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to create a glossy, satin, or flat finish. However, applying varnish can be challenging and requires careful preparation and patience. Here are some tips to help you achieve a beautiful and durable varnish finish on your furniture:

1. Sand the wood surface thoroughly to create a smooth and even base for the varnish.

2. Clean the surface with a tack cloth to remove any dust or debris that may have accumulated during sanding.

3. Apply the varnish using a high-quality brush, working in the direction of the grain. Avoid over-brushing, as this can create bubbles and streaks.

4. Allow the first coat of varnish to dry completely before applying a second coat. Follow the manufacturer’s recommended drying time, which can range from a few hours to overnight.

5. Sand the surface lightly with fine-grit sandpaper between coats to remove any imperfections and create a smooth finish.

6. Apply additional coats of varnish as needed, sanding between each coat, until you achieve the desired level of gloss or sheen.

7. Allow the final coat of varnish to dry completely before using or moving the furniture.

By following these steps and using high-quality materials, you can achieve a beautiful and long-lasting varnish finish on your furniture.

natural-bristle brush strokes. Choose the type of varnish that is best suited for your furniture wood. Natural varnish is based on natural resins and oils, and can be thinned with mineral spirits or turpentine. Spar varnish is a natural varnish that should never be used for furniture. Synthetic varnishes are based on synthetic resins and require special thinners. Polyurethane varnish is the best of the synthetic varnishes, as it is clear, non-yellowing, and very tough. Other synthetic varnishes, such as phenolics and alkyds, are not recommended for refinishing as they yellow with age. Water-based varnishes offer similar results without the cleanup hassle and toxicity, and do not yellow, but may begin to cloud when applied in several coats.

When using varnish, it’s important to follow special requirements. Natural varnish can be used with any stain or filler, and the sealer for natural varnish is thinned shellac or a mixture of 1 part varnish and 1 part turpentine or mineral spirits. Polyurethane varnish is not compatible with all stains and fillers, so it’s important to read the labels before buying to make sure you’re using compatible materials. Water-based varnish can be used over stain and filler, but the undercoats must be allowed to fully cure, which can take up to a month.

To apply varnish, use a new, clean, natural-bristle brush. Varnish that has been used several times may contain lumps of hardened varnish that can cause trouble. Bare wood must be properly prepared and sanded, while finished wood must be cleaned and lightly sanded before applying varnish. It’s easier to apply varnish to horizontal surfaces, so turn the piece of furniture so that its major surfaces are horizontal. Work on only one surface at a time, and work on large surfaces last.

To apply varnish smoothly, use even strokes and apply it along the grain in strips that are the width of the brush. Don’t touch the brush to the rim of the varnish container; instead, shake or tap off any excess varnish inside the container or on a strike can. The varnish should flow onto the surface of the wood without any drag. If you notice small missed or thin spots, or if the brush starts to pull, add about an ounce of thinner to the varnish. For natural varnish, use turpentine or mineral spirits, while for polyurethane varnish, use the thinner recommended by the manufacturer. Gently stir the thinner into the varnish, being careful not to raise any bubbles.

After applying an even coat of varnish along the grain of the wood, apply more varnish in even strokes across the grain to level and even the surface. It’s better to apply a thin coat rather than a thick one, as thick coats take longer to dry and can crack as the varnish ages. To ensure an even and level surface, remove any dust or lint from the wet finish with a rosin lint picker while working.

Once you’ve leveled the varnish across the grain, smooth the surface by lightly stroking it along the grain with an almost dry brush. Make sure to pick off any dust or lint as you work.

Apply Varnish to Wood Surfaces

When applying varnish to wood surfaces, it’s important to follow some key steps to achieve a smooth and even finish. Firstly, tip off the wet varnish in the direction of the grain using an almost dry brush to remove brush marks and even the surface. Smooth the entire varnished surface, working in strips along the grain of the wood and pick off dust and lint with a lint picker. It’s essential to apply varnish carefully to prevent thick spots.

When working on outside corners, work from the flat surface towards the corner and lift the brush as it nears the corner to prevent a buildup of varnish along the edge. On inside corners, work an inch or two away from the corner and then brush the varnish into the corner, tip it off, and leave it alone to prevent buildup on many flat-surface brushings. Coating spots that tend to hold varnish, such as tiny potholes, just once and tipping them once with the brush is recommended. Repeated tipping will leave a bulge.

