This is 18 Great Tips for Finishing Wood Furniture, your guide to everything that you really need to know to finish wooden furniture in your shop. Stick around for a lot of great tips, tricks and techniques, and by the end you’ll be a pro. Enjoy.
Finishing Wood Furniture
Making furniture is a task in woodworking that many people find to be one of the most rewarding. The attraction is that you can make something that you can use, and that you will receive enjoyment from the process.
It makes woodworkers happy to glance around their living room and count up all the pieces that they made themselves with their own two hands. It’s also fun to share with others all of the different furniture pieces that you’ve made.
Another part of the process that’s also a lot of fun is finishing those furniture pieces. Finishing furniture is all part of the woodworking process, and even for a beginner it doesn’t have to be nearly as elaborate or intimidating as it can sometimes be.
In fact, once you know some tips and tricks to the finishing process, you will be finishing your furniture very easily, and with professional results.
Here are all 19 tips for finishing furniture, and I’ll go into each one of them in more detail farther down in the post.
- Furniture is Used Differently than Other Projects
- Furniture Makes Contact with Food
- Using Hand Finishes on Your Projects
- Spraying with Disposable Cans
- Spraying with a Professional Spray Setup
- Filling and Leveling any Surface Defects First
- Finishes Don’t Hide Problems
- Surface Prep is Very Important to a Good Finish
- Apply a Nice Stain or Go Natural
- Choose the Right Finish for the Piece
- Use the Best Products (no bottom shelf clear coat)
- Coat all Visible Surfaces
- Dissect the Piece into Sections (there are a lot of surfaces on furniture)
- Lighter Coats on Hidden Areas (protect against moisture only)
- Spray Vertical Surfaces Before Horizontal Surfaces
- Inspect Your Finish Really Well
- Address any Defects or Attention Areas
- Finish the Finish if Necessary
See Also: 10 Step Guide to Wood Finishing
Furniture is Used Differently than Other Projects
sibly give you for finishing wooden furniture is to understand that furniture is used very differently than other projects. Unfortunately, a lot of woodworking projects just sit around and get looked at. Furniture is different.
The big difference between furniture and other projects is that furniture gets used a lot more. If you make a desk, it’s going to see a lot more action than if you were to make a wooden key holder. You need to think about that when you are making decisions about your finish.
Furniture is climbed on, wiped with all kinds of random household cleaning chemicals, it becomes a storage unit for odd junk sometimes, and people leave their drinks on them. Furniture is a very different animal, which makes finishing furniture a bit more involved.
Furniture Makes Contact with Food
Another thing to consider about furniture is that it makes contact with food. Most people don’t think twice about setting a sandwich down on an end table, or even the edge of a TV stand. It’s not uncommon, so you need to control for it.
People just kind of expect that their furniture is safe, so they really don’t have any issues setting down things that they probably wouldn’t sit elsewhere. Even though the conditions may be similar, furniture is just seen as different.
When you’re selecting your finish, you definitely need to look for something that’s not super toxic. Though most finishing products are non-toxic when fully cured, you definitely want to avoid things that can wipe off onto food.
Using Hand Finishes on Your Projects
Some of the best ways to finish your furniture is to finish it by hand. Even though spray equipment is a whole lot nicer, and a lot faster, there is something beautiful to be said about a well-made piece of furniture that is finished by hand.
Also, finishes like this have been in use for hundreds of years. The master craftsman that apply these finishes did a fantastic work with far less than you have right now. If they can apply a great looking finish by hand, so can you.
The other nice thing is that even though you might be using a technique from several hundred years ago, you can still use modern hand applied finishes. This lets you take advantage of all of the new technology, but still apply it in an old-fashioned manner.
Spraying with Disposable Cans
If you would rather use spray finishes, finishing furniture can actually be pretty easy with rattle cans. This is a good first step into spraying to see if you really like it. If you buy the right materials, the look is very professional.
