, like other natural materials, is susceptible to deterioration. Wood treatments are the only way to protect hardwood surfaces for long-term use.

The numerous Creative Wood Finishing Techniques, how to use them, and why will be discussed in this article.

What is the difference between a wood finish and a wood stain?

Wooden door finishing

Any chemical material applied to the surface of wood to provide a protective covering is known as a wood finish. It can preserve the wooden object from drying, cracking, fading, or rotting, depending on the type of finish. They may also protect wood from the impacts of the weather, such as UV light and humidity, as well as water damage and mold.

Wood treatments can preserve wood from scratches, stains, and other abuses that humans and animals inflict on furniture on a daily basis, in addition to having an environmental impact.

Wood treatments, commonly referred to as wood furniture finishes, can be applied to both bare and dyed wood. Some finishes can be layered on top of one other.

To get the most out of a wood finish, you need to pick the correct one for the job, which starts with a thorough understanding of the many types of wood finishes.

Creative Wood Finishing Techniques

The two most common types of wood finishes are:

  1. Penetrating finish
  2. Surface finish

Penetrating finishes penetrate the wood, whilst surface finishes remain on top of it.

Of course, some finishes combine the two, but they will all be classified as part of one of the two main categories.

Each of these sorts has a variety of alternatives, each with its own set of advantages and disadvantages.

a) Finishes that penetrate

For thousands of years, penetrating coatings have been utilized to maintain the majority of the antique furniture we have today. These products are typically made of natural oils, which are quickly absorbed by wood and provide good protection against natural pressures.

The penetrative coatings we use today have undergone extensive research to make them easier to apply and more durable. Because it produces a more natural look and feel, this type of finish is highly prized, especially for high-end furniture. They are also easy to apply and generally eco-friendly.

The following are a some of the most well-known:

1. Tung Oil

Tung oil is obtained from the seed of the Tung tree, which is native to China, and is one of the world’s oldest finishes. As a result, it’s sometimes referred to as Chinese wood oil. Tung trees are now growing in South America as well.

Tung oil is non-toxic and safe to use both during and after application. Furthermore, because it is a non-darkening oil, it brings out the intrinsic beauty of the wood when it enters the grain.

Tung oil dries clear and does not yellow as much as other oil-based finishes, which is why it is highly respected in the furniture industry. However, 100 percent pure Tung oil is difficult to come by because it is expensive and takes a long time to dry.

Quick facts:

  • Moderate application ease
  • Mineral Spirits or Paint Thinner for cleaning and thinning
  • Sheen: While pure Tung oil has a modest sheen, resin-modified Tung oil is available in satin, semi-gloss, and gloss finishes.
  • There is no solvent.
  • Recommended applications include household furniture and boat decks.
  • One-of-a-kind feature: It is environmentally safe and emits no volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
  • Cloth or brush for application

Article: Best stain for hemlock

Wood finishing

2. Linseed Oil

Linseed oil is another penetrating finish that has been used for ages. Flaxseed oil is the name given to a natural oil that is derived from flaxseed.

Linseed oil is one of the most adaptable ingredients in the building business, since it can be used on its own or in other finishes like varnish, stains, and paints, in addition to being the best gun stock finish.

Linseed oil should be applied straight to raw wood or wood that has been treated with other oils to get the most out of it. It won’t be able to penetrate the surface otherwise.

One word of caution: linseed oil is extremely combustible, and papers soaked in it may spontaneously fire if not properly disposed of. Linseed oil has the potential to go rancid.

Quick facts:

  • Ease of use: It’s simple to use.
  • Mineral Spirits or Paint Thinner for cleaning and thinning
  • Sheen: It has a low sheen (satin)
  • There is no solvent.
  • Gunstocks, furniture, surfboards, and furniture are all recommended uses.
  • One-of-a-kind feature: It may be used with a variety of oils and is environmentally safe.

3. Danish Oil

The first factory-made penetrating finish is now available. Danish oil is prepared by combining a natural oil with varnish and thinner, and was once a popular staple among Scandinavian furniture producers in the twentieth century. The varnish is commonly boiling linseed oil or Tung oil, while the oil is usually external varnish or polyurethane.

As a result, Danish oil combines the benefits of oil for permeating wood with the added protection and durability of varnish. It’s recommended to use it on raw wood or previously oiled surfaces, just like linseed and Tung oil.

