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Home > Finishing

How to choose the right finish, Part 2

In this article we'll be looking at just one of the qualities that
goes into choosing a finish:  Appearance.  

When deciding on a finish for it's appearance there are three basic
questions to ask yourself:

1) Will this finish build up on the piece?
2) How Transparent do I need the finish to be?
3) Will the finish add any color to the wood?

Finish build up:

If you want a finish to build up on wood you must us a film finish.
For our discussion here, we'll only be looking at finish that can
be applied by hand (not sprayed on).  With that in mind our choices
would include:  Shellac, brush on lacquer, varnish and water base.
Oils don't cure hard so they have to be applied in very thin coats
(with the excess wiped away) which doesn't allow them to build up
on a surface.

Transparency:

This is probably most important when you're dealing with a light
colored wood such as maple.  De-waxed shellac, lacquer, and alkyd
varnish (if the can simply says "Varnish", it's probably is made up
of alkyd resins), are the most transparent finishes.  Natural
shellac, oil-based polyurethane and water base are the least
transparent finishes.  

Color:

Finishes that contain oil (including varnish) will yellow with age.
This can be desirable on darker woods adding "warmth" to the look
of the wood.  However, on light colored woods it may be
undesirable.  Wax and water base finishes  add very little "warmth"
to wood.  Lacquer and clear/blond shellac add a small amount of
yellowing but not to the degree of oil based finishes.  Garnett and
button shellac (or lac) colors add a deep orange/brown color that
is nice on darker woods and can give an antique appearance.  Orange
shellac colors the wood purple.  Just kidding.  The orange color of
orange shellac adds a lot of "warmth" to wood, especially kiln
dried walnut.   

In Part 3, we'll look at protection & durability of finishes.

Craig Stevens
Woodworkers Resource