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Choose the Correct Wood Finish for the Job:

Consider the Function and Looks of Trim, Cabinets, and Siding

© 2008 by all rights reserved; content may not be copied, rewritten, or republished without author’s written permission. Author’s Google profile

Box with zebrawood drawer faces, hand-carved rosewood drawer pulls

A box with zebrawood drawer faces, hand-carved rosewood drawer pulls.

When you consider your selection of which wood finish product to apply to projects you make in your wood shop like cutting boards, or stationary projects like kitchen cabinets, fascia boards, and wood siding the options you encounter are many. Would you like an oil finish, paint, or a wood stain?

There’s no doubt about it; there are many more wood finish products to select from than there ever has been, and for good reason. So how do you select the correct wood finish for each DIY project? The first thing you should consider is this: How is the wood going be used? Will it be subjected to the elements? What’s the project’s purpose?

The second thing to consider is aesthetics. What look are you or your customer commissioned or prospective) interested in? Ideally you can compromise on both issues.

When to Use Paint on Wood Surfaces

In the course of a home remodel or during new construction, there are many wood objects associated with the house that are right for a painted finish. But it’s important to select the correct paint for the object in question.

As an example, when you’re remodeling your kitchen cabinets, a water-based latex with a semi-gloss or gloss sheen is ideal.

A slick surface on your kitchen woodwork reflects ambient light. This opens up the space visually and makes possibly dangerous work, such as cutting with sharp knives, safer. Additionally, either gloss or semi-gloss paint lend itself to easy cleaning.

When you paint exterior wood objects like siding and fascia boards, be sure you use a paint that’s labeled for exterior use. Look for one that incorporates a fungicide ingredient. Always use the appropriate primer before applying the paint of your choice.

Painting wood paneling presents its own considerations. Any open-grain (unfinished) wood surface needs to be primed using the correct primer (oil-based primer or water-based latex primer) prior to being painted.

When to Use a Wood Stain

Before applying a "transparent" type finish as opposed to paint, use the right wood filler or putty for any joints and cracks. for this I recommend homemade wood putty for a perfect color match.

Using a wood stain product is the correct way to alter the color or shade of unfinished wood. Kitchen cabinets may benefit by being stained, as well as door casing and window trim, crown molding, stair banisters, and more. Putting a urethane coat onto this rounds out the finish.

Why would you use a wood stain anyway? One reason is when you use a less expensive wood species like pine, and dress it up to resemble a more costly species like cherry, oak, or mahogany. You can't change the grain but you can give the wood a richer color.

Some wood stain formulations are already infused with sealers right from the factory. Applications for a product of this type include refinishing and weatherproofing decks and porches. Additionally, think about using a penetrating wood stain sealer with a wood siding like western red cedar.

When to Use an Oil Finish

Using oil finishes brings out the natural beauty in the the grain of the wood. This is especially true of high-quality domestic hardwoods like cherry, maple, red oak, and walnut. Think about using an oil finish on imported exotic woods as too. Some woods that fall in this class are purpleheart, ebony, zebrawood, and cocobolo.

All oil-based finishes are not created equal. For example:

  • Linseed Oil: Both the regular linseed oil as well as boiled linseed oil can be used, however the boiled oil is usually chosen because it boasts a shorter drying time. Linseed oil should only be applied on interior projects. A good example is when restoring antique furniture that already has a linseed finish.
  • Danish and Teak Oil: Both Danish and teak oils are superior for brand new woodwork without a previous finish. How does Danish differ from teak? Danish is a low luster finish and teak oil is brighter. Your personal preference is the deciding factor.
  • Mineral Oil: Mineral oil is ideal on surfaces that need to be non-toxic, such as butcher block countertops. A regular application of mineral oil will keep a pizza peel in good shape. (The large paddle for sliding it onto and off a pizza stone in the oven.)
  • Tung Oil: Tung oil is perfect for any woodwork that’s around a lot of moisture. This makes it ideal for marine applications. Applying three coats (buffing with #000 steel or bronze wool between each coat) results in a beautiful sheen.

Wood Finish Wrap-Up

These are only the primary categories listing the most popular wood finishes commonly available. Each category has an abundance of derivatives in it. Producers like Behr, Minwax, Tried & True, and Glidden are just a few who have busy R & D departments, striving to bring new and environmentally-friendly wood finishes to market. Choosing the correct wood finish can make or break your project.

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation and financial and energy trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

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© 2008 All rights reserved; content may not be copied, rewritten, or republished without author’s written permission.