What is your favorite finish?

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Forum topic by Kjuly posted 12-11-2009 03:21 PM 4294 views 2 times favorited 22 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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308 posts in 3249 days

12-11-2009 03:21 PM

Topic tags/keywords: question finishing

What is your favorite type of finish for your woodworking projects and how did you arrive at that choice? This is not a question about which finish is the best or harder, (unless you only build the same thing over and over) it’s about what is your favorite and why.

The first thing that I thought about was the item in question. I build different types of cabinets and furniture where the finish is critical to it’s function. For example a dining table obviously would need a very durable finish compared to a mantel clock. So the function of the item that I am building plays a part in what type of finish I choose.

In general, I like using pre-catalyzed lacquer. I worked in a cabinet shop for many years and we used Nitrocellulose lacquer every day. Over time, I became very proficient at spraying it and the amber color added a nice warmth to the piece. When I started looking for a more durable product that had the same application characteristics as Nitrocellulose lacquer, pre-cat lacquer was an easy choice. I found it easy to apply and durable enough for tough jobs like dining tables and chairs.

My second choice is Watco Danish Oil. It’s easy to apply and it lets the texture of the wood come through.

-- Keith, Charlotte, MI

22 replies so far

View CharlesNeil's profile


2385 posts in 3834 days

#1 posted 12-11-2009 03:45 PM

personally i like the pre cat lacquers as well, but now days i have become fond of the waterbased products , they are tougher and easy to apply , but different from solvent based products.. as th the lack of amber in them compared to solvent based thats an easy fix , i am particulary fond of those that i can add additional cross linker to, like a catylist , for the home guys, good oil finishes are hard to beat , i like waterlox and Arm r seal, i have both on some of my personal floors, and both have held up well , these are my personal choices, based on 30 + years of using them and making a living doing woodwork

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Scott Bryan

27250 posts in 3785 days

#2 posted 12-11-2009 04:14 PM

In general my favorite finishing routine is BLO, with a shellac sealer followed by several coats of wipe on varnish (primarily polyurethane). I have avoided precat lacquers solely because I do not deal in the volume necessary to use the finish up before it catalyzes. And I really do not like the “cool” appearance of water based finishes. They have come a long way since they were first introduced but I just happen to prefer the warmth of the amber color that oil based products impart to the wood.

A secondary reason for my use of wipe on varnish is that I have not developed a proficiency with spraying because, again, I do not get the hands on practice to become as proficient at spraying due to my work volume. Wipe on products, though slower to build, generate a smoother topcoat for me.

And, I largely prefer wipe on poly because I am cheap. There are a number of commercially available wipe on finishes that produce a nice protective topcoat but it just irritates me to pay a premium price for, basically, mineral spirits. I would rather mix my own wiping products. Polyurethane is the most readily available topcoat that is available in concentrated form that I can find.

Pure tung oil is another product that I have used but it does not build well due to its elasticity and is a “softer” finish when compared with varnish. So I largely use it in applications that do not see a lot of day to day use.

Another finish that I use quite a bit is shellac. It builds a hard protective topcoat and dries quickly. The biggest drawback on it is its problems with water and alcohol. So that limits its application for me to pieces that are not going to get exposed to water. Its biggest advantage, for me at least, is its repairablity.

-- Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful- Joshua Marine

View Moron's profile


5032 posts in 3857 days

#3 posted 12-11-2009 04:20 PM

I prefer pre cat for one reason…’s fast. But not all pre and post cat lacquers are created equally. I can purchase a 5 gallon pail of lacquer from $100/pail to $250/pail and more and the same applies to post cat.

I really liked ILVA (Italian) post cat water based lacquers, both coloured and clear but super expensive for a small shop like mine….............they are meant for larger shops. ILVA was exceptional for bleeding in, water proof, hard as granite, never ever gets fish eye but again, you have to buy sealer,thinner, lacquer, catalyst and just to get started is a thousand bucks.

I like The Becker Acroma lacquers, stains and glazes but whats wierd is that they are a European product, mfg here but illegal to use in many countries in Europe. ??????

-- "Good artists borrow, great artists steal”…..Picasso

View MedicKen's profile


1612 posts in 3426 days

#4 posted 12-11-2009 04:20 PM

The finish I dont have to apply. I hate finishing

-- My job is to give my kids things to discuss with their

View CharlieM1958's profile


16274 posts in 4182 days

#5 posted 12-11-2009 04:23 PM

I am with Scott in the sense that I don’t produce a large volume of work, so something like spraying pre-cat lacquer is just not real practical for me.

My finish of choice is either BLO or Danish Oil, followed by wipe-on poly. I frequently add a coat of paste wax at the end. I don’t know that it changes the appearance, but I just like the way it feels.

Scott, if you are still following this thread, what is the advantage to using shellac between the BLO and the poly? Or, to put it another way, what is the problem with putting the poly right over the BLO?

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View FatScratch's profile


189 posts in 3266 days

#6 posted 12-11-2009 04:36 PM

I like Danish Oil, shellac, and wax. It is so easy to apply and gives me great results. I like that it is easily repairable and they are finishes that have stood the test time. I typically make smaller projects like boxes and such, so wipe on finishes work best for me. When doing a table top or something that needs a bit more durability, I like General Finishes Arm R Seal, with Seal A Cell as a first coat. Again they are easy to apply and seem very tough.

