How to Choose a Good Wood Finish

How to Choose a Good Wood Finish

When choosing a wood finish to protect and decorate your woodwork, it is important to consider the wear and tear that the woodwork is likely to encounter. Paint is one of the most common woodwork finishes that you will run in to but there are a lot of other options beyond just plain old paint. In this article we will take a look at the different types of paints, stains, varnishes, polishes, and lacquers that are available for finishing wood.

Latex Paint

The most common type of wood finish is undoubtedly latex paint. Latex paint is popular because it has several advantages to old fashion solvent-based oil paint. Latex dries quickly, has low odor, and is easy to clean up with water. Latex paints can form a very tough yet flexible coating, which will resist peeling and cracking. The key to using latex paint on your wood-finishing project is to make sure that the wood is properly prepared. Don’t apply latex paint to damp wood or on a very humid day. Make sure that you work quickly since latex paint will dry very quickly, and if you don’t apply it quickly it will dry showing your brush strokes.

Protective Wood Stain Products

Wood stain, unlike paint, actually soaks in and penetrates the wood surface. The main purpose for choosing a stain as a finishing option is that stain can help to enhance the natural color of wood, and it can also showcase the beautiful grain pattern of wood. Wood stain comes in both oil based and water based varieties. Most wood stains don’t really protect the wood as much as other finishes. Generally, once you stain wood you will want to follow up with a good clear topcoat, like a polyurethane sealant.


Varnish is basically a clear protective coating for wood. The most popular type of varnish is polyurethane. Varnish can be applied directly to the wood, or you can choose to stain the wood first before applying the varnish. Varnish is a great option for very high durability. If the woodwork is going to get a lot of wear, varnish will need to be on the top of your list as a finish candidate.

Wood Polish

While most people don’t think of polish as a finish option for wood, it does have some application in some very specialized uses. The main wood polish that you will see is usually a wax-based product. Most often wax polish is used on such wood items as a butcher-block counter top, or furniture where you don’t want to touch the already existing finish.


A lacquer finish is most often found on floors. The great advantage to lacquer is that it is durable and hard. Lacquer comes in many different finishes from satin to high gloss, and also comes in colors from white, clear, and black.


No matter which finish you ultimately choose; ensure that you pick the right finish for the right job. With a proper durable finish, your wood will continue to provide years of enjoyment. And now that you know the right finish you would need for every project, you can let your kids join the fun by letting them choose the color or shade of the finish. It’s the best way to introduce them into woodworking, before you ease them into more DIY projects (for a good list of kid-friendly woodworking projects, check Sawinery). This way, you’ll be able to do DIY and woodworking activities together as a family. Sounds fun, right?


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