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Woodworking Tips for a Professional-Quality Finish

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Woodworking Tips for a Professional-Quality Finish

Aug 21, 2023
A woodworking bench with pieces of wood and tools

Finishing is an essential step in any woodworking project. Not only does it enhance the natural beauty of the wood, but it also protects it from damage caused by everyday wear and tear. 

There are many different types of finishes available, each with its own unique characteristics and advantages. Some of the most common finishes are varnish, polyurethane, oil-based, water-based, stains and dyes, and wax. The type of finish you choose will depend on the specific project you're working on and the look you're trying to achieve. 

What’s more, finishing can be applied to nearly every wood product or component. Dowels, plugs, buttons, shims, toy parts, and more can all be finished for a visually pleasing result. Cherry, oak, birch, walnut, maple, poplar, and more can all be finished to bring out natural colors and beauty. 

In this post we will take a deeper dive into the role of finishing your next woodworking project and why you should always apply finishing to every wood project no matter the scale.  


What Does Finishing Do for DIY Projects? 

If you're a DIY enthusiast who enjoys woodworking, it's important to understand the benefits of finishing your projects. Finishing is the process of applying a protective layer to your woodworking projects that can help to enhance the natural beauty of the wood and make it more durable. 

Here are a few quick things that finishing your projects accomplishes: 

Finishing protects your wood from moisture and environmental damage.  

This is particularly important if you're creating outdoor furniture or other projects that will be exposed to the elements. Without a proper finish, your wood could become warped, discolored, or even rot over time. 

Finishing enhances the natural beauty of your wood. 

Finishing enhances the grain and color of your projects. This is especially true for hardwoods like oak, cherry, or walnut, which can have intricate patterns and hues that are only made more stunning after finishing. 

Finishing smooths out rough spots and imperfections. 

Sand before you finish your wood, and your final product will be smooth and aesthetically pleasing. 

Finishing wood makes it more durable.  

A layer of protective finish can help to prevent scratches, stains, and other types of damage, which can save you time and money in the long run. This is especially important if you're creating a piece of furniture or other project that will see frequent use. 

Below we will take a deeper dive into each category to help give you a better understanding of the role of finishing in your projects.  


Finishing to Protect from Damage 

Wood is a beautiful and versatile material, but it can be vulnerable to damage from moisture, sunlight, and physical wear and tear. To protect your woodworking project from these types of damage, it's important to apply a finish. 

Finishing creates a protective barrier that helps to prevent moisture from penetrating the wood. When wood absorbs moisture, it can swell, warp, or crack over time. By applying a finish, you can keep moisture out and preserve the integrity of your piece. 

In addition to protecting against moisture, finishes can contain UV inhibitors that help to shield the wood from harmful sunlight. This is important because prolonged exposure to sunlight can cause the wood to fade, discolor, or even crack. When you apply a finish, you give your wood piece an extra layer of defense against the elements. 

Some finishes also contain additives that help to prevent mold, mildew, and other types of fungal growth that can damage the wood. This is particularly important if you live in a humid climate or if you plan to use your woodworking project in areas that are prone to moisture. 

Finally, finishing can help to prevent scratches, dents, and other types of physical damage that can occur during use or storage. A durable finish can act as a shield against everyday wear and tear, ensuring that your piece stays looking beautiful for years to come. 


Finishing Enhances Beauty 

Wood has an inherent grain and color that can be brought to life by proper finishing techniques. By using a suitable finish, you can intensify and highlight the grain, making it more visible and prominent. This brings depth and character to the wood piece, enhancing its visual appeal. 

Some finishes, such as oil-based finishes, contain pigments that can deepen and enrich the natural color of the wood. This enhances the wood's tone, making it more vibrant and livelier. By choosing a suitable finish and application method, you can achieve the desired level of color depth while also preserving the natural beauty of the wood. 

