Types of Wood Finishes: A Complete Guide For 8 Wood Finishes

Painting the wood takes away its all appearance by hiding the original material. But what else can you do to protect the wood? The answer is wood finishing, protecting the surface from moisture and enhances its looks by making it richer in color.

Without finish, the wood could dry out on exposure to heat and moisture and deteriorate. Similarly, the wood may swell and become hard to handle. Moreover, the wood finish provides an aesthetic angle by uplifting the wood’s richness and colors. Today we will elaborate on different types of wood finishes and their importance.

Why Is Wood Finish Crucial?

Making furniture has two phases – Building and Finishing. While the Building stage involves cutting down woods and shaping them into furniture, finishing is more like a defensive task. It begins by applying a liquid to the wooden surface and waiting for it to dry into a protective layer. The coating also adds to the appearance of the wood, making it denser and richer.

Generally, wood finishing is essential for the following three reasons.

1. Moisture Protection

Defense against moisture is the biggest reason for wood finish. Moisture is detrimental to wood, as it’s no longer regulated as a part of an alive tree. Hence, moisture eventually degrades and deteriorates the wood. You can apply different types of wood finishes in various ways to make them water-resistant. Varnish to fight off liquid, fill the pores, shear, or blast. The kind of polish to protect from moisture depends upon the wood and its surroundings.

2. Removing Wood Spots

Wood blemishes on furniture lower its aesthetic value. These spots appear in the manufacturing process and are unavoidable until you discover them. A wood finish works excellently to eliminate marks.

You can either shear or stain the wooden surface to remove the spots through the wood polish. If you want a simple application, consider applying the finish at home. However, for special and delicate textures, seek the help of professional wood finishers.

3. Leveling The Surface

It is necessary for furniture that needs frequent touches of human hands. Wooden furniture with an uneven surface is hard to touch due to the rough exterior and protruding splinters. Wood finish makes such furniture easier to handle and provides it a decent appearance, as well.

Smooth-surfaced furniture is more expensive due to the user-friendliness and texture they offer. Therefore, fixtures boasting different types of wood finishes are more desirable.

8 Types Of Wood Finishes

Now that we know why wood polishes are essential, it’s time to enlighten you about different types of wood finishes. Choosing a wood finish can be confusing, as you’d need various coatings depending on the wood kind. Here are the eight most common wood finishes.

1. Wood Dye

Wood Dye

The first in our types of wood finishes list is the wood dye coatings that come in both oil- and water-based solutions. Generally, a wood dye has two parts – a solvent and a colorant. Therefore, you can add different colors to the solvent to arrive at different hued wood finishes.

Consider these wood finishing tips – use a brush, sponge, or spray gun when applying. As the size of dye molecules is extremely small, it allows the light to pass through. For this reason, dyes are transparent and cause a change in wood’s color barring the appearance of grains.

2. Wood Stain

Wood Stain

Among the types of wood finishes, wood stain requires the mixing of large insoluble particles with solvents like oil or water. It’s most useful in mismatching color situations because it brings a consistent shade to the wood. Furthermore, it enhances the shade, making it deeper and richer.

Wood stains are available in a variety of finishes and colors. However, you should use wood stain finish in small quantities and infrequently.

3. Varnish


Varnish is an oil-based finishing for wood that brings a look of durability and toughness to the wood surface. There are plenty of gleams to choose from, such as satin, glossy, and transparent. A unique characteristic of varnish is the application of multiple coats, offering superior protection.

However, you need good skills and must follow wood finishing techniques to cover wood with varnish. Consider applying varnish on unpainted wood and let it dry. The wood finish would then form a hard and transparent layer on the surface.

4. Oil Finishes

Oil Finishes - types of wood finishes

Types of wood finishes also include oil polish that comes in many kinds. The most commonly used oil finishes include Tung Oil and Boiled Linseed Oil (BLO). The primary characteristic of an oil lacquer is that the wood absorbs it rather than just sitting on the surface. When applied, it offers a translucent look. The oil used for finishing can either be drying or non-drying oil. Drying oil transforms into a solid state, while non-drying oil maintains its liquid form.

5. Wax

Wax - types of wood finishes

Among the different types of wood finishes are wax coatings. It’s more of a temporary finish, and we use it to complement other wood finishes. Apply wax on the wooden surface, when the existing finishing has dried out, to benefit from additional protection.

If you have old wood with scratches or marks that need hiding, a wax coating is a great solution. Moreover, it comes in different colors and forms, such as liquid, solid, and paste.

6. French polish

French polish - types of wood finishes

If you love glossiness on furniture, French polish offers impressive finishes for wood. It involves the application of shellac to the wood, enhancing the appearance of the wood’s grain. The process to coat French polish can be rigorous, as it requires a cloth dabber to spread the shellac properly.

Shellac is a substance produced by the lac bug and fits nearly every wood type. However, when used in French polish for a glossy look, it best suits woods with closed grains such as cedar, maple, and spruce.

Talking about the kinds of wood – are you wondering what wood flooring would go well with your house? Here are some creative wood flooring trends to stay on top.

7. Lacquers

Lacquers types of wood finishes

Another option in different wood finishes is lacquer – a solvent-based finish providing a thin covering. When applied, lacquer gives a glossy look to the surface. It’s also an excellent choice for protection and durability. Lacquer finish requires a spray gun and involves certain toxins that release into the air once applied to the wooden surface. Remember to cover your nose before spraying it to avoid inhaling the toxins, or consider using a brush to coat the wood.

8. Water-Based Finish

Water-Based Finish - types of wood finishes

Among the different finishes for wood is water-based polyurethane. It uses water instead of other solvents to carry the polyurethane solids. The water-based finish forms a thick protective cover on the surface.

However, water-based finishes require more application than oil-based coatings. As the water dries more quickly, spreading multiple finish coats is not an issue. The solution appears milky white, but the finish is transparent when it dries, as the water-based polyurethane rarely leaves color behind.

Moreover, water-based finishes do not have any unpleasant smell and only require warm water and soap to clean up. Therefore, they are a wonderful choice to avoid dealing with odorous and messy solvents and have an easy-to-apply process compared to some other types of wood finishes.


Like any other item in your house, wooden furniture needs care and protection. While using paint to protect the wood is a suitable option for some, it hides the wood’s beauty. That’s why various types of wood finishings are the go-to option, as they offer a protective film for the fixture, and help wood appear deeper and richer. You can use many types of wood finishes, each bringing a different look and intensity of protection to the surface. Some of these coatings are easy to apply, but a few are tough and may require professional help.

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