Craftsman, Woodworker, Antiques Refinisher, Columnist, Author and Television Host
Have some finishing tips?
Brushing, spraying or rubbing on a finish is the crowning achievement, for the finish will bring your dried stain back to life and will leave a permanent sheen that will enhance and protect the beauty of any wood. Before you dive too deeply into this section, however, make sure you have reviewed the information in the Staining section, especially questions dealing with the advantages of either water-based and oil-based products.
Q. - I stained an unfinished end table last year, but never got around to putting a finish on it. Do I have to? It seems fine.
A. - Stains typically have a small amount of sealer in them, enough to hold the pigments and dyes in place, but not enough for the long term protection wood requires. Wood is porous, so without a finish it will continue to absorb spills and draw moisture from the air. A finish will seal the pores and will prevent damage to the wood from spills. It will insure that the wood does not swell, warp or buckle during times of high humidity and will not shrink and crack when the air dries out. In addition, the finish will protect the wood from objects that would otherwise scratch or dent it, from car keys, pottery, coffee mugs and notebooks to lamps, vases and toys.
And its never too late to apply a finish, so read on!
Q. - I stained an oak rocking chair for my daughter using a water-based stain. A friend recommend polyurethane as a finish, but the can she gave me says it is oil-based. Can I apply it over the water-based stain?
A. - You could, but I would prefer that you didn't. As the old adage goes, oil and water don't mix. If you apply an oil-based finish over a water-based stain while some of the water is still present in the wood, it can cause drying problems with your finish. Only if you were 100% sure that all of the water from the water-based stain had evaporated could you safely apply an oil-based finish. Since looks can be deceiving, the only way to be sure is to wait at least three days between staining and finishing.
As an alternative, I would suggest that you use a water-based finish, either a water-based polyurethane or one such as Minwax's water-based Polycrylic. A water-based finish will provide your daughter's rocker with plenty of protection and you won't have to worry about the finish reacting to the stain.
As a safe rule, once you start with either a water-based wood conditioner or stain or an oil-based wood conditioner or stain, you should finish with the same.
Q. - Every time I go to the store to buy a can of finish I am overwhelmed at the selection. What is your favorite finish?
A. - Wood finishes are like clothes: you pick the one that best fits the occasion. To use only one finish would be like having only one outfit. Sometimes it would work, but many times it wouldn't. If you brush an interior polyurethane varnish on an exterior door, it might only last a few months. If you rubbed a thin penetrating oil finish on a hardwood floor, it might wear off in less than a year. Pick the finish that fits the situation and don't worry about only having one favorite finish.
That being said, here are a few general guidelines to get started. Keep in mind, however, that often more than one finish will fit a particular situation - and sometimes there are reasons to break the rules, but more on that later.
Antiques, Original Finish - a thin coat of a high quality paste wax.
Antiques, Stripped - several coats of tung oil.
Cabinets - either a water-based or oil-based surface building (brush-on) finish, such as oil-based Polyurethane or water-based Polycrylic.
Decks, Exterior - must be a thin-bodied, penetrating deck finish; do not use thick urethanes or polyurethanes that leave a surface coating, for they will make a wet deck dangerously slippery.
Doors, Exterior - must be a strong urethane which specifically states that it is designed for exterior use.
Doors, Interior - same as cabinets.
Floors - a polyurethane finish, either oil-based or water-based, designed specifically for floors.
Furniture, Unfinished - for tabletops and flat surfaces, the same as cabinets; for chairs and smaller pieces, especially with carvings or turnings, a wipe-on version of polyurethane.
Furniture, Worn - a wipe-on version of polyurethane.
Window Sills, Interior - a spar urethane formulated for either interior or exterior use, such as Helmsman.
Woodwork - same as cabinets
Three Important Rules: Always follow the manufacturer's directions, take all safety precautions and first test every product in an inconspicuous spot.