Apart from color and grain enhancement, clear finishes like lacquer or varnish can give the wood a glossy and polished appearance that highlights its natural beauty. The clear finish adds a lustrous sheen to the wood surface, creating a smooth and mirror-like finish. This finish can be ideal for showcasing the natural patterns of the wood, especially on decorative pieces like jewelry boxes or ornate frames. 


Finishing Smooths Out Rough Spots 

Woodworking projects often contain rough spots and uneven grain, which can detract from the final appearance. However, with proper finishing techniques, these imperfections can be smoothed out to create a uniform surface. 

Finishing not only enhances the color and grain of the wood but also fills in gaps and cracks, creating a seamless surface. This consistent surface is especially important for furniture pieces, where rough spots or inconsistencies can detract from the piece's overall appearance or comfort. 

Polyurethane is an example of a finish that can be sanded down between coats, creating an even smoother surface. This process helps to remove any bumps or ridges on the wood surface, leaving behind a flawless finish. 

In addition to smoothing out the surface, finishing can also seal in knots and voids in the wood, preventing them from becoming larger or more noticeable over time. This added layer of protection ensures that the wood piece retains its polished appearance for years to come. 


Finishing Makes Wood More Durable 

Finishing is an essential step in woodworking, as it not only enhances the visual appeal of the piece but also makes the wood more durable. When properly applied, a finish creates a protective layer on the surface of the wood that can help to prevent scratches, dents, and other types of physical damage. 

In addition to the protective properties of finishing, it can also make the wood easier to clean and maintain. The non-porous surface created by the finish is less likely to accumulate dirt or grime, making it a breeze to wipe down with a soft cloth or dampened rag. 

Some finishes, such as oil-based finishes, can penetrate deep into the wood, strengthening it from the inside out. This makes the wood more resistant to wear and tear, ensuring that it will continue to look and function beautifully over time. 


 What to Consider When Choosing and Applying Your Finish 

Finishing is an essential step in any woodworking project, as it can significantly increase the lifespan of your DIY wood products.  

Without proper finishing, the wood may deteriorate quickly and lose its strength and aesthetic appeal. Therefore, it's crucial to choose the right type of finish for your project and apply it correctly. Some popular types of finishes include water-based and oil-based finishes, which may have different properties and advantages depending on the type of wood and the intended use of the finished product. 

Along with choosing the right type of finish, proper surface preparation is also important for achieving a smooth and durable finish. This may involve sanding the surface with different grits of sandpaper, using a tack cloth, applying mineral spirits to remove any dirt or oil, and then adding the finish using a suitable brush or applicator. 

It's also crucial to apply thinner coats of finish and avoid over-application, as this can result in a sticky or uneven finish. Instead, multiple thinner coats of finish can provide better protection and a smoother finish. After each coat, sanding with finer grits of sandpaper can help achieve a smoother surface and eliminate any brush marks or other imperfections. 


Side Grain Plugs Versus End Grain Plugs 

When finishing your plugs, it is important to note that side grain plugs and end grain plugs have distinct differences in how they will look after they have been stained.  

End grain plugs have the grain of the wood running on the side of the plug not the top, so it will not blend in with the surrounding wood. It will also absorb way more stain. If you have done any basic staining projects, it's the same principle as staining a 2x4. The ends are usually darker because the open pores in the wood soak up a ton more stain. If you are painting, it doesn't make a difference. Alternatively, side grain plugs are made to match the grain of the surrounding wood. So, when it is stained, the stain will absorb the same as the rest and the plug will essentially become invisible.  

Because of these grain differences, the finishing you choose plays a big difference. Clear finishes, oil finishes, and other similar finishes can help bring out grain. Solid color stains, grain fillers, and other similar finishes can help subdue grain for a more neutral appeal. 


Finishing for Your Projects at Midwest Dowel 

Every good wood project starts with top-quality wood. For all your wood dowel needs, shop Midwest Dowel for your DIY crafts. Our wood dowels are made from the best quality wood to ensure that you get the perfect finish every time.  

Click here to shop Midwest Dowel's wood dowels today! 

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