Stylish Finishes for Wood in the Home

Stylish Finishes for Wood in the Home
  • Opening Intro -

    Wood is a beautiful material, but without some kind of finish it soon becomes grubby and stained.

    There are many different wood finishes to choose from, all of which enhance the natural grain and beauty of the wood.


Some finishes are less environmentally friendly than others, so if you have a furniture restoration project in mind, here is a quick guide to the most commonly available wood finishes.


Wood varnish comes in many different finishes: matt, clear, colored and high gloss. It’s an attractive, hard-wearing and waterproof finish that’s ideal for furniture and wood in heavy traffic areas. You can use varnish to treat interior or exterior wood and it’s suitable for unfinished timber. Varnish needs to be applied with a brush for best results.

Wood Stain

Colored wood stain can be used as a decorative finish. Once applied to wood, it creates a matt finish that can be lightly sanded down and waxed or varnished. A little bit of wood stain goes a long way, so it’s a useful product if you have a large expanse of wood to finish.

How to Stain Wood with expert Bruce Johnson of Minwax

Wood Oil

Wood oil is a transparent finish that protects wood at the same time as nourishing it. As the paint soaks into the wood, it brings out the subtle colors and grain of the wood. Wood oil and tung oil must be applied to unsealed timber. It can be used on indoor furniture and flooring or outside on decking or garden furniture.


Wax is a highly decorative finish, especially when used on hardwood floors and furniture. There are different types of wax available: some are oil based and some are water based. This is a good finish for dyed or stained wood, for it protects and nourishes without penetrating the surface of the wood.


Wood preservative is ideal for exterior use because it protects wood from water and insects. You might use wood preservative on your garden fencing or furniture. You can also use wood preservative as a base coat for some other types of finish.

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Timber can be painted, but untreated wood will need several coats of primer and undercoat first. There are many different types of paint you can use on wood, depending on the look you want. Eggshell finish gloss paint is a popular finish for wooden furniture, but exterior timber will need a higher level of protection from the elements, so exterior gloss paint is a better option.

If you are after a more decorative finish, or you are interested in creating a ‘shabby chic’ piece of furniture, look at milk paint or chalk paint. These are eco-friendly, inexpensive and easy to mix at home.

It is important to choose the right wood finish before you start your project. Some finishes soak into the wood grain and cannot therefore be removed after application. If in doubt about how the end result will look, try the wood finish out on an inconspicuous area or off-cut first so you don’t make an irreversible mistake.



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