Finishing wooden furniture: a practical primer

For wooden furniture that is as durable as it is beautiful, make sure you apply the right stain or finish with care. Here's a practical primer on how to do so.

Finishing wooden furniture: a practical primer

What you will need

  • Rubber gloves
  • Tack cloth
  • Wood finish
  • 5 cm (2 in) paintbrush
  • Lint-free cloth
  • Wood sealer (if required)
  • Fine-grade sandpaper (if required)
  • Medium-grade sandpaper (if required)

Before you begin

  • Always check the manufacturer's instructions before applying any finish to wooden furniture.

1. Prepare the surface

  • Put on your rubber gloves.
  • Check the product instructions for the finish you're using and, if necessary, apply a sealer first.
  • When the sealer dries, smooth the surface with a medium-grade sandpaper then wipe the surface with your tack cloth.
  • If no sealer is required, simply clean the wood with your tack cloth.

2. Apply the product

  • Brush on your finish from top to bottom, working on one section at a time.
  • If you're using a polyurethane or varnish product, brush on just enough for an even coat.
  • If it's a penetrating finish that you're using, wipe off the excess with a cloth before it dries.

3. Work on a perfect finish

  • Check the manufacturer's instructions in case you need to sand between coats.
  • If sanding is necessary, let each coat dry before sanding with fine-grade sandpaper, then remove dust with a tack cloth before applying the next coat.
  • Let your final coat dry for 48 hours.

Extra staining and finishing tips

  • Cheap brushes tend to lose bristles, which then stick to the wet surface of a fresh coat of finish, ruining it. For a professional finish, apply varnish and lacquer with a good-quality paintbrush or varnishing brush.
  • But even a quality brush can have some loose bristles when it's new. To get rid of them, dip your brush in a mix of solvent and varnish, then brush vigorously on some paper or scrap board.
  • Remove wooden knobs and handles before you varnish or lacquer a piece of furniture. Apply the finish to the knobs and handles separately, then reattach them when all surfaces are dry.
  • Applying finish to knobs is a fiddly business. To avoid having to handle the knob, use a sprung clothes peg to grasp it by its screw, then set the upright peg on a steady base.
  • When you're finishing a chair, drive a screw into the bottom of each chair leg to raise the chair off the floor. Adjust the screws as required to keep the piece from rocking. Now you can apply the final coat, all the way to the leg ends.
  • When the last coat of an oil or varnish finish is completely dry, buff it with polishing cloths made from old jeans (avoid seams). The denim leaves a lovely lustre.
  • Use paper towels, not rags, for applying penetrating oils. When you work with rags, lint can become embedded in the finish, but paper towels are lint-free.
  • Oil-soaked towels can spontaneously combust in a rubbish bin, so leave them to dry thoroughly before throwing them out.

Follow the advice in this practical primer and you'll be better able to properly apply the right stain or finish to your wooden furniture with care.

The material on this website is provided for entertainment, informational and educational purposes only and should never act as a substitute to the advice of an applicable professional. Use of this website is subject to our terms of use and privacy policy.
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