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Types of Wood Finish

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Types of Wood Finish


Highly durable, water-resistant. Provides a natural appearance; available in satin, semi-gloss and glossy sheens. Ideal for kitchen cabinets, doors, furniture and floors. Not recommended for outdoor use; may yellow or crack when exposed to sunlight unless UV light absorbers are added. Can be difficult to repair if damaged.

Polyurethane wood finishes are synthetic coatings that prove highly durable and water resistant, making them the best clear coat for wood protection. 

  • They provide a natural appearance with a variety of satin, semi-gloss and glossy sheens and are ideal for kitchen cabinets, doors, furniture and floors, but not recommended for outdoor use. 
  • They may yellow or crack in sunlight unless formulated to be UV-resistant.


Dries slowly. Provides a rich, satin finish. Ideal for furniture and low-traffic areas; shows water or alcohol spills. Easy to apply with a brush or cloth.

Oil-based finish dries more slowly and has a stronger aroma than water-based finish. 

  • It is ideal for furniture and low-traffic areas but shows water or alcohol spills. 
  • It is easy to apply with a brush or cloth. 


Dries quickly. Can be used on bare, stained or painted wood; does not yellow with age. Ideal for protecting decorative finishes; not as durable as other finishes. Use synthetic brushes to apply, as brush marks may show up on surface.

Water-based finish dries quickly and can be used on bare, stained or painted wood. 

  • It provides a clear, natural sheen that does not yellow with age. 
  • Ideal for protecting decorative finishes, it is not as durable as other finishes. 
  • Synthetic brushes are recommended for application. 


Dries faster than other finishes; usually sprayed on. Can be easily removed. Ideal for furniture. Works well when multiple layers are applied, but do not use over old paint or varnish. Gives off noxious fumes when applied; can be a fire hazard.

Lacquer is a wood finish typically made with a solution of nitrocellulose and solvents to make a glossy or matte coating.

  • Frequently sprayed on, it leaves a thin coat that dries faster than other finishes.
  • It can give off strong fumes when applied, so apply in a well-ventilated area and take necessary precautions.
  • It is ideal for furniture but is not recommended for use over old paint or varnish.
  • Lacquer is more durable than shellac. It is considered one of the best wood sealants.


Very durable. Can be used on bare or stained wood. Ideal for use on doors and marine finishes. Must be applied to a dust-free surface with a clean brush. Use paint thinner for thinning and cleaning.

Varnish wood finishes tend to consist of a resin, a drying oil and a solvent or thinner. 

  • Varnishes are usually clear, highly durable and offer UV protection, making them suitable for doors and marine finishes, whether on bare or stained wood. 
  • They are less expensive than polyurethane and are slow to dry, making them susceptible to dust and dirt. 
  • They are also considered among the best wood sealants.


Provides a hard finish that dries quickly; may break down over time. May be used as a sealer and stain killer on drywall, cured plaster and new wood. Ideal for furniture and floors. Not recommended for wood that will be exposed to moisture. Use denatured alcohol to thin and clean.

Shellac wood finish is made from a protective waxy resin secreted by the lac insect. 

  • It is mixed with a solvent, such as alcohol, that makes it easy to apply as it dries quickly, but it may need to be thinned before applying. 
  • It provides a hard finish suitable for floors, antiques and fine furniture. 
  • It is not recommended for wood that will be exposed to moisture or alcohol spills, as it may dissolve or break down over time. 


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