Finishing not only protects the wood but also enhances its natural beauty. A good finish is one that beckons an onlooker to touch it and examine its beauty more closely.
A good finish can't be hurried. It takes careful work and time to produce. When done correctly the end results are very satisfying and enjoyed by all who see it for many years. So take your time and do it right.
The factors involved in selecting the most appropriate finish depends on what the item is and type of wood it is made with, how and where it is to be used, the environment it will be placed in, and how much time and/or money you are willing spend. The information below should narrow the choices for most people. Remember you can call The Master's Touch (540-371-5566) or any professional restoration shop in your local area for help and free advice.
This type of finish is a good choice for woods with natural color and relatively tight grain such as Walnut and Cherry or naturally high resin woods like Rosewood and Teak. This finish does not require staining the wood first but can be applied over any wood stain that has properly dried. Keep in mind that all oils will darken wood. If a lot of "elbow grease" is used rubbing between coats and an adequate number of coats are applied the finish will not show water marks or surface scratches and is more heat resistant than lacquers or varnishes.
|easy application||long application time|
|no equipment needed||darkens wood|
|easily repaired||low wear protection|
|low cost||long drying time|
A beautiful and durable finish can be obtained with a quality varnish. There are two types of varnish, regular and urethane. Regular varnish has a deep amber color and adds a mellow tint to the final color. Urethanes are clear or light yellow and are more resistant to scratches and ware. A clear, dry day and a dust free room is required to obtain a good finish. Temperature of the room, the varnish and the wood should be between 65F - 75F degrees.
Best results are achieved by spraying, but a skilled person with a good brush can produce a beautiful finish also. Colored varnish, sometimes referred to as stain varnish is not recommended for brushing by amateurs. Spar varnish is an excellent coating for surfaces subjected to moisture or heat.
Care must be taken when shake or stir a can varnish before a brushing application. Stirring is better than shaking and may be necessary to mix-in flatting agents that have settled on the bottom. However shaking or stirring can creates bubbles which are hard to brush out and may appear as small dents when the varnish has dry. Adding a little thinner and/or letting the varnish "rest" before use after stirring will minimize this problem.
|scratch resistant||slow drying|
|little equipment needed||optimal condition for application|
|water resistant/proof||skill needed for brush work|
|low cost||some are hard to repaired|
|urethanes can not be used over other finishes|
Because of shellacs' limited durability, it is not recommended for heavily used furniture. This finish is brittle when dry, scars easily and water spots. It is also soluble in alcohol, so it cannot be used for dressers where cosmetics containing alcohol are often placed or tables where alcoholic beverages are to be served.
Advantages are that it is easy to use, dries quickly with a gloss and can be rubbed to a satin or dull finish. It is often used as a sealer coat over stains, as a filler on fine grained woods or to cover knots before painting.
|easy application||easy to scratch|
|no special equipment||rub-out to lower sheen|
|easily repaired||low wear protection|
|medium cost||no chemical protection|
Lacquer is the most widely used finish on furniture. It makes a very durable finish that resists water and alcohol. It doesn't darken wood color and its color does not darken with age like many varnishes do. In recent years there has been several advancements in lacquer finishes. Pre and post catalyzed lacquers today have superior hardness, with improved scratch and ware resistance. Lacquer is difficult to use with a brush because it dries so quickly. For this reason it is not recommended for use by amateurs. There are brushing lacquers that have retarders added to slower trying time, but the best application by far is spraying.
|durable||skill required to apply|
|fast drying||costly equipment|
Opaque paint and enamel finishes are often used on wood with no particular beauty or to cover old finishes in bad shape without stripping.
Be sure the surface is clean, smooth and dry. Paint will not stick to a greasy surface. You do not have to remove the old finish; sanding the surface will make a foundation for the priming coat. If the article to be painted is new, look for any knots. These should be covered with a coat of shellac.
Mix paint and enamel well before using. Pour a small amount into can to use and keep remainder covered.
|hides defects||slow drying time|
|little equipment needed||covers wood grain|
|easily repaired||poor adhesion over old finishes|
These types of finish are achieved by various processing techniques and often employ one or more kinds of finishing materials to produce the desired effect.
Pickled finishes are made with white or another color over a natural or lightly stained wood color. The effect is similar to the old blond finishes of the 40's and 50's, except it is usually done on furniture with lots of crevices for the white to stick into. The result has a more interesting texture with the natural grain of the wood showing through and highlighted with the white.
Antiqueing is a blended or shaded finish achieved by applying one or more contrasting colored glazing liquids over a painted base. Traditionally, the glaze is applied over white. Today any color base and glaze combination is acceptable. This type of finishing was very popular in the 60's and 70's.
Photo and fake wood grain finishes are found on low end furniture most often made with flake board construction and plastic fasteners. This type of inexpensive furniture is "disposable" and was not designed to be restored, but rather to be replaced.Steve Nearman operates The Master's Touch furniture restoration service in Fredericksburg, Virginia and is the founder of Professional Restorers International. His local clients include several historical sites like, Kenmore, Mary Ball Washington's House, Rising Sun Tavern, Gary Melcher's Belmont and many private collectors of early American furniture. View his PRI shop Bio page or his web site at FurnitureRepair.net.