When working on rungs, spindles, and other turnings, brush lengthwise along them. On carved moldings, apply the finish to the carvings first with a fairly dry brush, then finish the flat surfaces with the tip of the brush. Finally, use a very dry brush to level the finish and remove any fat edges, sags, or runs. On raised panel doors, finish the panels first and then move on to the flat framing, removing any excess varnish with a very dry brush.

Drying times for natural varnish average about 24 hours, but it’s recommended to extend all drying times if you’re applying varnish in humid or wet weather. Pick off lint and dust only while the surface is wet or sticky. Many varnishes require two or even three coats for a smooth finish, and it’s important to let the first coat of varnish harden or dry as recommended by the manufacturer before applying the next coat. Lightly sand the varnished wood in the direction of the grain between coats using grade 7/0 sandpaper on a padded sanding block and clean away all sanding residue with a tack cloth. In addition to varnish, a penetrating resin finish is an option that stands up well to heavy use.

Achieve a Deep Penetrating Resin Finish

Unlike varnish, penetrating resin finishes seep into the wood to strengthen the fibers themselves, giving the wood a natural appearance while highlighting the grain. It is highly durable and can withstand heavy wear and tear, and is easy to apply and repair. Although it dries clear, it slightly darkens the wood and is available in a variety of stain colors.

Penetrating resin is best used on open-grained woods, as very close-grained woods may not absorb it deeply. If you plan to use it on stripped wood, make sure to remove all old filler to ensure proper absorption. It is recommended for use on oily hardwoods such as rosewood and teak, and is particularly effective on oak and walnut. It is often preferred over varnish for larger pieces of furniture and complex carvings. However, it is important to choose the right penetrating resin for the job, as it is difficult to remove for future refinishers.

There are two types of penetrating resin finishes: phenolic and alkyd. Both perform similarly, but phenolic-base compounds may penetrate the wood more deeply.

Before applying penetrating resin, ensure that the wood is properly prepared and sanded. Any rough spots or defects will be accentuated once the resin is applied. Clean the piece of furniture thoroughly with a tack cloth before applying the resin. If possible, apply the resin to horizontal surfaces. Use a clean brush or cloth, No. 0000 steel wool, or pour it directly onto the wood, working on small areas at a time. On rungs or spindles, apply the resin with a clean cloth one rung at a time. Spread the resin liberally and evenly over the wood, watching the absorption rate of the wood and applying more resin until it stops being absorbed. Let the resin set for 30-45 minutes, keeping the surface wet and adding more resin to any dry spots. Afterward, wipe off the excess finish with clean, absorbent cloths until the surface is completely dry.

Let the newly applied resin dry for 24 hours. During this time, remove any glossy patches that may appear. Add resin to those areas and wipe away the excess again.

To soften the dried finish, remove the excess liquid resin and ensure that the wood is dry. Afterwards, use No. 000 or 0000 steel wool to gently smooth the wood, then clean it with a tack cloth. Apply a second coat of penetrating resin, wiping off any excess as before. If necessary, apply a third coat and wait 24 hours before smoothing the surface with steel wool. No wax or other surface coat is needed. For those seeking a quick and easy finish, consider using a shellac finish.

Shellac is simple to apply and produces a fine, natural finish that highlights the wood’s grain. It is especially attractive on walnut, mahogany, and veneer woods, and polishes well. However, it is not durable and can be easily damaged or dissolved by water or alcohol. Shellac is available in white or orange, and is sold in various cuts. The most common is a 4-pound cut, which usually needs to be thinned with denatured alcohol before use. Shellac can be used over any stain or filler, but should not be applied in humid weather. Thinned shellac is recommended for sealer coats, and alcohol or ammonia can be used for cleanup.

When using shellac as a finish for wood, it is important to keep in mind its short shelf life and to buy only the amount needed for the job at hand. Any leftover shellac should be discarded as old shellac will not dry properly. Some manufacturers put a shelf date on their shellac. Proper preparation of the wood is necessary before applying shellac. This includes sanding and sealing the wood. Before application, the surface should be cleaned with a tack cloth. A new brush and new shellac that has been thinned to a 1-pound cut should be used. The shellac should be applied liberally, keeping the surface wet and working in long, smooth strokes along the grain. A French polish finish technique can be used for a more durable finish, which emphasizes the grain and color of the wood. Only water stain or spirit-base non-grain-raising (NGR) stain should be used under French polish. The shellac/oil mixture should be applied to the prepared wood with a palm-size pad of cheesecloth wrapped in a clean, lint-free linen or cotton cloth. The surface should be rubbed with the pad in a circular or figure-eight motion for about 45 minutes. The surface should then be left to dry for 24 hours before applying another coat. After the final coat, the wood should be left to dry for at least a week but no more than 10 days before cleaning, waxing, and buffing the surface to a fine sheen.