The secret to achieving a good finish with a spray can is to buy furniture grade lacquer from a nicer brand. These brands include Mohawk, Deft, and Watco. All of these products apply very well, and they create a surface that looks professional.
Having worked in furniture repair and refinishing for many years, the things that you can do with professional grade lacquers and toners are nothing short of amazing. You can finish even medium size to slightly bigger pieces from a can as well.
Spraying lacquer from a can does require at least a little bit of practice, but you can get the technique fairly quickly. All you do is lay down a solid layer of product, and it dries creating a protective layer on the surface.
See Also: How to Choose the Best Wood Finish Spray
Spraying with a Professional Spray Setup
Finishing wood furniture is also easy with a professional spraying set up. These are a lot more economical now than they used to be, and for most small shops you can do really well for a lot less money than you might expect.
The other big advantage to a professional spray rig is that you never have to change cans, and it’s almost like having unlimited material on demand. Of course you have to refill the gun now and then, but this is the best way to produce a large amount of work.
Spraying systems are just fantastic at depositing lacquer on the furniture. Your wooden furniture pieces will all have a nice even coat, and you will be able to apply it in record time. If you plan on making a lot of furniture, it’s worth looking into.
Fill and Level any Surface Defects First
A really good tip to start with before you do any surface preparation is to fill and level any surface defects that are too big to be sanded out. The sanding process itself can take a while if you do it wrong, and this will help you do it right.
Fill in anything that you know you can’t sand away. Use an appropriate wood filler product, and I recommend a two-part filler. This is no more difficult to use than any other filler, you just have to kneed it together to activate it first.
The advantage of filling all of your defects first is that you don’t waste any time trying to sand them out later. Also, you’re going to have to sand the surface anyway so you might as will send everything at the same time.
See Also: 17 Important Tips on How to Sand Wood
Finishes Don’t Hide Problems
If you remember anything from this post, this needs to be it. Finishes don’t hide problems, they magnify and enlarge them. If you start with a poor surface before you apply your finish, it will look even worse afterwards.
That being said, it’s important that you take the time necessary to do all of the surface preparation before you even think about opening a can of finish. If you have to, get somebody to hide your finishing equipment from you.
Any small nick, ding or scratch on the surface will collect finish, scratches in particular, and be able to be seen from outer space. It’s just not worth ruining a project because you skipped through the surface preparation.
See Also: The Last 10% Principle for Woodworking
Surface Prep is Very Important to a Good Finish
Now that you know surface preparation is important, here are several things that you can do to make the best surface possible. Each one of these are actually very easy, they just take some time. Have a little patience, and you’ll be glad you prepped the surface well.
First, since you’ve already filled and leveled all your big defects, it’s time to address the main surface. Look for any scratches or dings that need to be sanded away. Then, start with a medium grit and power through them.
Once you’re finished with that grit, switch to a finer grit and continue the process. At this point, you are looking to create a very smooth surface because most of the defects should already be gone.
Continue switching sanding grits until you reach 220. Once you’re there, make your last few passes with a sanding block and go in the same direction as the grain. This will help conceal the last few sanding scratches.
Finally, wipe off all of the dust and inspect your work. If you find any scratches that are still there, address them. Wipe off the surface again, and check one more time. Once your check reveals no scratches, you’re ready to move on.
Apply a Nice Stain or Go Natural
Most wood furniture is stained. The wood that is used to make wood furniture is typically the same few types in America, this includes oak, popular, and pina. The secret to getting all of those different colors is to apply stain.
Finishing wood furniture with stain is a real pleasure. You get to take a piece of wood that is very common looking and transform it into something far more interesting. Plus, you can choose just about any color you would ever want.
Wood stain also applies in a lot of different ways. There are die stains, gel stains, and pigment stains. They all work a little bit differently, and impart and slightly different look to the piece. If you are really into color, then you are going to love staining.