View Kjuly's profile


308 posts in 3249 days

#7 posted 12-11-2009 04:39 PM

You said: as the the lack of amber in them compared to solvent based that’s an easy fix
Referring to water base finishes.
Could you share with us how to do that?
P.S. I enjoy your videos

-- Keith, Charlotte, MI

View jockmike2's profile


10635 posts in 4210 days

#8 posted 12-11-2009 05:16 PM

I make a lot of bowls or boxes, well not a lot, anymore, anyway I mix a three part batch of BLO, mineral spirits and varnish, in equal parts and follow with Triwax or Briwax. It usually gives me the finish I’m looking for, otherwise I like waterlox and clear polywipe over that, or sometimes just the waterlox and wax.

-- (You just have to please the man in the Mirror) Mike from Michigan -

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27250 posts in 3785 days

#9 posted 12-12-2009 01:02 AM

Charlie, there is no problem with putting poly directly over BLO. I usually use shellac because: (1) it dries fast and I can put on seal coats much quicker than poly. The exception with this routine is when I use trans tint dyes I skip shellac because I get bleeding and lift off of the dye when I use shellac over trans tint; and (2) I feel I get a smoother base coat with shellac so there is less sanding and the poly builds faster. But it is really just personal preference.

-- Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful- Joshua Marine

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John Gray

2370 posts in 3849 days

#10 posted 12-12-2009 05:46 AM

After reading the article A True Oil Finish by Glen Huey, with BLO, in the Winter 2009 issue of Woodworking Magazine pages 30-31. I have decided to use that finish on a new project I finished today and applied the 1st coat this afternoon. The article says after the 1st soaking coat of BLO to wait 48 hours for the 2nd coat applying it with 600 grit sandpaper making a sawdust BLO slurry but does not tell how long to wait between coats. I sent the below email to the author and will keep you posted when I receive an answer.

I have read your article A True Oil Finish in the Winter 2009 issue of Woodworking Magazine and started to apply that finish today on a new project this afternoon.
I have a question: On the second and subsequent coats of BLO and the sawdust slurry do you wait 48 hours between applications?
John Gray
Effingham, Illinois

-- Only the Shadow knows....................

View closetguy's profile


744 posts in 3855 days

#11 posted 12-12-2009 05:59 AM

General Finishes Arm-R-Seal

-- I don't make mistakes, only design

View studie's profile


618 posts in 3110 days

#12 posted 12-12-2009 06:20 AM

Kluly I just commented a long post on littlecope’s site, a new one about sanding. See my favorite recipe for oil finishes, my favorite. Now I’m trying pre cat lacquer to spray & go fast but a lot of fine sanding with tung, then teak & then wipe on poly is my favorite as the wood looks like a foot deep! Oil finishes are shop friendly as no bad fumes to speak of or overspray & huge fume problems, not to mention fire hazards (some but never a problem for me). I’ve never had much luck with waterbase stuff but it’s come a long way so don’t count it out. Oil takes a day to dry, a thin coat of wipe on poly 4 hrs, pre cat about 30 minutes at 60 degrees. Pre cat Magnamax is tough enough for table tops but other than poly which I prefer the oil type, oil finishes like tung or even teak & profin (Dalys) I would not use for tops with heavy use.

-- $tudie

View studie's profile


618 posts in 3110 days

#13 posted 12-12-2009 06:34 AM

OK after reading your post I should start again. You obviously have a lot of experience with finishes so not to bore you any with any thing but my favorite type, hand rubbed oils! I started out in antiques & as a farm, Barn carpenter in my early 20s had no idea what to do. But I was given the opportunity to try my hand at finishing some really fine furniture. A rosewood piano! They gave me a can of tung oil & have been hooked ever since. I worked at a big antique restoration shop for a few years but never saw the fine finish that oils could reveal. I would not want to do a whole kitchen that way but for a favorite piece the trouble is worth the effort.
After 25 years & recoating the tung oil every other year & lots of pampering the rosewood piano still looks great.

-- $tudie

View NoSlivers's profile


210 posts in 3053 days

#14 posted 12-12-2009 07:17 AM

I have a couple favorites depending on the project. For furniture I use poly, mostly for durability, and have started trying to work with danish, I like trying to impart a warmer glow to furniture. For turnings, I really like the Shellawax polish and wax. It builds a strong coating and a high shine really quickly, and I like like those qualities in a finish, since I’m commonly running behind. If I’m not looking for such a high shine on a turning, BLO and/or beeswax are usually the direction I’ll go. For the occasional puzzle for one of the grandkids (or neighbors kid) I go with several coats of straight tung oil, since the parts have to be movable. With the puzzles, the oils (and who knows what else) coming off the little hands just add to the polish.

-- If you don't have time to do it right, do you have time to do it twice?

View John Gray's profile

John Gray

2370 posts in 3849 days

#15 posted 12-12-2009 05:12 PM

REPLY concerning a TRUE OIL FINISH posted earlier

Got this reply about (concerning my earlier post above) ”A True Oil Finish” article in Woodworking Magazine from Glen Huey.

Hey John,
You have to wait for the oil to dry and a safe bet is that the finish will be ready to re-coat in 24 hours. If you can let it sit longer – up to 48 hours – that would be better. An oil finish is not something that can be competed in a short time.
Build Something Great!

-- Only the Shadow knows....................

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