Commercial wax is sold in liquid and paste forms and can be a single wax or a blend of waxes. A wax finish adds shine to wood without darkening it. Wax is too soft and porous to be scratch or water resistant so it is not advised for use on items that will be regularly handled. It is excellent as a polish on top of another finish, however.

Wax is not as durable as other finishes. Use it on objects that aren't frequently handled or as a polish on top of another finish.


The type of finish you choose depends on the project and its use.

If you are building kitchen or bathroom cabinets, you're probably primarily concerned with durability. The finish has to be resistant to acids in body oils and alkalis in soaps. Varnish or polyurethane are the best choices. If their smell bothers you, consider water-based polyurethane. Lacquer is also an acceptable alternative, but stay away from shellac and oil.

For chairs and tables, you want a film-building finish to protect against wear. Your choice of finish depends on whether you want to rub it out. (Rubbing a finish removes all the dust nibs, making a finish feel ultra-smooth, and develops a high sheen.) Lacquer rubs out most easily, followed by shellac. Varnishes and water-based finishes can be rubbed successfully, but often only to a satin sheen.

Bookshelves and entertainment centers generally don't get a lot of heavy wear. Oil, oil/varnish blends and wiping varnish are acceptable and easy to apply. And as long as you let the coats cure thoroughly, you can apply other finishes over these later if you decide you want a thicker finish with more protection.

Smaller decorative items that don't receive wear can be finished with oil, oil/varnish blends or wiping varnish. While wax provides too little protection to be considered seriously for most projects, it does have applications for small decorative objects.

For floors, durability is of utmost importance. Polyurethane is clearly the best choice.

Machine marks that are practically invisible on an unfinished board stand out when you stain.

Excess glue leaves telltale marks under stains and finishes.

Prepping for Finishing

Eliminate machine marks, glue spots and surface imperfections before you stain

It can't be overemphasized how important wood preparation is for obtaining a nice-looking finish. Stains and finishes highlight flaws rather than disguise them. You can't achieve first-rate results if you don't do a good job preparing the wood. Sharp tools, clean hands, and good work habits all go a long way toward making this initial preparation a less daunting task.

Key Ingredients

The goal in wood preparation is to remove all flaws and not replace them with new ones. The machine tools you use to cut, smooth, and shape wood all leave marks (called machine or mill marks) that show up when you apply a stain or finish (photo at left). These marks should he hand-planed, scraped, or sanded out.

Excess glue is another problem (photo, bottom left). Glue can keep stain from penetrating and can cause uneven coloring. Glue may be squeezed from joints or deposited onto the wood by dirty hands. You should remove this glue before applying a stain or finish.

Any gouges and gaps also must be dealt with, either by sanding them out or by filling them in one way or another. Wood putty, the obvious solution, may not be the best answer because it rarely takes stain as the wood does, no matter what manufacturers may claim (top photo, page 9). If you choose to go this route, you should use a colored wood putty, or color the putty after it has dried to blend in with the surrounding wood.

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The Complete Guide To Wood Finishing

The Complete Guide To Wood Finishing

Wood finishing can be tricky and after spending hours on building your project you want to be sure that you get the best outcome possible. In The Complete Guide To Wood Finishing you will learn how to get beautiful, professional results no matter what your project is, even if you have never tried your hand at wood finishing before. You will learn about every step in the wood finishing process from a professional wood finisher with years of experience.

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