How to Finish Wood

woman staining end table

The project is finally built. You've chosen the perfect design, bought the best material and hardware, and put it all together with first-rate joinery. Now it's ready for finishing.

Projects in Wood Finishes
Why to finish

Or almost ready. Careful preparation is the difference between a ho-hum finish and one that invites compliments. This chapter describes how to prepare your project for finishing, select the right finish for the job, and apply it like a pro. Done with care, these final steps result in a project you'll be proud to show off.

Finishes primarily protect wood and wood products from absorbing or expelling moisture too fast, which can lead to warping, cracking, and loose joints.

Finishes also add protection from dirt, oxidation, spills, and stains. You can wipe off dirt and moisture from a finished surface that would otherwise penetrate and permanently stain the wood.

Finishes make wood projects more beautiful, too. Clear finishes allow you to see the wood, making a rich grain sparkle. Stains can change a wood's color and bring out contrast in the grain patterns. Some stains make inexpensive wood look more like an exotic species. Paint can give your projects a colorful gloss or a rich glow. It also conceals plywood edges, fasteners, and puttied-over dings, dents, scratches, and other imperfections.

Where to finish

Because preparation creates dust and finishing produces odors, wear protective safety equipment and set aside a special place for these tasks.

If you have a shop, you can do most of your finish preparation at your workbench, including dust-producing activities such as sanding. But it's a good idea to clean a special area just for finish application and drying, so dust and dirt won't mar your results. Or designate a room or part of the basement or garage. (Stay away from the furnace or water heater, as dust and finish fumes can be flammable or explosive.) Be sure you have good ventilation and bright lighting. Sometimes, weather permitting, finishing (especially preparation) is done outdoors.

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