Top 10 Furniture Finishes and Choosing What’s Right for You

Updated: Jun 17


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Finishing is the protective or refining layer applied to furniture to accentuate the details of the piece, safeguard it from dirt and moisture, and neaten the overall look. In short, it is the final touch given to furniture before it’s all set to be used!


Some consider finishing as routine, whilst others may consider it an additional step. No matter what you think it is — it’s actually pretty easy to do and benefits the furniture, so it’s worth it! By knowing the right tips and tricks (along with a handful of patience), you can even do it on your own.


To start off, let’s highlight the top 10 finishes for furniture, so you know how stuff works before actually choosing one for your piece.


1) Lacquer

HiiGuru - Lacquer interior design

Credit: Vermont Woods Studios


Lacquer is the fastest-drying finish (one coat dries in no more than half an hour). It is a modern, high-end finish and one of the best options for hardwood furniture. A very durable finish, lacquer is available in matte and high-gloss and must be applied in multiple thin coats.


However, keep in mind that lacquer cannot be used for mahogany and rosewood, or over other finishes.


2) Shellac

HiiGuru - Shellac for home interior

Credit: Chairish


One of the oldest finishes in existence, shellac is very easy to apply. It accentuates the natural grain of wood and is applied in thin coats, like lacquer. It is a great option for mahogany and fine veneer woods.


However, shellac is not very durable. It is also not resistant to moisture, so can turn white with age in humid environments.


3) Wax

HiiGuru - Wax for home interior

Credit: Liberon


Wax finish enhances the natural grain of wood, making it a great choice if you’re looking for a finish that adds to the beauty of your furniture. Wax finishes are available in transparent and coloured forms, with the latter being used for dark woods.


However, wax finishes aren’t fully waterproof and are not very durable, so they may need periodic top-ups.


4) Oil

HiiGuru - Oil designs for home interior

Credit: Vermont Woods Studios


Oil finishes help revitalise wooden furniture, bringing about their natural beauty. They come in several varieties. Danish and tung oil finishes are penetrating, with the former having a satin finish and the latter available in high-gloss and low-gloss forms.


Oil finishes can give a degree of resistance to water, and work well when paired with wax finishes, too.


5) Varnish

Credit: Ronseal


Varnish is moisture, heat, and UV-ray-resistant. It has a high content of solids, resulting in high durability and toughness. This is also why it stands out amongst other traditional finishes. The best part is that it can be used as a topcoat over other worn-out finishes.


Available in high-gloss and semi-gloss, varnish slightly darkens the wood despite providing a clear finish.


6) Polyurethane

Credit: Wood Mixers


Polyurethane is a durable finish, providing ample resistance to water, heat, and chemicals. As such, it can provide a very protective upper layer to furniture. It comes in a variety of options, including satin and high-gloss.


However, polyurethane is difficult to apply, so it might not be suitable for you if you’re not willing to invest too much effort.


7) Soap

Credit: Artichoke


Soap finishes have a velvety effect and are very soft to touch. They are also one of the “greenest” finishes out there, making them ideal for folks looking to minimise their impact on the environment. They add no colour to the furniture, and are ultra-thin and completely safe to use.


Soap finishes are ideal for light-coloured woods, as they may obscure the rich colour of dark woods.


8) Penetrating Resin

Credit: Earthy Timber


Penetrating resin finishes, as their name suggests, soak into the wood. This makes the furniture look a lot more natural and, well, unfinished. They are very durable and resistant to wear and tear. Plus, a penetrating resin finish is easy to apply.