7 Types Of Wood Finishes – Woodworking Guide 101

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It is not compulsory to stain wood on completion of a job. However, you can apply a wood finish which serves to protect the surface of the wood. If you don’t provide a finish, the wood could dry out, become dull and deteriorate, on exposure to moisture and heat. The wood may also swell, so that doors, windows, and drawers become challenging to operate. Apart from the utility aspect of a woodworking finish, there is the aesthetic angle as well. You can enhance the appearance of wood by applying a finish to it on completion of a project.

Hence, it is a good idea to apply a wood finish on completion of the job. However, what finishes to use? There are different types of woodworking finishes from which to choose. In this article, we discuss the various woodworking finishes that you can apply.

Different Types Of Woodworking Finishes

You can apply different wood finishes to the wood. Each finish calls for a separate substance and a different technique of application. Here are few of the common types of woodworking finishes:

Wood Dye

Wood Dye
Wood Dye. Image Credit: bricoydeco

A wood dye consists of two components – a colorant and a solvent. So, we add different colors to a solvent like water or alcohol to make a colored solution. Dyeing wood resembles the method we use to dye cloth and other materials. We can consider dyes as being transparent as they cause a change in color in wood without blocking the visibility of the grains. The reason for this is that the small size of the dye molecules, through which light passes. We can easily apply dye to wood, using a spray gun, sponge, or brush.

Wood Stain

Wood Stain
Wood Stain. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

We prepare a wood stain by mixing large, opaque, and insoluble particles with solvents like water or oils. The wood stain enhances the color of the wood. It also helps to blend the surface color into a continuous shade when inconsistencies in color exist. You can get wood stains in a variety of colors and finishes. However, wood stains need to be used sparingly. Sometimes, you can mask the good looks of the wood grain by staining wood with the opaque pigment.

Rub-In Oils

Rub-In Oils
Rub-In Oils. Image Credit: Staff Sgt. Matthew Coleman-Foster

There is a wide range of rub-in oils that you can use to impart a finish to the wood. The two commonly-used oils that you get are boiled linseed oil (BLO) and tung oil. Raw linseed oil tends to be thick and takes a long time to cure. We solve this problem by boiling the oil, hence the addition of the moniker “boiled” to linseed oil.

Learn more about Tung vs Danish vs Teak Oils here.

On applying the oil to the wood, it seeps into the wood rather than just sitting on the surface. Oil, when applied to wood, gives it a kind of translucency. The two types of oil that we use are drying oil and non-drying oil. The drying oil becomes solid, but the non-drying oil, typically vegetable oil, remains in its liquid state. We usually use non-drying oils for creating a wood finish.


Varnish. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Varnish is an all-time favorite for using to give a finish to the wood. It exhibits toughness and durability. You can get different types of sheens from varnish from transparent to satin or glossy. The varnish is oil-based but contains synthetic resins like urethane, alkyd, and phenolic compounds.

The unique feature of varnish is that you can apply multiple coats to it. We call this process, “film building.” It contributes significantly in offering protection to the wood surface. You need to have a considerable level of skill to apply varnish well as it takes practice to get a smooth finish. We usually use varnish on unpainted wood. There is a drying period. Once dried, the varnish forms a hard, transparent film on the surface of the wood. If applied skillfully, few wood finishes can match the classiness of wood varnish.

Oil-Varnish Blends

Oil-Varnish Blends
Oil-Varnish Blends. Image Credit: Dunk

Another popular option for wood finishes comes in the form of oil-varnish blends. These finishes are easy to apply and have added resins for extra durability. These blends contain different dyes and pigments to create a variety of textures and colors.

However, the drawback here is that you will never be sure of the origin of all the ingredients of these blends. It would help if you used these finishes with caution. You may be able to achieve the desired results in some cases but may fail elsewhere. The best approach is to apply a small test quantity and carefully observe the effect before using it for coating the entire surface.


Howard Products FW0128 Wood Polish & Conditioner, 128 oz
Howard Products Wax Polish. See on Amazon.

We usually consider wax as a temporary finish. We use wax to add a coating on the surface, on top of an existing finish. Hence, if you have a varnished wooden floor, you may apply wax to it, after the varnish has dried and cured. Thus, the wax provides additional protection to the already-finished floor surface.

Wax often helps to mask imperfections and scratches in old wood. You get wax in liquid, solid, and paste forms. They come from mineral, vegetable, or animal sources. You can even get wax in a variety of different colors. Although wax can enhance the appearance of wood, it serves limited applications. However, it is useful to have a bit of wax handy while finishing woodworking projects.

Wood Preserver

Rust-Oleum Corporation Zinsser 00903 Clear Wood Preservative, 1-Gallon
Woodlife Wood Preserver. See on Amazon.

Although this doesn’t add to the appearance of the wood, it serves to protect it. You get wood preservers in different colors and finishes as well. We use wood preservers to preserve wood against pests like termites and woodworm. Then you can also get different types of wood preservers for indoor and outdoor applications. Going too much into details about the different types of wood preservers and their uses is a bit out of scope in this article; hence you can find out more about wood preservers by clicking this link.


What finish are you going to use for your project? By applying a finish to the wood at the end of the job, you will not only protect the wood. You will also impart a look to it that is pleasing to the eye. Wood, with an unfinished surface, gives the impression of something that hasn’t been adequately completed.

We hope that the information in this article will help you to decide on a suitable woodworking finish. Now, you should be aware of the various options that are available to you. With the right type of finish to the wood that you work on, you can prove your worth as a competent woodworker.


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