Quick facts:

  • Ease of use: It’s simple to use.
  • Mineral Spirits or Paint Thinner for cleaning and thinning
  • Sheen: Satin sheen
  • There is no solvent.
  • Utensils and worktops made of wood are recommended.
  • One-of-a-kind property: it may be used as both a penetrative and a surface finish.
Door finishing

4. Cedar Oil

Cedar oil, also known as cedar wood oil, is generated from the cedar wood tree, as you may have guessed. This essential oil is produced by the needles, leaves, bark, and berries of various conifer species and is used in both the woodworking and healthcare industries.

Cedar oil has the added benefit of being a natural insect repellent, in addition to extending the life of hardwood furniture. Aromatherapy uses the oil because of its pleasant, woody scent.

Because it is more revered for its medicinal uses, cedar oil is not as popular as any of the other products on our list as a wood finish.

Quick facts:

  • Ease of use: It’s simple to use.
  • Mineral Spirits or Paint Thinner for cleaning and thinning
  • Sheen: It has a low sheen.
  • There is no solvent.
  • Furniture and floor polishing are recommended applications.
  • One-of-a-kind feature: It can repel or even kill some insects.

b) Surface Finishes

Surface treatments, as previously said, give a protective coating that lies on the wood, much like a film of plastic. In general, they endure longer, provide better weather and moisture protection, but need more skill to apply.

1. Shellac

Shellac is a golden-brown finish made from the excrement of the female lac bug, which can be found on trees in Thailand, Burma, and India. These secretions are combined with alcohol to make a practical wood finish.

The end result is a product that has been extremely popular for ages due to its smooth, durable, and high-gloss finish. Shellac is also long-lasting and UV-resistant, so it won’t darken over time.

Shellac creates a stunning finish that is ideal for high-end furniture. It is, however, brittle, heat-sensitive, and vulnerable to staining from household chemicals. Because it can be dissolved in alcohol, it should not be used in kitchens or on objects that will be handled frequently.

Quick facts:

  • Ease of use: It’s simple to use.
  • Denatured alcohol for cleaning and thinning
  • Glossy sheen
  • Alcohol is a solvent.
  • Fine furniture is recommended for use.
  • Unique Property: It comes in a range of hues and can be used as a protective layer on non-wood goods.
Painted Wooden door

2. Lacquer

Lacquer is a common finish for cabinets and many high-end pieces of furniture. Despite being a very thin finish, it dries quickly and is extremely long-lasting. However, achieving that end necessitates some expertise. A high-volume, low-presser (HVLP) sprayer is the ideal approach to apply lacquer.

Lacquer is made by mixing various solvents and resins together. Even though it was originally created from the lac bug’s secretions, this is no longer the case. Given the variety of lacquer makers, one type of lacquer may differ significantly from another.

Lacquer is not environmentally friendly due to the large amount of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted during application. As a result, we’re seeing more water-based lacquers, which some contend aren’t really lacquers because they can’t be dissolved with lacquer thinner.

Quick facts:

  • Application Ease: Difficult
  • Lacquer Thinner for cleaning and thinning
  • Low-Satin, Satin, Semi-Gloss, and Gloss sheens are available.
  • Lacquer Thinner as a solvent
  • Cabinets, business furniture, and fiberboard are all recommended applications.
  • One-of-a-kind property: best applied with an HVLP (High Volume Low Pressure) Sprayer.
  • Disadvantage: It yellows over time, making it unsuitable for light-colored woods.

3. Varnish

We’ve arrived at the most perplexing wood finish of them all. Lacquer, shellac, and polyurethane are all varnish, depending on who you ask. Varnish is a liquid coating material that contains a resin and cures to a hard, transparent layer, according to Britannica. This description, as you can see, suits all of the others.

However, we will use this phrase to refer to spar varnish or marine varnish for the purpose of simplicity. This is the toughest sort of wood treatment available, and it’s great for outdoor use and on ships.

Varnish is a wonderful finish for both indoor and outdoor use, but it may be difficult to apply and is prone to cracking, bubbling, and peeling if not done correctly.

Quick facts:

  • Application Ease: Difficult
  • Mineral Spirits or Paint Thinner for cleaning and thinning
  • Sheen options include matte, semi-gloss, and high-gloss.
  • There is no solvent.
  • Decks and outdoor furniture are recommended applications.

Varnish penetrates the wood rather than lying on top of it like a plastic layer, making it extremely durable.

Wood finishing

4. Wax

Furniture craftsmen had been using wax to lend a finishing touch to wood long before Mr. Miyagi taught us how to wax on and wax off. Wax is used to revitalize dull-looking sheens, offer an extra layer of protection, and keep the surface from cracking, just like it is on cars.

Animal or vegetable waxes are the most common sources of wax. Beeswax is the most common animal wax, while carnauba wax is the most common vegetable derivative.

