Natural Looking Finish?

Added on January 26, 2009

This week’s question comes from Eric who asks:

“I’ve got a finishing question….I bet you get tired of hearing that! I have your Go-To Finish DVD and it is definitely top-notch…excellent work. I have started using the Arm-R-Seal and I agree that it is a great product. My question stems from the need for protection on wood furniture, especially on the table I am building, but I really prefer the way wood looks raw, right before putting on finish. As I understand, Arm-R-Seal is a pure wiping varnish, so it is technically a clear finish. However, there is no denying that even this clear finish really changes the look of the raw wood (makes it darker like when you wet the wood). Do you have any suggestions as to how I can provide some good protection for the wood without really making it much different than the light, soft look of the raw wood?”

And this was my response:

Hi there Eric. Thanks for the kind words. So we have two issue to discuss here: film thickness and color. Any oil-based product is going to give the wood some kind of an amber color. So if your goal is to keep the wood as natural-looking as possible, you might want to avoid oil-based products. What you want to go for is a finish that is known as “water-white”. This means that when it dries on the surface of the wood, it won’t bring any color to the party. Just about any water-based finish fits into this category. There are also water-white lacquers that work very well. One of my all-time favorite finishes is Sherwin Williams CAB-acrylic lacquer, which imparts little to no color to the wood.

But remember, if you put enough coats on, even a water-white finish can look “unnatural”. So you want to avoid a super thick film. Also, you will most definitely want a finish with flatteners in it, so a satin or matte finish would be appropriate. If it shines, it won’t look natural either. The key for you Eric is to experiment on scrap. There are a lot of variables at play here like the type of finish and the number of coats, so some experimentation is in order. Good luck!


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