Choose the Right Finish for the Piece
Finishing your furniture the best way also involves choosing the best finish. This doesn’t necessarily mean the best in the world, it means the best finish or the right finish for the actual piece that you’re making.
If you think about it, even though furniture in general is used very differently than other woodworking projects, the individual pieces are also used differently. For example, a dresser is going to see a different set of problems than a dinner table.
Most of the time, a dresser is going to have is some issues with surface defects, but a taller dresser may not nearly have as many things placed on top of it simply because it’s difficult to reach. A dinner table on the other hand is going to see daily distress.
The bottoms of plates tend to be rough, glassware is hard, and food and water residue can ruin a finish pretty quickly. These are the things that you have to think about when you’re selecting a finish, and a little thought goes along way.
To save you a little bit of trouble, furniture grade lacquer is very good for all of these situations, and is what most people use. However, there are dedicated products that can do a little bit better in a certain category but may not be as well rounded as lacquer.
For example, there are dedicated table top finishes that set up very strongly, and resist daily wear. This can be a better solution for a table top, especially in an instance where you know it’s going to receive a lot of use.
Use the Best Products
The next tip that will really help you, and this should probably be your second big takeaway from this article is to only use the best products. Wood finish is a complex chemical that requires a lot to engineer and create.
Those bottom shelf clear coats at the home-improvement store that are around two dollars are not even worth a tiny fraction of that. Those will absolutely betray you, and they are just not meant for finishing wood furniture.
If you want to make your finishing life easier, pick out finishes from brands that you recognize, and that are used by people who already make furniture. These can be sprays, or hand applied finishes, the rule applies to both.
What happens when you use the best products is that it just works better. You don’t have to fight the process nearly as much, the coats dry more easily, and the product lays out really even and flat. Bottom end products just don’t do this.
The bad part about using a poor product is when you’re brand new you might just think that you are a poor wood finisher. In reality, if you are also fighting your product as a beginner, it’s just too big of a battle. Just buy a nice product, and you won’t have to worry.
Coat all Visible Surfaces
It’s important on a piece of furniture to coat all of the surfaces. Furniture gets handled in a lot of funny ways, so you don’t want to leave any portion of the product unfinished. This is easy to do, and I’ll show you what you need.
Most of the time, it’s the visible parts of the product that receives a finish. Some of the internal components may have a light dusting, but they definitely don’t have the same thickness of finish as the visible sections.
That being said, all you really need to do is prepare a method of finishing every part of the project that can be seen and touched with your clear coat. Once you see the method coming up, you’ll know exactly how to finish that project that’s sitting on your bench.
Dissect the Piece into Sections
The easiest way to make sure that you finish your entire piece of furniture is to mentally dissect it into sections. Each of these sections will get your full attention for the moment, and then you can move onto another section.
As you work your way around the piece, eventually you will come back to the very first section that you started with. At this point, you’ll know that you finished the project completely, and that you’ve applied product to every part.
This also works really well for hand applied finishes. In many cases, it’s difficult to apply finish by hand to a very large surface. If you break the surface down into areas, you can work much more easily and efficiently.
This is also great if you are finishing something that needs to be hung in order to dry. You can finish every section except the one little area that needs to be kept free for hanging the piece, and then finish that last.
See Also: The Secret to Wood Finishing
Lighter Coats on Hidden Areas
The really big advantage to applying a finish to your furniture other than the obvious cosmetic boost that it gives to the surface is protection from the weather. Humidity changes cause wood to shrink and swell, which is definitely not good for a finished product.
One way to help shield from this movement is to make sure that every surface at least has a thin layer of finish applied. This includes hidden areas. In these spots, you don’t need nearly as much finish as you would on a visible section.
Make it a point to at least apply a single layer, or dust the surface with a light layer of lacquer just to apply a little protection. It’s not going to be nearly as much is a full thickness layer, but it’s a little extra protection from the elements.
See Also: Lacquer Drying Time?
