Which kinds of finish sit on the surface without penetrating?

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Forum topic by HarveyDunn posted 02-27-2014 07:31 PM 1206 views 0 times favorited 9 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View HarveyDunn's profile


328 posts in 1727 days

02-27-2014 07:31 PM

I’m trying to sort through all my options for finishing a project. I want to carve through the dark finish on top to reveal the light, natural color of the wood underneath.

So my question is: which kinds of finish sit on the surface without soaking into the wood? Varnish is the one thing that comes to mind – but are there others?

9 replies so far

View Fred Hargis's profile

Fred Hargis

4984 posts in 2490 days

#1 posted 02-27-2014 07:37 PM

I think any of the film finishes meet your criteria, though at some very small level I think they all penetrate the wood just a little. But Shellac, lacquer and the waterbornes should all behave as you ask. Te stain/colorings may take some testing. Some are just pigments (sit on the surface) and some containing penetrating dyes.

-- Our village hasn't lost it's idiot, he was elected to congress.

View HarveyDunn's profile


328 posts in 1727 days

#2 posted 02-27-2014 08:27 PM

Thanks. It occurs to me I should consider paint as well. I’m pretty sure flat acrylic would have the properties I want…what about oil paint? Will it penetrate? I’d probably buy “artist” paints, not house paint.

View bullhead1's profile


228 posts in 2245 days

#3 posted 02-27-2014 08:39 PM

I have a cnc and will put down a layer of shellac first and then use acrylic paint over the top before I carve. This way the paint doesn’t bleed into the surface.

View Clint Searl's profile

Clint Searl

1533 posts in 2357 days

#4 posted 02-27-2014 09:08 PM

No finish will penetrate more than about a millimeter, so use whatever you want: oil, clear film, or pigmented.

-- Clint Searl....Ya can no more do what ya don't know how than ya can git back from where ya ain't been

View HarveyDunn's profile


328 posts in 1727 days

#5 posted 02-28-2014 06:08 PM

Thanks all.

bullhead, what do you use for a topcoat? I assume that you, like me, have some natural wood and some colored wood side-by-side but at different levels. Seems like I need something protective over them both but that won’t puddle unattractively in the lower, carved portions.

View Woodknack's profile


11613 posts in 2376 days

#6 posted 02-28-2014 06:21 PM

Lacquer is clearest and most neutral, then blonde shellac which is a tiny bit amber and waterbase poly which tends to be very slightly bluish.

-- Rick M,

View HarveyDunn's profile


328 posts in 1727 days

#7 posted 02-28-2014 06:30 PM

I don’t have a spray gun. This is a small project – can I get away with spray can lacquer?

View Finisherman's profile


227 posts in 1846 days

#8 posted 02-28-2014 06:56 PM


For small projects, a spray can should be just the thing. Just make sure to get a good quality lacquer like Mohawk, Deft or Sherwin-Williams.

View oldnovice's profile


6847 posts in 3364 days

#9 posted 02-28-2014 07:01 PM

If you are going to a rattle can, use Deft lacquer. I have found this to be the best in spray cans.

-- "I never met a board I didn't like!"

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