The process of drying and recoating shellac involves waiting for it to dry completely before applying a new coat. It is important to ensure that the shellac is completely dry before sanding it, as it can otherwise pick up debris and cause issues. After sanding, a second coat can be applied, followed by a third if desired. Additional coats can be added to achieve a smoother finish, with each coat being thoroughly dried before applying a new one. Once the final coat is applied, it should be left to harden for 48 hours before removing the gloss with steel wool and applying a good-quality paste wax.

Lacquer is a faster-drying finish than shellac and is more durable, but requires multiple thin coats. It is difficult to work with due to its quick drying time, and is not recommended for amateur use due to the toxic and explosive fumes. Lacquer can be used on most woods, but not on mahogany and rosewood. It can be used over certain stains and fillers, but not over other finishes or oil-based stains. When applying lacquer, it is important to properly prepare and seal the wood, clean the furniture with a tack cloth, and protect the working area with dropcloths or newspaper. Only aerosol spray lacquer should be used, and ventilation should be adequate.

To even out the thickness of the lacquer film, it is necessary to slightly overlap the strips.

Before using lacquer, it is important to test the spray can on a piece of newspaper or cardboard to become familiar with the spray pattern. This will help you achieve better control when applying the lacquer to the surface you want to finish. To apply the lacquer, hold the spray can upright about 18 inches away from the surface of the wood, and apply it slowly and evenly. If you work too far away, the lacquer may dimple like the skin on an orange, and if you work too closely, too much lacquer may be applied, causing runs and sags in the finish. When spraying, start with the top edge of the surface and work in horizontal strips from side to side and top to bottom. Overlap the spray patterns slightly to equalize the thickness of the lacquer film. It is important to apply only a thin coat of lacquer, as this finish must be applied in multiple thin layers.

It is important to let the lacquer dry completely between coats, which takes about 48 hours, or as directed by the manufacturer. After drying, use No. 000 steel wool to smooth the surface and a tack cloth to clean it thoroughly. Then, apply a second coat of lacquer and repeat until you achieve the desired finish. For a smoother finish, use grade FFF powdered pumice and boiled linseed oil to rub the surface between coats. After applying the final coat of lacquer, let the furniture dry for 48 hours, buff it with No. 0000 steel wool, and apply a good-quality paste wax to protect the finish.

If you want a finish that is not permanent, you can use paste wax to finish bare wooden furniture. This is most effective on hard, close-grained woods that have been sanded smooth. Some waxes have added color, which is helpful for dark woods like walnut, but they do not stain or restore the finish. Paste wax is easy to apply and heat-resistant but is liable to wear and must be reapplied periodically. It is commonly used over a sealer stain to color, seal, and finish new or stripped wood.

and Danish oil can be tinted. Linseed oil is a traditional finish, but it is sticky and difficult to apply.

How to Apply Oil Finish

To apply an oil finish, first sand the wood to remove any imperfections or rough spots. Then, wipe the surface clean with a tack cloth to remove any dust or debris. Apply the oil finish with a clean cloth or brush, making sure to rub it in evenly and along the grain of the wood. Allow the finish to soak into the wood for a few minutes before wiping off any excess with a clean cloth. Repeat this process until the desired level of sheen is achieved. Allow the finish to dry completely before using the furniture.

In conclusion, choosing the right finish for your wooden furniture project is important. Sealer stains and paste wax finishes are easy to apply, but require periodic reapplication. Oil finishes, such as Danish and tung oil, offer a natural look and are durable, but also require periodic reapplication. Knowing the type of wood you are working with and following the proper application techniques will help ensure a beautiful and long-lasting finish.