Spray Vertical Surfaces Before Horizontal Surfaces
When you are spraying, there is a tiny cloud of finish particles that floats around and lands in random places. This is called over spray, and it’s just part of the game when you are spraying a finish on a piece of wooden furniture.
The problem is these particles can land in funny places and be visible. Now, they’re not nearly as visible in certain areas as they are and others, and you can use this to your advantage. This way, you don’t have a part of the process betray you in the end.
Spray all of your vertical surfaces first. This way, if there is any overs pray that lands on a horizontal surface, the dots won’t matter. The reason you need to do that is vertical surfaces don’t require as much of a coat in order to look like they’re finished evenly.
Horizontal surfaces on the other hand need to have an even, wet layer of finish applied so that way it dries evenly as well. If you have random particles that land at a dried flat surface, they can be very easy to see.
For this reason, finish all of your vertical surfaces completely, and don’t worry about any over spray that lands on a flat surface. Once the verticals are done, go back and spray the flats, and any dots that land on the verticals won’t be visible.
Inspect Your Finish Really Well
This is something that a lot of wood finishers forget to do in the end, and I have a feeling I know what the reason is. Inspecting your piece in the end is extremely important, and it’s a way of making sure that you did your job well and that the piece is fully protected.
I think the reason that a lot of beginning woodworkers skip this step is that they are nervous to find something that they have to fix. The finishing process is kind of stressful at first, so just getting through to the other end is a huge relief.
Going back in and inspecting the piece is almost like asking for more pain. Instead of confronting the problem, a lot of new woodworkers just assume that it’s fine and they avoid the discomfort of possibly having to break out the finish again.
Don’t do this. You already were able to finish the piece to the point that you did, so there’s no reason why you couldn’t touch up a couple spots either. Make sure to do a full inspection, and apply additional finish to any areas that need help.
Address any Defects or Attention Areas
Also, if you find any defects or issues where the finish wasn’t very good, address those now too. At some point you’re going to need to learn how to remove a finish and refinish a piece. You might as well get that learning process out-of-the-way.
Instead of hiding from the defects, address them. There are a lot of different ways to remove a finish if it didn’t go well. You can use a chemical stripper, a plant stripper, or even just sand away the finish after it’s fully cured.
All of these will bring you right back to the bare wood, and it’s like pressing the reset button on your wood finishing project. Now it’s not nearly as fast as pressing the reset button of course, but it can get you back to before you made the mistake, which is a good thing.
Finish the Finish if Necessary
If your finish went really well and you like the way that it looks, you can stop. However, if you want to bring out a little bit more sheen on your project, or that’s the goal anyway, consider finishing the finish.
Finishing the finish is a term that is used to describe a polishing a finished surface to bring out more luster and shine. This can be done by hand with different fine compounds, or it can be done with a buffing set up.
Either way, if you start with a glossy finish, and then finish it with buffing compounds, you will have a surface that is so shiny it looks like it’s completely wet. It will also stay that way for a long time.
If this is the look you’re going for, and you plan on doing it a lot, I recommend some method of power buffing so that way you don’t have to rub your fingers until they become little stumps. It’s a fun way to prepare a surface, and you’ll be hooked the first time you try it.
See Also: How to Buff Wood to a High Sheen
Your Action Assignment
Now that you know 18 different tips for finishing your wood furniture, it’s time to get out into the shop and take action. This is where you take everything that you just learned, and put it into practice, cementing those new skills.
If you are brand new to wood finishing, I recommend picking out a nice hand applied finish to start with, or even some high end rattle cans. Find some pieces of wood, and practice your surface preparation to get them perfect before applying to finish.
After that, apply finishes to those surfaces and keep on practicing until they look outstanding. Once you are good at finishing those scraps, you can move on to finishing larger pieces using the same techniques, and you will be happy with your results.
If you have any questions on finishing wood furniture, are any of the techniques that I presented, please feel free to post a question and I’ll be glad to answer them. Happy building.
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