Wax should not be applied on raw wood, unlike the preceding finishes. While it offers some scratch protection, it is not waterproof and must be reapplied frequently. Wax, on the other hand, hides scuff marks on other protective layers and can help to postpone water absorption. That is why, even if it isn’t your primary option, it is the one finish you should always have on hand.

Quick facts:

  • Ease of use: It’s simple to use.
  • Mineral Spirits or Paint Thinner for cleaning and thinning
  • Sheen ranges from matte to satin.
  • Turpentine as a solvent
  • Picture frames, furniture, and carpeting are all good choices.
  • Specialty: It may be used on almost any other type of finish to offer added protection and longevity.

5. Polyurethane

Polyurethane is a long-lasting, water-repellent finish that dries quickly. Oil-based and water-based polyurethane finishes are the two most common varieties. While they both perform the same thing, they each have their own set of benefits and drawbacks.

Oil-based polyurethane gives wood a warm glow that fades over time. Water-based poly dries crystal transparent and stays that way. When applied and maintained properly, both can protect wooden surfaces for over a decade.

Polyurethane is the most adaptable finish, since it can be used for both indoor and outdoor applications, as well as high-traffic areas, and it is scratch and stain resistant. The biggest disadvantage is that when it is damaged, it might be difficult to restore. Damage to polyurethane, on the other hand, will take a lot.

Quick facts:

  • Moderate application ease
  • Mineral spirits or paint thinner for cleaning and thinning
  • Sheen: Matte, Satin, Semi-Gloss, and Gloss are the four types of sheen.
  • There is no solvent (it can only be removed by sanding or scraping)
  • Floors, tables, staircases, railings, and fences are all recommended uses.
  • One-of-a-kind feature: it lasts for years without needing to be repainted.
Wood staining

6. Dye for wood

You have two alternatives when it comes to changing the color of wood: wood dye or wood stain. Because wood dye isn’t strictly a finish, it’s the less popular of the two. Furthermore, wood dye penetrates the wood and provides little protection.

Wood dye, on the other hand, can be used with shellac, lacquer, or water-based finishes to create a striking and distinctive appearance. It can be utilized strategically to give colorful surfaces as an alternative to paint, despite the fact that it provides no functional advantage on its own.

Wood dye is often sold as a powder or a liquid concentration. You may also produce your own dye with substances like turmeric and beetroot at home.

It simply takes on the properties of whatever it is combined with once it is applied.

7. Stain

In the same way that a dye changes the color of the wood, a stain does the same. It, on the other hand, does things differently and has inherent qualities.

Because they both contain pigment, a solvent/carrier, and a binder, wood stain is sometimes referred to as paint.

A penetrating stain or a surface stain can be used on wood.

This type of finish does an excellent job of bringing out the grain’s brilliance and is ideal before applying a clear coat. When staining with polyurethane, the polyurethane is frequently applied over the dried stain to give it a more natural appearance.

We provide a variety of stains in an almost unlimited range of colors, as well as oil-based, water-based, and gel stains.

Quick facts:

  • Ease of use: It’s simple to use.
  • Mineral spirits or paint thinner for cleaning and thinning
  • Sheen: It has a low sheen.
  • There is no solvent.
  • Furniture, floors, and doors made of wood are recommended for use.
  • One-of-a-kind property: It should only be used on bare wood.

8. Paint

This is a product that doesn’t require any introduction. While many people prefer the natural look of wood, some pieces of wood require beautification or concealment, which is where paint comes in.

Despite the fact that paint is a long-lasting and simple-to-apply finish, additional surfaces, such as polyurethane, can be applied on top of it. Paint also has more color options than stains and provides adequate protection from the elements. Check out the best floor, patio, and porch paint options.

Quick facts:

  • Ease of use: It’s simple to use.
  • Mineral spirits or paint thinner for cleaning and thinning
  • Glossy to high-gloss sheen
  • Solvents include methylene chloride, acetone, isopropyl alcohol, and a variety of other substances.
  • Wood furniture, walls, doors, and decorative elements are recommended for use.
  • One-of-a-kind feature: It is by far the most popular finish in history.

Consider These Factors When Choosing a Wood Finish

One of the most difficult things to do when you’re new to woodworking is to choose a finish. It can be difficult to limit down your options when there are so many to choose from. You’ll develop a go-to finish over time, but it’ll require some trial and error at first.

If you don’t want to waste money on costly mistakes and instead want to get it right the first time, here’s a quick guide to help you pick the proper wood finish.

1. Type of Project

When it comes to picking a wood finish, the first thing to consider is the project you’re working on. That implies you’ll have to think about the type of wood you’re working with. Water-based finishes or particularly clear coats, for example, are better for light-colored woods because oil-based finishes tend to yellow.

