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Finishing timber - Choosing the finish

A number of factors to be taken into account when choosing the finish for a piece of timber work.

  • How much wear/handling is the work likely to have?
    This is probably the most important consideration, a piece which is going to be handled regularly will become grubby very quickly if no finish or a wax polish is applied. Cleaning bare timber or a wax finish is virtually impossible.
    If the surface is going to have to endure hot mugs or water, then Polyurethane or two-part catalysed varnishes are probably the route to follow.

  • Do you want to change the colour of the timber or preserve the original colour?
    The use of a coloured finish will obviously change the colour of the timber, however even using a transparent finish will have an effect on the colour although not so great.

  • Is the work ‘new’ or ‘old’?
    Where the piece is being restored, it’s probably best to stick with the original finish. Even if a ‘new’ piece of work is of an ‘old’ style, using a traditional finish will tend to give it an ‘old’ appearance which may make it ‘easier to live with’. On the other hand, giving a ‘modern’ design piece a traditional finish may make it ‘harder to live with’.
    But to a large extent, it’s a matter of personal choice.

  • What sort of finish do you want?
    Finishes can vary from a high gloss to a low ‘natural’ lustre; the finish that you want to have is generally a matter of personal choice.

The most common finishes for timber are: