wood stain

Essential Wood Finishing Techniques for Beginners

Whether you’re restoring an antique, building a new piece of furniture or working on some other project, you will want to bring it to life with a finish. This will protect the wood and add a beautiful sheen.

Learn the basics of different types of finishes and how to apply them. Get tips and tricks for getting glass-smooth results reliably every time.


Woodworkers who make and restore furniture, cabinets and other fine wood projects can feel great satisfaction. But those who have never done a finishing job might not know what a huge challenge it can be. For years, some struggled with the finishing process. They eventually realized that much of the information available needed to be more consistent or at least misleading. They also learned how to separate the good from the bad and apply a finish to satisfy themselves and their customers.

Sanding is one of the most critical steps in the finishing process. A good sanding will prepare a piece of wood to accept paint or other finishes. It will also remove any dirt or debris that might be embedded in the surface of the wood. When sanding, be sure to follow the grain. Moving against the grain will draw attention to scratches that can be difficult to hide. If you use a hand sander, use a sanding block to help even out the pressure you are applying to the piece of wood. If you use a random orbit or belt sander, check the paper periodically for clogging and change it if necessary.

A stain is a wood finish that mimics or enhances a wood color. Stains are generally easier to use than paints and are available in various colors. They also help protect the wood from changes in humidity, which can cause it to shrink or swell.


Staining wood is a great way to enhance its appearance. It adds color and highlights features like figure patterns, grain and depth. It can also hide defects. Stains are available in a variety of colors and formulations. The most common is a pigment stain, with tiny particles that help color the wood. Other types of paints include dye stains and oil-based stains. You can find these in many hardware stores. Several wood preservatives combine stain with protection for a one-step application. These include tung and boiled linseed oil, as well as varnish.

One of the wood finishing tips is wiping the wood down with a degreasing soap or TSP to remove dirt and grime before applying any finish. This helps the finish to stick and prevents dust from settling into the finished product. You should also sand the surface with medium or 220-grit sandpaper before finishing to raise the grain and make it smoother.

You can use a brush, cloth or spray equipment to apply the finishing coat. Most stains and finishes contain solvents that evaporate as they dry, which can produce toxic fumes. You should wear a mask and safety glasses to avoid inhaling these chemicals. Working in an open area with plenty of ventilation is a good idea. Covering the floor with drop cloths is a good idea to avoid dust and debris if you work in a garage or shed.


One of the best wood finishing techniques for beginners is wiping. Wiping is applying and removing protective coatings to wood using a cloth or brush. This method is typically less complex than staining or other coloring steps. It also offers protection from moisture or humidity, making it a great choice for woodworking projects that may need to be used in damp areas or exposed to regular use.

Several wipe-on wood finishes include boiled linseed oil, 100% tung oil, shellac and polyurethane. Each type of finish has its own unique benefits and application methods. Some offer better moisture resistance than others, so reading the product label and following the directions is important.

Before you start wiping, ensure your work area is clean and dry. You want to avoid dust particles getting stuck in your new finish as it dries, so vacuum and wipe down surfaces before starting. Also, turn off any fans that might blow the dust around.

Before wiping:

  1. Sand the surface smooth with 120 or 220-grit sandpaper.
  2. Sand in the direction of the grain to avoid visible scratches.
  3. Use mineral spirits to clean off any polish buildup or dirt accumulated on the surface of your woodwork project.


Whether applied by brush, cloth or spray equipment, wood protective finishes provide a durable coating over the wood. They protect the wood from scratches, liquids and stains. They also offer a decorative enhancement. The final look of the finished product depends on the color of the stain or pigment and the type of finish applied.

Most wood finishing processes involve three coats of a clear finish and an additional color step. The process allows the wood to regain its natural beauty while offering a durable surface.

There are two types of finishes: surface and penetrating. Surface finishes dry on top of the character, including varnish, shellac, lacquer or paint. They offer a good amount of protection but may not be as durable as penetrating finishes.

Penetrating finishes soak into the pores and harden there. They can be as easy to apply as oil or wax. Linseed and tung oils, obtained from the seed or nut of a tree, are a popular choice for this type of wood finish. However, they take longer to cure and may worsen the overall project. Another option is Danish oil, which offers moderate durability. It is a cocktail of linseed, tung, varnish, and thinner and dries quickly. It is a good choice for beginners because it offers an easy application and short curing period.

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