It would be beneficial if you considered where the project would be located as well as who will be using it. Where will the floor be positioned, for example, if you’re installing or renovating floors?

Because a walkway or kitchen floor sees more activity than an office floor, it requires a more durable surface. If it will be used by children, a glossy surface is unlikely, and it must be waterproof.

2. Durability

When you’ve decided where you’ll put the project and who will use it, the next logical step is to decide on the level of durability you’ll require.

The resistance to water, heat, scratches, stains, home chemical spills, and heavy items are all factors to consider. If the project will be used outside, you’ll want to think about how it will manage UV light, humidity, and changing weather.

Despite the fact that varnish is the strongest and most durable finish, it may not be necessary in all circumstances. It’s great for the outside, but it might be a little too much for some indoor uses.

For example, if you’re constructing a cabinet for grownups, heat and water resistance may not be necessary. You might possibly get away with a less scratch-resistant finish because you don’t expect many over the years, so a good shellac finish might suffice.

You might investigate more cosmetic options once you’ve determined the level of protection you require.

3. Appearance

As vital as look is, it must take second place to durability and function. Lacquer and shellac are undoubtedly the most beautiful finishes. They produce a lovely, glossy layer that brings out the beauty of the wood without appearing to be a plastic film, as polyurethane does.

They are not as robust or water-resistant as polyurethane or varnish, so getting the sequence correct is crucial.

A penetrating finish is your best bet if you want a totally natural look. You must, however, examine not only how it appears now, but also how it will appear as it ages. Linseed oil, for example, is known for darkening, whereas Tung oil does not.

However, if you’re not satisfied with the appearance, you may always apply wax to it.

4. Color

It’s impossible to discuss looks without bringing up the subject of color. Despite the fact that oil-based finishes might have a yellow hue, they are nonetheless clear coatings.

If you want to add some flair to your project, wood dye, stains, and paints are the way to go. Colorful stains enhance the sheen of whatever finish you place on top of it, whereas paint is a work of art in and of itself.

Water-based treatments will preserve the color of the wood for those who are satisfied with it.

5. Toxicity

To avoid infections, it is critical to use extreme caution when applying wood finishes. This is due to the high levels of VOCs emitted by most household items, including non-natural finishes. Some of them are also recognized carcinogens, and a few of them are extremely flammable.

As a result, not all of them are eco-friendly or suitable for use near children, pets, or anyone with respiratory problems. Before applying anything, double-check the label.

While these finishes are not harmful once they have cured, the application procedure, particularly lacquer, should be avoided.

6. User-Friendliness

The second item to examine is your level of expertise and what you can confidently use without jeopardizing the work. Varnish and lacquer are the most difficult to apply properly, although oils are very straightforward.

It’s pointless to try something complicated like French polishing on the first day if you don’t know how to paint without streaks. After all, the high-gloss appearance of French polish can be achieved using a finish that already has a high gloss sheen.

7. Tools Needed

The tools you’ll need for the job are an extension of the prior point. You may require a brush (synthetic or natural bristle), roller, pad, lamb’s wool applicator, rag, cloth, HVLP gun sprayer for woodworking, or simply your fingertips, depending on what you’re applying.

Tack cloths, sandpaper, power tools, paint strippers, scrapers, and steel wool are some of the other instruments you could require.

If you’re new to this, keep it simple and stick with a finish that doesn’t necessitate too many tools.

8. Time to Dry

It’s difficult to overstate how critical this is. When you’re working on a big job, drying time can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. When you factor in the curing time, you’ll be waiting for at least a month.

Because drying periods can be so inconvenient, some people are willing to put them ahead of health, safety, or even appearance.

Water-based coatings may not be as attractive as oil-based finishes, but can dry in as little as 2 hours, compared to at least 24 hours for conventional oil finishes.

Lacquer dries the quickest of all the alternatives. However, it has a number of drawbacks, including a lack of durability and waterproofness, high toxicity, and a difficult application process, making it one of the least appealing to beginners.

Always apply any finish according to the manufacturer’s instructions to guarantee a reasonable drying time. Otherwise, you might have to wait a long time for the finish to dry.

How to Apply Wood Finish Correctly

When a professional applies a wood finish, you can always tell. Brush marks, streaks, and puddles are absent from the surface, and the wooden object appears to have just left the factory.

Aside from its visual appeal, a wood finish can help extend the life of a project by protecting it from elements such as water, heat, UV light, scratches, scuffs, stains, mold and mildew, and more.

