Choosing a Finish

by Alan Noel
Professional Wood Finisher


After building a project or deciding to refinish an existing one, you need to choose what kind of finish to apply. Brush-on varnish or brush-on lacquer? Wipe-on oil finish, shellac or water based? Before deciding, there are a number of factors you need to consider. Here are some tips that will help you choose:


For new work:

1. What is the intended use? A good rule of thumb would be to choose one that is very durable, such as brush or wipe-on varnish, for a piece that will get heavy use such as a kitchen table. Wipe-on varnish for a candle stand or chair, shellac for a chest of drawers.

2. Appearance. Is this important? If it is, then a nicely rubbed varnish, shellac or lacquer finish will impart a very attractive appearance on most any highly-figured wood. Penetrating oil finishes tend to become dull and lifeless within a short period of time.

3. Ease of application. This really depends on your experience and which methods of application you are familiar with: brush on, wipe on or spray application.


For restoration work:

What is the original finish? Always test, in an inconspicuous area, an existing finish to determine what it is. Start with alcohol. This will soften shellac but not lacquer. Lacquer thinner will soften both lacquer and shellac while neither lacquer thinner nor alcohol will affect a varnish finish. This will help in guiding you in the right direction if your goal is to restore the original finish.


For refinishing work:

When it comes to refinishing, this means the entire finish is going to be removed and a new finish is going to be applied. Here again, intended use, appearance and application all come into play.



Visiting Atlanta? Attend one of Alan's upcoming highly informative Highland Woodworking wood finishing seminars:


Gilding and Gold Leafing, November 4, 2009

Antique Mall Treasure Hunt, November 14, 2009

Spray Finishing, November 21, 2009

French Polishing Workshop, December 9, 2009

Antique Restoration Workshop, January 23-24, 2009




Alan can be reached directly via email c/o Alan Noel Furniture Refinishing at anoelfurniturere@bellsouth.net.


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