Choice of a transparent wood finish

Choice of a transparent wood finish

The transparent wood stain colors improve the appearance and protect the product from moisture, dust, and wear.

Choosing and buying transparent wood finishing products is not an easy task. A large number of products compete for our attention and wallet.

The better we understand how and what works, the easier our choice will be.

Factors affecting the choice of a transparent wood finish

To narrow your search, first, ask yourself the following questions:

1. How and where is the item used?

For example, a dining table needs a very durable protective coating, as it is subject to constant wear and tear and often spills liquids on it.

And the picture frame, on the other hand, is not subjected to mechanical stress.

2. Should the wood look natural, finished with a matte finish that accentuates the grain and grain, or should it shine with a thick glossy coat of polished lacquer?

While the outer fork of a product is ultimately a matter of personal taste, the design and type of wood can help you make the right decision.

3. How much time and effort are you willing to spend applying the topcoat?

Some finishes are easy to use, while others require more skill and equipment to apply correctly.

Until you have gained enough experience, you will not know precisely how the finishing compound will behave on a particular type of wood.

Therefore, always try out the selected composition beforehand for unnecessary pruning.

Two categories of transparent wood finishes

All finishing materials are divided into two broad categories: penetrating and surface.

The first (including tung and linseed oil, Danish oils, mineral oils, and coatings for kitchen utensils) penetrate the wood pores and form a protective layer in the wood.

They are rubbed with a cloth or hand and are therefore easy to use.

Read: Types of wood finishes

The second category (which includes natural or polyurethane varnish, shellac, and latex compounds) remains a solidified layer on the surface of the tree. Usually, several layers are applied one after the other.

A spray gun or brush is used for an application, each intermediate coat is usually sanded, and the last is polished to a high gloss.

Transparent surface finishes

Natural lacquer

The natural lacquer finish is made of natural resins and has been used by carpenters in their work since ancient times.

Most likely, most antique furniture was initially covered with natural varnish because of their film, which is resistant to water, alcohol, and mechanical wear.

This lacquer is easy to apply and rub off. The amber color gives the wood a deep, rich-looking hue.

Unfortunately, natural varnishes dry very slowly – on average 24-48 hours. Problems with tacky dust and the advent of quick-drying synthetic varnishes have phased mainly out natural varnishes.

Now they are not easy to find for sale, except for marine varnish – but it is intended for outdoor use.

Synthetic lacquer

Most modern varnishes are based on the latest synthetic resins and are known as polyurethane varnishes.

They are recognized by professionals and amateurs alike for their strength, moisture resistance, and quick drying.

They give wood the same warm and deep color as natural varnishes. However, keep in mind that the surface covered with polyurethane varnish is very hard, requiring more effort to rub and polish than most other finishing agents.

Some of the most common varnishes of this type are Varathane (Flecto), Defthane (Deft), and Zar Polyurethane (Beverlee’s).

Polyurethane varnish

Some polyurethane varnish has a consistency similar to petroleum jelly. They are easy to apply with a cloth.

They have the same advantages as conventional polyurethane varnishes but lack two disadvantages: brush marks (when applied with a brush) and dust build-up (when spraying).

Polyurethane varnish adheres to the wood with a thin, durable film and retains its natural appearance, giving it a weak gloss.


Shellac has been used for centuries, but the surface is relatively fragile, with little resistance to high temperatures, humidity, alcohol, and mechanical wear.

It should be used on items that will not experience severe stress and exposure to an adverse environment.

On the one hand, shellac is often used to upholster fine furniture. But on the other hand, its numerous inherent flaws make it increasingly unpopular today.

While there is a widespread trend to replace shellac with other finishes, it is still used to prevent staining as a sealant on resinous knots and is also added to some varnish layers for thickening.

Some of the famous shellac brands on the market are Parks Pure Shellac and Bull’s Eye Shellac.

Nitro lacquer

As a champion in drying speed, nitro lacquer is actively used in furniture production.

Although not as durable as the polyurethane paints, it is attractive on its excellent moisture and abrasion resistance and is lightly polished to a high gloss.

It dries quickly (close to 30 minutes), so it’s easiest to spray it. However, such varnishes also dry quickly enough, so they are suitable for brushing small areas so that the entire surface is varnished before drying.

As this type of varnish is not compatible with most other finishes, a sealant must be used before application to prevent oil stains or putty marks from showing through the varnish.

Latex coating

Although it is water-based, it forms a powerful and waterproof film on wood when cured.

The absence of a toxic odor and the ability to wipe off stains with plain water makes latex extremely pleasant to use.

The composition is a milky white substance in a can, which becomes a transparent film after drying.

Due to the transparency, there is not as rich a deep shade as when using varnish, but it looks great on those surfaces where you need to preserve the native shade of the wood as much as possible.

The latex coating is easy to apply with a brush but is difficult to rub and polish by hand, making removing defects difficult.

But, despite this drawback, in cases where it is difficult to create good ventilation of the room or for some reason it is impossible to use traditional solvent-based products, latex finishes will be an excellent alternative.

Penetrate oils for Transparent wood finishing

Tung oil

There are two varieties: pure tung oil and polymerized.

The second option dries much faster and provides a glossier finish. Both have a light gold color, which gives the wood a moderate coloration to emphasize the texture and grain pattern.

Both options form a moisture-resistant, durable and hard film. Tung oil is applied with a cloth, left on the surface for a few minutes, and then the excess is wiped off.

linseed oil

It is an old favorite among finishing oils; it gives the wood a beautiful hand-rubbed appearance.

Linseed oil tends to deepen the color of most woods and never hardens completely – hence it is not durable, darkens, and deteriorates over time.

Some carpenters still use boiled linseed oil, but with a few exceptions, other penetrating oils are of superior quality.

Danish oil

This is a mixture of natural oils such as tung or linseed oil and a small number of resins.

The natural appearance of wood after coating with this product is better than after finishing with pure natural oils.

Danish Oil perfectly reproduces the texture of wood and the pattern of fibers; in addition, such a coating is durable, easy to apply and restore.

Certain types of Danish oils have a low resin composition, which is when the wood looks the most natural. If there are more resins, shine appears.

A mixture of oil and varnish

This type of impregnation is suitable for those cases where you want to preserve the natural look of the wood, rub the surface by hand and get better protection of the product than with Danish oil or regular oil.

Blends of tungsten oil with polyurethane varnishes such as Deftoil and Varathane Plastic Oil coat the wood surface with a durable, moisture-resistant layer.

The mixture is applied as an ordinary penetrating oil.

Non-toxic impregnation.

Wood products that come into contact with food or mouth (toys, cutting boards, salad bowls, etc.) require safe, non-toxic impregnations.

It is enough to apply and polish it to obtain a beautiful semi-matte gloss, which will increase with the use of the boards. The coating is always easy to renew.

Also, for these purposes, you can take Danish oil from Watco: after drying for 30 days, the coating of the dishes is completely safe for health.

Another option is mineral (petroleum jelly) oil, widely used in the household; it is non-toxic but never hardens and does not form a sufficient protective layer.

Note: Read the instructions carefully before using any finishing product.

Also, remember that most of these formulations are toxic and should be out of the reach of children.

Always work in well-ventilated and well-lit areas. Make sure there is no fire or heat source nearby, as thinners are flammable in some f

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