Question: I made a jewelry box out of cherry and finished it with a furniture wax because I wanted the wood to look natural. I don't like how the wax dulled, however. What would you recommend I use to enhance the grain while still retaining a natural look?
What is a good finish to use on oily woods like bocote and cocobolo?
What product can I use on a mesquite wood dining table that will be durable but still look natural?
Answer: If you're new to woodworking or finishing, the most foolproof finishes are wiping oils. Except for the pure oils like raw linseed oil and raw tung oil, most oil-based wiping finishes are little more than thinned varnish. Shake a can of polyurethane (also a varnish) and shake a can of wipe-on poly. You can hear the difference in viscosity. The regular poly is twice as thick as the wipe-on version, but they cost the same amount. In actuality you're paying for more paint thinner or mineral spirits in the wiping version. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Thinning down varnishes like polyurethane makes them easier to apply and less susceptible to defects.
Our favorite varnish is Waterlox. It's quite durable, dries quickly and looks great. Waterlox will stick to any raw wood, even the oily exotics. Our favorite version of Waterlox is the Original Sealer/Finish, which is nothing more than their full-strength varnish thinned with mineral spirits. Having it pre-thinned means you can use it out of the can with no mess to clean up. If you feel like you're being cheated, however, by all means buy either the Satin or High Gloss version and thin it yourself in about a 1:1 ratio. It wipes on like a dream and gives wood a protective finish with a beautiful hand-rubbed look.