Canadian Woodworking

What finish should you choose?

Author: Mark Salusbury
Published: June July 2017
Finishing Poster
Finishing Poster

Have you ever wondered, what type of finish will give you the best result, or what will produce the best pro­tection and appearance for a certain furniture part?


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.


MARK SALUSBURY - [email protected]

Whether it is joinery or turnery, Mark has enjoyed designing and making furniture, decorative and functional items and home remodeling ... anything to do with woodworking, for over 35 years.


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  2. I didn’t see it mentioned about using a oil base treatment then using a solvent based cover for a harder protection. The oil base cover should have up to 72 hours to cure before applying a top cost. Anything applied before hand will draw the oils to the surface and a white frosting will appear.
    Also, polyurethane should never be applied over a oil base treatment and never apply a wax base treatment first on any wood project if a top coat is planned. Once waxed continue with wax.

  3. Hi, not sure if you made the change, but the PDF that downloaded worked great at 800% zoom. I didn’t try any further.

  4. Might be better to provide the table chart as a .png file, not a .jpg file. The .jpg file compression makes for poor quality, especially when you zoom in.

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