What finish should you choose?
Or even whether you should use the same coating for a wooden countertop as on a cutting board or salad bowl? My easy-to-read chart will help you make those choices.
Arranged by products which offer greatest to least durability and protection, I’ve indicated which kinds of treatments, coating and finishes have worked for me over the years. Although this chart contains all the basic types of finishes available, you can cross-reference this chart with the article I wrote titled, “Healthy Clear Coatings” (Feb/Mar 2017), to identify specific products in each group.
Briefly, let me explain what I mean by protection and durability (P&D). Protection helps the woods structure; assisting the woods pores and fibres to resist water, acids, stains, alcohol, ultraviolet (UV) rays and anything else that might be absorbed, destroying the woods appearance and function. Durability reinforces the surface of the wood; hardening and forming a firming film or membrane at and/or within the wood’s surface. Ideally, achieving both would be an asset, you say … not necessarily.
A hard-working floor certainly demands both, but a wood countertop prefers to be sealed deeply, but its surface given a soft, easily replenishable, breathable coating which will never peel or flake off in use. However, a figured wood table top benefits from a film finish, often over a dewaxed shellac sealer, a drying oil or soft film finish to build visual depth plus a good measure of P&D. Table legs and stretchers that see less service and daylight may prefer an easier-to-apply, soft film finish complementary to the top. A salad bowl demands a foodsafe, non-toxic treatment equally, inside and out, first with a non-toxic protectant to resist staining and/or regularly wiped liberally with mineral oil and beeswax.
A few words on treatments, coatings and finishes: it’s useful to think of each differently to appreciate their part in the big “finishing” picture. I think of a treatment as a product that is absorbed by the wood but should have something else on top to complete the project; a coating builds a cured film over the wood’s surface, while a finish is a product that creates a lustrous appearance, sheen, and some level of durability to the project. For instance, dewaxed shellac sealer (treatment) can be coated with a soft film finish. Or a drying oil may be coated with a soft film finish and left at that or may be further finished with a hard film finish. Or a non-drying oil can be finished with a beeswax topcoat.
But remember, preparation is everything. The ability of any product to perform alone or over others depends on effective cleaning, sanding, good lighting during preparation and application and a clean working environment.
I hope this chart will help you decide how any products will yield the best results, appearance and ease of repair and maintenance throughout your projects life.