Finish & Finishing Woodworking Tips


Here you will find a list of 29 very helpful tips for finishing techniques. Using finish can be tricky at times when it comes to woodworking and wood projects.

Finish - A liquid chemical applied to wood for the purpose of enhancing its beauty or for providing a protective coating.
  1. A shallow dent in wood can be raised by placing a drop of water in the dent.  Next, place a piece of wet cloth over the dent and apply heat with an iron.

  2. Only finish lumber that is dry and cured properly.  Wet or uncured lumber will react with the finish and cause undesirable results.

  3. Penetrating oil stains work well on most hardwoods, and will tend to enhance the grain pattern.

  4. It is recommended to use a water based finish over an oil based stain.

  5. When trying to match colors, use a scrap piece of wood and gradually add stain until the match is achieved.  Note: Be sure that scrap wood is the same species as the lumber used for the project.

  6. When staining pine, it is recommended to use a conditioner prior to staining.  The conditioner will allow the stain to penetrate more uniformly and prevent a blotchy appearance.

  7. Always apply a test finish on a scrap piece of wood that has been stained to determine the compatibility of the stain and finish.

  8. For furniture receiving a lot of use, apply a shellac sealer with a varnish finish.  This will seal the wood give a tough finish coat.

  9. A clear paste furniture wax is an easy finish and gives a natural look on projects made from beautiful wood species that will not be handled often or receive any abrasive wear.  

  10. Do not use any polyurethane products over shellac due to the possibility of adhesion problems.

  11. Always test stain on a scrap piece of wood before applying it on the project.  Allow the stain to dry to determine if the color is right.

  12. Lacquer finish should not be used over any other finish.  It will cause adhesion problems such as cracking and flaking.

  13. Varnish can be applied over most other types of finishes.

  14. For best results when using paint, first apply a primer coat to cover knots, resin, stains, and other imperfections in the wood.

  15. When applying finishes outdoors, choose a windless day to prevent waste, and reduce dust as well as debris.

  16. Tung and linseed oils can be used on themselves, but should not be used over any other finishes.

  17. End grain will tend to absorb more stain than the top or side surfaces, so a shellac wash should be applied to the end grain prior to staining.  This will minimize absorption and will assure a more consistent appearance.

  18. Softer wood species will tend to absorb stain unevenly and cause blotching.  A shellac wash coat applied to the wood first will help eliminate this undesirable appearance.

  19. Use spar urethane for outdoor projects as opposed to polyurethane, it will provide superior protection against the elements, such as moisture and sunshine.

  20. Oil stains will not significantly raise the wood surface, and will eliminate the need for additional sanding.

  21. Never apply a stain over a previously finished surface.  Prior to staining, strip off the old finish and then sand to the bare wood.

  22. If a more smooth looking appearance is desired on wood with large open pores, first apply  wood filler.  This can be accomplished by brushing on the wood filler and then using a coarse cloth or a gunny sack to rub the filler diagonally into the pores.

  23. When rubbing filler into the pores of open grained wood, be sure to match the filler with the color of the wood.  

  24. Always apply the finish on a scrap piece of wood that the project is going to be made from to ensure desirability. 

  25. Oil based finishes should be applied with a natural bristle brush, and water based finishes should be applied with a synthetic brush.

  26. To get a smooth glassy finish after using wood filler, let the filler dry for 24 hours and then apply a wood sealer to fill in any remaining pores.  This will provide a good base for the final finish.

  27. One way to get a glossy finish is to first clean the wood with a tack rag, and then apply the first finish coat.  After it has dried, lightly hand sand the finish with a 220 grit or 320 grit sandpaper, and then again clean the sanding dust with a tack rag.  This process can be repeated until the desired appearance is achieved.

  28. Be sure to clean brushes thoroughly after use.  Use mineral spirits for oil based products, acetone for lacquer based, alcohol for shellac, and warm water with liquid dish soap for water based products.  Wipe off the excess solvent with a paper towel, and straighten the bristles with your fingers and allow the brush to dry.

  29. To help preserve the beautiful and vibrant colors of some exotic wood species, such as purpleheart, rosewood, padauk and cocobolo, use a finish with UV absorbers.  This will help for a while, but over time, the UV absorbers will dissipate and the wood will begin to darken.  This darkening process can also be prolonged by refinishing the wood periodically with UV absorber coats.