If you don’t apply the wood finish properly, you won’t get any of these advantages. So, here are a few things to keep in mind in order to ensure a smooth and precise application.

a) Remove the current finish.

When applying wood finish, the first thing you’ll need is a table that’s smooth and even. There is likely to be a lot of grime, stains, and scratches in an existing finish that has been there for months or years.

You’ll need to remove this layer before you can apply a new finish, and there are a few options for doing so.

1. Sanding

Sanding is the safest and, in many cases, the best way to remove most wood finishes without using a solvent. Sanding accomplishes both the removal of an undesired finish and the smoothing of the wood.

Acrylic paint, lacquer, varnish, and shellac can all be removed from wood by sanding. You can use a palm sander for little jobs and a random orbit sander for larger ones if the coat is quite thick. Regular sandpaper would be required for very small jobs or to work in between cracks.

Always put on a respirator before sanding. Sanding emits a lot of dust into the air, as well as potentially dangerous elements like lead and chromium, which can cause mild to severe health problems when inhaled.

2. Chemical Degreasers

Chemical strippers are quite successful at removing all types of wood varnish, and if used properly, they won’t harm the wood. Polyurethane, paint, and varnish are easily removed with chemical strippers and paint strippers.

However, there is a catch to this efficiency. Methylene chloride is found in many strippers, and it has been shown to raise the risk of cancer, neurological issues, and liver difficulties.

When working with chemical strippers, you should operate in a well-ventilated interior environment, wear protective eye, nose, and hand coverings, and keep all pets and children away from the work area.

3. Solvents

When a wood finish contains a solvent, it is much easier to remove. Denatured alcohol and lacquer thinner can be used to remove shellac and lacquer, respectively. While this method is far safer than chemical strippers, you must exercise extreme caution to avoid damaging the wood.

b) Make the Wooden Surface Ready

It’s time to prepare the wood once the old finish has been removed, provided there was one. Wood furniture finishes come in a variety of qualities and application methods, but there are two things that they all have in common:

1. Sanding

As previously stated, you cannot, and should not, apply finish to an uneven surface. To achieve this, sand the wood till it is smooth.

Start with 120-grit sandpaper, depending on the type of wood and what was previously on it. To begin, try it on an inconspicuous portion of the surface. Depending on what you observe, you can modify the grit lower or higher.

Sand along the grain rather than against it. After you’ve finished sanding, use a vacuum cleaner, a tack cloth, or a lint-free rag dipped in water to completely clean the wood surface.

Allow it to dry before proceeding to the next step.

2. Stain

Stain does an excellent job of bringing out the natural beauty of the wood grain. It can also change the color of the wood to a more acceptable shade, which is usually darker than the original.

A stain can be applied with a cloth or a brush. You might only need one coat, depending on the color you’re using. Apply the stain with the grain and wipe away any excess with a towel.

Even while stain looks wonderful, it may not be necessary in every situation, particularly if you’re painting. If that’s the case, skip this step and go straight to the finish.

3. Using a Wood Finish

At this stage, it’s crucial to underline that no two finishes are same. They use a variety of application and storage methods, as well as a variety of tools.

It’s also worth noting that the only way to get the most out of a wood finish is to follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Anything less will result in unsatisfactory results, and you’ll be faced with a refinishing project much sooner than you anticipated.

We’ve prepared a lot of articles on how to correctly apply various types of wood finishes. These articles also go over the advantages and disadvantages of each type of finish.

We recommend starting there if you’re ready to start applying a new finish.

When you’ve spent so much time and effort building a piece of wooden furniture, it’s critical to nail the final step of selecting the proper wood finish.

As previously stated, this goes beyond selecting a penetrating or surface finish. You must delve deeper into the characteristics of the product you intend to use.

Finally, always follow the right application method, and you’ll end up with a stunning, faultless product that you’ll be proud to show off for years.

Shirley B. Leavitt

Shirley graduated with a Carpentry Technology Certificate Program at Northwestern Michigan College. Her study focuses on art criticism in its various forms, the history of Canadian and American art after 1940, and the psychology of creative thought. Sixty of her pieces have been published in periodicals such as Art International, Arts, Vie des arts, Studio International, The Canadian Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Art. The Caro Connection: Sculpture by Sir Anthony Caro from Toronto Collections, The Heritage of Jack Bush, A Tribute (Robert McLaughlin Gallery), and Caricature and Conscience: The Sculpture of Dora Wechsler (with Carolyn Robinson) are among the exhibitions she has produced. Shirley has served as a guest critic and speaker at various universities in Canada and the United States, including the Emma Lake Artists' Workshop and the University of Toronto. The Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations honored her with their award for teaching excellence.

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