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Wipe On Finishes

wood finishing

by Alan Noel
Professional Wood Finisher



Wipe on finishes are the easiest to apply and maintain. Traditionally, oil and spirit varnishes are brushed or wiped on, with oil being by far the easiest because of the slow dry time. Spirit varnish or "shellac" and lacquers can be wiped on but take a lot of practice and patience because of a very fast dry time. This month I'll cover oil based wipe on varnish and wipe on oil varnish that has color added that allows for finishing and coloring in one step.

  1. Pour a small amount of varnish into a bowl.
  2. Using a soft cloth of linen or cheese cloth, dip the cloth into the oil and simply wipe on the first coat moving as fast as you can over the entire surface.
  3. Do the work in a WELL VENTILATED room with GOOD AIR MOVEMENT. This will make sure the piece will be dry in 24 hours.
  4. Sand the surfaces lightly with 320 paper to remove any trash.
  5. Follow this with a rubbing with 0000 steel wool.
  6. Wipe entire surface with a tack cloth.
  7. Repeat until satisfied with results.
  8. Varnishes with color added like Minwax Polyshades can be used the very same way. However, because wiped on coats are very thin, more coats have to be used to achieve a colored surface.
  9. To spruce up a varnished surface, just repeat all of the above steps.
  10. Be sure to use fresh varnish. Old product will not dry properly.


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


March 23  Spray Finishing

March 27  Wood Coloring Basics

April 13  Secrets of the Scott Antique Show

April 17  French Polish Workshop




Visit Highland Woodworking's Online
Wood Finishing Supplies Department




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


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