The article discusses different types of oil finishes for wood furniture. Danish oil is available in various colors and has a satin finish. Linseed oil finish gives a rich and glossy look, but several applications are required for a good finish. The classic linseed oil finish consists of boiled linseed oil and turpentine, but there are many variations available. Mary Roalman finish is one of the best, which includes boiled linseed oil, turpentine, and natural varnish. The wood must be sanded before applying any oil finish, and no sealing is necessary. The oil should be applied liberally with a clean cheesecloth pad, using a circular or figure-eight motion to work it into the wood until the wood has stopped absorbing it. The oil should be rubbed firmly into the wood with the heels of the hands to help it penetrate. Finally, all excess oil should be wiped off the surface of the wood.

Drying and Applying Coatings

Compared to linseed oil, Danish oil and tung oil have a faster drying time. Typically, they can be reapplied within 12 to 24 hours, but it’s important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Linseed oil finishes require about a week to dry and may take longer in very humid weather. It’s important to wait until the linseed oil finish is completely dry before recoating it, with no signs of stickiness.

Once the first coat of oil has fully dried, apply additional coats until the finish is rich and hard. Danish oil and tung oil sealers may only need one more application, while linseed oil finishes should have 10 to 20 more coats. Rub each additional coat of oil into the wood thoroughly, and then wipe off any excess oil. Allow each coat of oil to dry completely before applying the next one, waiting at least a week between the first few coats and longer between later coats. If the oil isn’t fully dry between coats, the finished surface may be sticky.

Choosing a furniture finish can be challenging given the numerous options available, such as varnish, penetrating resin, shellac, lacquer, paste wax, and oil. Nonetheless, the guidelines provided in this article will help you select the best one for your type of wood and desired furniture appearance.


1. What are furniture finishes?

Furniture finishes refer to the final coating applied to furniture to protect it from damage and enhance its appearance. These finishes can be applied to wood, metal, plastic, or any other material used in furniture construction. They help to protect furniture from moisture, scratches, and other forms of damage.

2. What types of furniture finishes are there?

There are several types of furniture finishes, including lacquer, shellac, varnish, wax, and oil finishes. Each type of finish has its own unique properties and is suitable for different types of furniture. Lacquer and shellac finishes are durable and glossy, while varnish finishes are known for their durability and resistance to heat and moisture. Wax and oil finishes provide a natural look to the furniture and are easy to maintain.

3. How do I choose the right finish for my furniture?

The right finish for your furniture depends on several factors, such as the type of wood or material used, the desired look, and the level of protection required. Consulting with a furniture expert or a professional can help you choose the best finish for your furniture.

4. How do I apply furniture finish?

Furniture finish can be applied using a brush, spray gun, or cloth. Before applying the finish, the surface of the furniture should be cleaned and sanded to create a smooth surface. The finish should be applied in thin, even coats, and allowed to dry completely between each coat. Sanding between coats can help to create a smooth finish.

5. How do I maintain furniture finishes?

Maintaining furniture finishes involves regular cleaning and polishing. Dusting the furniture with a soft cloth or vacuuming it with a brush attachment can help to prevent scratches and other damage. Avoid using harsh chemicals or abrasive cleaners that can damage the finish. Applying wax or oil to the furniture periodically can help to maintain the finish and keep it looking new.

6. How long do furniture finishes last?

The lifespan of furniture finishes varies depending on the type of finish and the level of use. Some finishes, such as lacquer and shellac, may last for several years, while others, such as wax finishes, may need to be reapplied more frequently. Regular maintenance and care can help to prolong the lifespan of furniture finishes.

7. Can furniture finishes be repaired?

Minor damage to furniture finishes, such as scratches or dents, can often be repaired using touch-up pens or wax sticks. More significant damage may require professional repair or refinishing. It is important to address any damage to furniture finishes as soon as possible to prevent further damage.

8. Are furniture finishes safe?

Furniture finishes are generally safe when used as directed. However, some finishes may contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can be harmful to human health if inhaled. It is important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions when using furniture finishes and to work in a well-ventilated area.

9. How do I dispose of furniture finishes?

Disposing of furniture finishes should be done in accordance with local regulations. Some finishes may be considered hazardous waste and must be disposed of at a designated facility. Contacting your local waste management authority can provide guidance on how to safely dispose of furniture finishes.

10. Can I apply furniture finish myself?

Yes, furniture finish can be applied by an individual with the proper tools and knowledge. However, it is important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions and take appropriate safety precautions when working with furniture finishes. Consulting with a professional may be beneficial, especially for more complex finishes or for those with limited experience.

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