At Fine Woodworking, we get more questions about finishing than any other topic. The fact is, most woodworkers spend oodles of time learning how to cut precise joinery, while failing to fully understand the wide variety of finishes available on the market, as well as when and how to use them.

In this short video, Fine Woodworking art director Michael Pekovich and senior web producer Ed Pirnik demystify a variety of finishes, as well as offer tips on how to select the appropriate finish for your furniture projects.

Five Common Furniture Finishes


Oil Finishes
Perhaps the simplest finish to apply, oil finishes are simply wiped on, and wiped off.


Wiping Varnishes
What oil finishes lack in durability, wiping varnishes make up for. These oil and resin blends are durable, popular, and still rather easy to apply.


Brush-On Polyurethane
If you're looking for the ultimate in protection for your furniture and woodworking projects, brush-on polyurethane is a tried-and-true favorite. Just watch out for color variations between oil and water-based versions of this product.


A traditional shellac finish is in a class all its own. It dries super-fast, but it doesn't resist heat or moisture very well. You can also use the de-waxed variety (sold in cans) as a sealer coat.



The icing on the cake when it comes to furniture finishing, wax brings a beautiful luster to your projects, and adds a modest amount of increased scratch protection.