Furniture Finishes

Furniture finishes are protective coatings applied to wooden furniture to protect and beautify the wood. The finishes render the wood less susceptible to stains and spills, as well as scratches, and makes the furniture, in most people’s eyes, more attractive by adding sheen and glow.

A finish is usually a series of applications of one or more materials that either coat the wood or seep into it, and are either clear to translucent or opaque. Finishes vary in how work intensive they are to apply, how well they protect the wood, and how easy they are to maintain and change, if desired. Some finishes are anhydrous and will absorb water, while others will repel it. Some finishes set and others change chemically as they dry. The following include some of the most common furniture finishes.

Penetrating Furniture Finishes

Some finishes, called film finishes, stay on top of the wood, while others penetrate it. Penetrating finishes are various kinds of oils, which are inexpensive and easy to use. They include:

    • Danish oil
    • Mineral oil
    • Linseed oil
    • Teak oil
    • Tung oil

Application of these oils results in a soft finish and gentle luster, but not as much protection for the furniture as one finds with film finishes.

Clear Film Furniture Finishes

construction worker There are several different clear finishes, despite the fact that some of them are sold in different sheens, such as high gloss, gloss, semi-gloss, and satin.

Lacquer: A clear finish, lacquer is a quick-drying finish that is the most often used of the clear finishes. Two of the most common drawbacks are that it is easy to scratch, and may yellow with age.

Polyurethane: A more durable clear finish than lacquer or varnish, polyurethane finish is difficult to repair, if damaged. It may be either water- or solvent-based. This is a popular finish among do-it-yourselfers.

Shellac: Used most often in combination with lacquer or varnish, shellac is a resin derived from the secretions of an insect native to Thailand and India. Shellac comes in tints, like amber and is very easy to damage.

Varnish: More durable than lacquer, varnish is made from a combination of oils and resins. It takes a long time to dry, and over time it may yellow.

Opaque Film Furniture Finishes

For wood that does not have an attractive grain or requires a very durable finish, paint may be a good answer.

Lacquer: Although lacquer is listed as a clear finish above, some lacquers are opaque.

Paint: Latex, oil-based and alkyd paints are all used to adorn furniture. Latex paints are easy to use, but they can’t handle rough treatment. Oil paint is more durable, but more difficult to use. Alkyd resin is used in a soy-based paint manufactured for sustainability. All kinds of paint can cover defects, such as stains or water damage, or an unattractive grain.

Written by Mary Elizabeth