Types of wood finish

5 Popular Types of wood finishes

So basically, we have two types: one creates a layer, second does not create a layer rather gets into the wood grains.

But there are too many finishes on the market to make you lost.

Different types of wood finishes offer different benefits to the owner.

When deciding what type of finish you want, it’s important to consider how the finish will be used and where it will be installed. 

For example, if your furniture is going in a high-traffic area with kids who are always spilling stuff on them.

Then you would probably want a durable protective coating like polyurethane or lacquer instead of an oil or water-based finish that can easily scrape off when touched.

It’s important to have a basic understanding of the finishes you’re going to apply.

Not only does it add a final coat of the desired color, but it is also one of the biggest factors that can increase durability.

Type of wood finishes

1. Varnish

Varnish is a type of finish that creates an extremely durable and water-resistant layer on top of your wood. 

Unlike other types of finishes, it doesn’t penetrate the surface as deeply, which means you can use it on any type or color (unlike stain).

Varnish is best used on projects where the wood will be exposed to high levels of wear and tear. 

It acts as a protective coat against scuffs, scratches, stains, water damage, and more making it great for cabinets or furniture which are frequently touched with hands. 

Applying varnish also helps create a finish that produces less friction when surfaces rub against one another.


  • it’s a long-lasting finish. 
  • It protects against damage from water, oil, alcohol, etc. 
  • Helps maintain the natural beauty of your wood flooring for years to come!
  • It makes cleaning up spills quick and easy because it doesn’t stain or absorb liquids. Just wipe with a dry cloth to remove any debris that may have built up over the years.
  • Lasts longer than other finishes (ex. paint)
  • Can be redone multiple times without losing effectiveness


  • Varnish finishes are not very durable; they can chip or peel off easily.
  • Because varnish finishes dry quickly and form a thick coat, some areas of the wood may have thicker coats than others.
  • Varnish finishes are not highly resistant to scratches and water. When sharp objects are in contact with wood finish surfaces, they can easily damage or mar them. The wear and tear caused by outdoor furniture and flooring like kitchens and bathrooms make varnish a poor choice.

Drying time

On average, natural varnish takes 24 hours to dry, while water-based varnish and polyurethane usually take less time. Dampness or wet and cold weather slows drying, so it’s recommended that you wait a bit longer than 24 hours to let the applied coat be fully cured, before applying the second coat. 

2. Oil Finish

Oil finishes are easy to apply, provide great protection for wood surfaces, and have a natural sheen that makes the grain pop.

They’re perfect for restoring old wood pieces or for staining new ones.  

The oil finish is made of many different components among which there are linseed oil, tung oil, soya bean oil, and polyurethane.

It can darken the wood’s color, which makes it excellent for use on oak pieces. 

Oil finishes can provide a protective barrier that slows down water penetration into the wood.  

In other words, if you’re looking to have a surface that isn’t susceptible to water damage, an oil finish is the way to go.


You can choose between a natural or colored finish depending on the project’s needs.

They are water-resistant with good stain resistance, so they guard against coffee spills, red wine stains, and heat.

Oil finishes are safe to use in the home and do not emit harmful fumes.


The only downside with using Oil finishes is that it penetrates the wood surface and leaves no protective finish on the top of the wood. So the surface is more prone to get scratches when it comes into contact with nearby surfaces. 

Drying time

Oil finishes can take days to be cured. Due to the fact that oil penetrates the wood grain. Normally, 3-5 days are considered good as long as the dumbness is not the factor of concern. 

3. Lacquer

A lacquer finish is very popular for furniture and other wooden projects, and an exceptionally easy-to-apply coating that creates a hard, smooth film with no brush or roller marks. 

This finish typically comes in an aerosol spray and is available in both matte and gloss finishes

It is a popular protective coating for furniture and other wooden projects.

Lacquer is made from nitrocellulose, a derivative of cotton or wood pulp that, when combined with plasticizers and solvents, forms cellulose acetate. 

This liquid mixture is sprayed on the wood surface under high pressure to produce a smooth, durable top coat that’s resistant to stains.

Lacquer can also be used to give a glossy sheen to the surface of painted wood or other surfaces such as metal. 

It is generally applied in three coats, although some brands may require more for optimal results.


  • It provides a high gloss finish
  • It is water, alcohol, and acid-proof
  • It provides good protection against scratches and marks
  • It has a beautiful finish
  • When dry it can be easily polished with polishing wax to restore the sheen of the project


  • No protection against scratches on the top layer of the piece.
  • Have to seal your entire piece if you are working with different primers or stains, it’s not possible to put lacquer over any other type of stain or primer.
  • You have to buy a special type of brush for the finish, most often they are called “one stroke” brushes. 
  • The surface is extremely smooth and shiny, there is no grain showing at all.
  • It has to dry under a fan or heat gun otherwise you will get ugly bubbles on your piece,

Drying time

The length of time required for lacquer paint to cure depends on the grade. 

A faster drying formula, known as hard lacquers or fast-drying lacquers, can be achieved by using a thicker coat that has more solids in it. These take only 10 to 30 minutes to dry under normal conditions. 

However, you must wait at least 24 hours before applying another coat over fast-drying lacquer. 

The longer curing time of regular, or soft, lacquers makes them a better choice where you might need to apply multiple coats in one day.

4. Wood Dye

Dye is a pigment dissolved in a solvent, like mineral spirit, alcohol, or water. Their workarounds are as similar as dying clothes. 

In simple terms, you can give any color of your choice to your wooden set of furniture by mixing the dying with the color particles. 

This type of wood finish does not fully penetrate a wooden surface. To some extent, they do actually. 

The basic idea of dying wood is to give a color to a wood surface that is not thick as paint and does not create a hard-thick layer.


  • It’s easier to apply.
  • It changes the color, any color you wish.
  • It keeps the wood grains from appearing on the surface.


  • Not very protective.
  • Water can easily damage the surface, unlike oil stain finishes they are poor to resist water. 
  • After dying wood, you will need to protect it by applying any protective finish.

Drying time.

These are faster-drying finishes, requiring only 1-2 hours to completely get cured and to be used.

5. Wax

A coat of wax can be a wood finish for anyone looking for a short-term solution and that’s also in a hurry and the easiest way.

Use a rag, put some wax onto the surface and apply it to the wooden project that needed to be protected. This type of finish can also add a beautiful, glossy coat. 

There are three types of waxes: liquid, solid and stick. Different types of wax are used for finishing wood such as vegetable, animal, and mineral waxes, and they are specially treated to make them as odorless as possible. 

Although a coat of wax cannot do any wonders as a wood finish, it can provide a little protection against scratches and wear as it creates a thick layer on the surface and doesn’t penetrate into the wood grains.


  • Easy to be applied.
  • Cheap.
  • Adds a thick layer, which can protect from scratches.


  • Not suitable for long-term wood projects.
  • Can get dust over time.
  • Don’t give a so-called nice-looking surface.
  • After it dries, the wax becomes dull rather than shiny.

Drying time

Generally, waxes on wood dry within minutes, 5 to 10 minutes are enough, though you might have to wait for up to 30 minutes for it to dry completely. 

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