All About the Different Types of Wood Finishes

Natural wood finishes enhance rather than cover the grain of the wood. Learn more about the different finishes to help you choose the right one for your home.

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Green Wood Finishes

Natural oils and waxes are the most eco-friendly of wood finishes, although synthetic alternatives do exist. Beeswax and linseed oil are well known green finishes, but look out for safflower oil and carnauba wax as well. Water-based varnishes and stains also have good green credentials. Look at the manufacturer's label, check for any VOC content and determine exactly what ingredients have been used. For the application of eco-friendly products, follow the guide below.

Wood Finishes

Natural wood finishes, especially those that soak into the grain, are often difficult to remove, so take time to think about your requirements and choose the right product. Protection offered by natural finishes varies. Dye, for example, may offer no protection by itself. Always buy a suitable interior or exterior formula. Consider if you want an almost invisible coat or would prefer some color or gloss. Also, think about how much time you are prepared to spend on application—there may be one-coat options available. Finally, look out for eco-friendly options, such as water-based varnishes and stains or products made from 100-percent natural ingredients.

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Photo By: DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement ©2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement, 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Varnish

Hardwearing, transparent or colored, decorative and preservative finish that highlights and protects the wood surface below. Matte and high-gloss versions are available. You can buy water-based and oil-based types.

For interior or exterior use as specified. Can be used on bare wood or to protect unsealed finishes, such as dye. Covers 600 to 900 square feet per gallon. May need several coats. Apply with a brush for the best finish.

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Photo By: DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement ©2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement, 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Stain

Soaks into the wood to provide a decorative and sometimes preservative finish. Darkens or colors wood. Matte to gloss, water-based and oil-based types are available.

For interior or exterior use as specified. Use as a finish or coat with varnish for extra durability. Apply to clean, bare wood for a true color. Covers 400 to 1,000 square feet per gallon. May need several coats. Apply with a brush for the best finish.

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Photo By: DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement ©2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement, 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Dye

Subtly enhances natural color or evens out shades on different pieces of wood. Dyes can be mixed to match an existing color. Gives a matte finish. Water-based and oil-based types are available.

Only for interior use unless specified, or protected with exterior varnish. Apply as a finish or beneath varnish or wax. Covers 400 to 750 square feet per gallon. May need several coats. Apply with a brush for the best finish.

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Photo By: DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement ©2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement, 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Wax

Transparent or translucent decorative finish; some types can be buffed to a high gloss. Feeds and protects the wood but will not penetrate a sealed surface. Both water-based and oil-based types are available.

For interior use only. Apply to bare wood or over unsealed finishes such as dye. Apply with a cloth. Brush-on waxes are also available. Needs several coats and regular maintenance.

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Photo By: DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement ©2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement, 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Oil

Transparent finish that nourishes and protects wood. External surfaces lose their finish but stay protected. Buff to achieve mid-sheen finish. Will not penetrate a sealed surface.

For interior or exterior use. Must be applied to unsealed wood. Covers 400 to 750 square feet per gallon. Apply with a brush or cloth yearly. Highly flammable.

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Photo By: DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement ©2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement, 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Wood Preserver

Prevents rot and insect damage. Available clear or colored with a matte or a semigloss finish. Both water-based and oil-based types are available.

Exterior use. Used alone, or as base coat for another natural wood finish or paint. Covers 400–1,000 square feet per gallon. Apply in sections as for stain or as specified.

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Photo By: DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement ©2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement, 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

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