Wood Furniture Finishing: Understanding the Basics

Choosing the Right Protective Finish

The type of protective finish that you choose for your wood project will depend greatly on your personal taste, and the overall effect that you want to achieve. Some finishes penetrate the wood, giving the surface a warm glow and accentuating the grain. Others like varnish or polyurethane topcoat provides a greater degree of protection, by drying a film on the surface, but it also hides some of the detail and grain of the wood.

Today, many of the protective finishes on the market are available in either water based or oil (solvent) based formulation. Each has their own virtues and drawbacks. For example, solvent based finishes are flammable, and can produce fumes that can be harmful. However, in the cases where strong coverage is needed to hide blemishes, the solvent or oil based finish can provide a smoother coat. Water based finishes, however, do not have the problems of fumes or flammability, and often meets higher air emission standards found in many states. Also, many people find them much easier to apply.

Choosing the Right Tools

Believe it or not, one of the main things that most amateur wood finishers fail to consider is the type of tools that they use for the project. Many simply go to the hardware store, randomly pick out a few paint brushes, a few pints of wood finish, and grab an old tee shirt from the closet for clean up. By not considering what the right type of equipment to use, many people run into problems in the long run.

Perhaps one of the most important tools for the wood refinisher is the brush. There are a few things to consider when choosing a brush to use, including the handle, the bristles, and how the bristles are connected to the brush. While a veteran finisher can often use just about any brush that he or she wants, a beginner should invest in a higher quality brush. You might pay a few dollars more than the generic brush down the shelf, but the quality of the finished product will make it well worth the initial cost.

When considering buying a brush, be sure you take into account what type of wood finish you are applying. Wood finishes generally are either oil based or water based, and the one you use should dictate what type of bristles in your brush. If you are using oil-based wood finish, consider using a natural bristle brush, such as boar hair, ox or camel. If the wood finish is water based, consider going the synthetic route. The reason is, in many cases natural bristles will cause the water based finishes to “foam up” during application, or cause a lot of bubbles to appear which can ruin the finish.

Now that you know what kind of bristles your wood finishing brush should have, the next thing to look at is the handle. It can be constructed of a number of different materials, either wood or plastic, but it should be well balanced and fit your hand. If you have to stretch your hand too much, it will lead to soreness. If the handle is too small, chances are your hand will eventually suffer from cramping. Also, be sure to look at the overall construction of the brush. Are the bristles well connected? Is the brush handle made of one solid piece? Does it feel solid? Remember, spending a little more money now will save you a lot of headaches in the future.

Preparing for a Good Finish

There is a good chance that you’ve seen a piece of wood furniture with a bad finish. Instead of having a gleaming smooth finish, you can see areas of darkness, or perhaps a few brush strokes. Chances are the root cause of such a haphazard look is a failure to take the time to prepare the surface properly. Many first-time wood finishers think that it’s just a matter of dipping a brush into the finish and applying it like you were painting. Absolutely nothing could be further from the truth. In order to get a great finished wood piece, you’ve got to start with a great base.

For starters, be sure to make sure that any previous stains or finishes are removed. Use wood fillers to fill in the cracks, and be sure to use various grades of sanding until you get a smooth finish. Then before you even open your wood finish container, make sure the surface is completely dry and free of dust and debris. Perhaps the easiest way to solve the problem is to take a tack cloth and run it over the surface. That way you can pick up any left over dust or debris.

Correct Application Makes All the Difference

Once the surface is prepared, the next step is the application of the finish. Today, most finishes provide the correct application method on the package, but if it doesn’t, there is a simple way to apply it. Simply take a rag, dip it in the finish, and wipe it onto the surface in one clean wipe. Allow it to soak in for about 10 minutes, wipe off the excess, and allow it to dry over night. The next morning, sand the finish with a 400 grit sand paper, clean it, and start the whole process again. Repeat until you have the finish you want.

As you can see, finishing a piece of wood furniture isn’t a quick process, but it is one that a person can do easily. However, you still may feel overwhelmed and would prefer to hire a professional is that should be the case then check our article about how to get bespoke furniture in London.