Best Finishes for your Woodworking Project!


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Best Finish for your Woodworking Project!


best_finishes_pinterest_pinWith all the different finishes to choose from, deciding which finish is right for your woodworking project can be a daunting task . As a beginner, you don’t need to know every single type of finish available. Simply knowing a little bit of information on a few of the most common finishes will help protect your wood projects from drying out, chipping, cracking, and suffering from sun damage. Best of all, it will give your projects that sleek finished look.

Don’t think that you can get away with leaving your wood unfinished. Trust me, it will not only make your project look incomplete, it will shorten the life of your piece.

Choosing a wood finish

A lot of beginners make the mistake of choosing a finish based solely on the appearance of the finish. While appearance should play a big role in this decision, you should consider an array of other factors as well. Therefore, I decided to compile a list of the top things to consider when deciding which finish is right for you.


Protecting your project is probably the single most important factor to consider when choosing a wood finish. Ask yourself how much wear and tear your project is going to suffer. Does your project need to be water resistant? Will it be susceptible to dings and scratches? Will it endure the outdoors and face potential sun damage? 


There are numerous ways to apply a finish coat to your woodworking projects. The most common ways include a sprayer, sponge, paintbrush, and cloth. Some finishes work better if they’re sprayed on while others should only be wiped on. For a beginner, I would recommend applying a finish that you can easily wipe on with a cloth. Not only is this the easiest way to apply a finish, you won’t have to go out and purchase any extra tools such as a brush or sprayer.


As mentioned before, people typically prioritize the appearance of their finish more than anything. Some prefer to maintain the natural characteristics of their wood while others may paint their projects. While this is a matter of preference, you shouldn’t forget to consider the level of protection that your finish will provide. For instance, you might prefer to keep your wood as natural looking as possible with a light clear coat, but this may put your project at risk of suffering damage. On the other hand, paint may look less natural and give your projects a store-bought look, but will protect your project far better than a clear coat.


This one isn’t quite as important, but still something to keep in mind. If you’re impatient like me, having to spend days or even weeks reapplying coats is something I want to avoid at all costs. I tend to go for finishes that dry fairly quickly and don’t require too many coats. Some finishes can be completed in less than an hour while others can take weeks depending on the size of your project.

The Best Wood Finishes

Now that you know the most important aspects to consider when choosing a wood finish, lets dive deeper into some of the 5 most common finishes used in the woodworking community. We hope you’re able to find the finish that best suites your projects needs!


Source: Valspar Paint

While paint is an excellent finish, it is typically unfavorable in the woodworking community. It’s very dense, so it provides a smooth, solid-colored look to your wood. While this may be appealing for certain people, most woodworkers prefer to maintain the unique patterns in the wood and keep that natural wood-look. This especially applies for woods such as hardwood, which is very rare to paint because of its beautiful grain patterns that can be very costly, especially in exotic woods.

Although paint is uncommonly used in woodworking, it has some major benefits that make it one of the best finishes available. It’s extremely durable and provides long lasting protection. If you’re planning on tackling a woodworking project that you want to last hundreds of years, paint will do the job. Paint also has the benefit of easy touch ups. So, if your paint chips or cracks over time, you can come back and apply another coat with no harm done. There’s a reason houses are painted; it can handle extreme weather and it’s the strongest finish out there.

TedsWoodworking Plans and Projects

Layered Finishes

Similar to paint, a layered finish sits on top of the wood and can be applied with a paint brush. However, because it’s a clear coat, it’s not quite as protective as paint. Layered finishes are great for woodworking projects that may be prone to heavy use or water exposure. Layered finishes are slightly more difficult to apply compared to paint or oil-based finishes. However, they provide more protection than oil-based finishes and maintain that wood grain pattern that you lose when you paint your woodworking projects. So, if you’re looking for something with a good amount of protection and you still want to maintain the wood-look on your projects, layered finishes are an excellent option.


The two most common types of layered finishes include Polyurethane and Lacquer. Polyurethane is the most popular finish in the woodworking community. It provides excellent protection and doesn’t give off the artificial look that some layered finishes can give. The biggest drawback is how time consuming the application can be. Depending on the size of your project, it can take up to a week to complete. There are two different types of Polyurethane finishes. These include water-based polyurethane and oil-based polyurethane.

Water-based polyurethane is typically what I use because it’s a little easier to use. It dries a little faster and cleanup is a lot smoother. However, a lot of people prefer oil-based polyurethane because it gives a sleeker look and doesn’t require as many coats. The image below shows the differences between the two.

oil based polyurethane vs water based polyurethane

Oil-Based Polyurethane

Oil Based Polyurethane

Water-Based Polyurethane

water based polyurethane


Lacquer is another great option if you’re interested in a layered finish. It dries very fast and is surprisingly durable for a clear coat finish. The biggest difference between Lacquer and Polyurethane is how glossy Lacquer is. While some people prefer the glossy look of Lacquer, others prefer a more natural-flat look. For these people, Polyurethane might be the better choice. 

Typically, Lacquer is applied using a sprayer. While this makes application a lot easier, it can lead to dripping or runs. You still have the option to apply Lacquer with a brush just as you would with Polyurethane. Remember, if you’re using a brush, start application at the top and work your way down to smooth out any drips or runs along the way.


Oil Finishes

oil finish
Image Source: Danish-Oil

Rather than sitting on top of the wood, oil finishes absorb into the wood. Some of the most common types of oil finishes you should consider include Tung oil and Linseed oil. While oil finishes aren’t quite as protective as layered finishes, they are very commonly used because they look more natural. Unlike paint, oil finishes don’t take away from the grain pattern in your wood. Rather, oil finishes tend to accentuate your grain pattern, making your wood really pop. Oil finishes are the easiest finish to apply to your woodworking projects. Simply dip a rag in your finish and wipe it across the surface of your wood.

Linseed oil vs Tung oil

The most popular types of oil-based finishes are Tung oil and Linseed oil. Both are very similar but have a few key differences. For instance, Linseed oil dries quickly and doesn’t require a lot of coats. Tung oil requires many coats, sometimes taking days to finish. However, Tung oil is slightly more protective and it’s water-resistant. Therefore, if you’re dealing with a project that may get wet such as a table or an outdoor project, Tung seed oil would give you better protection. Linseed oil would be more effective on decorative pieces. Both are very easy to use and a great finish for a beginner in woodworking.

linseed oil vs tung oil

Tung Oil

Tung oil

Linseed Oil

linseed oil

Finishes are a necessity for all woodworking projects. It will help protect your wood and ensure it lasts for hundreds of years. Choosing a finish doesn’t have to be difficult. Base your decision on what type of look you’re trying to achieve and what type of project you’re making. If you’re building something that will be outdoors or susceptible to damage, use a finish such as polyurethane or paint. If you’re a beginner or you’re making something decorative, use a finish such as Linseed oil or Tung oil.

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