Transparent finishes for wood

There has been a tremendous growth of interest in transparent wood finishes that enhance timber rather than hide it under the paint. Also, with the restrictions placed upon the use of hardwoods, there has been a marked rise in the popularity of materials that imitate these woods while using the more sustainable softwoods.

As colors can change when finishes are applied, test out any chosen dye and finishing coat on a piece of scrap material – this will also ensure that there is no reaction between the stain and the covering coating.

Remember that faults and blemishes in the material will be enhanced, not hidden, so very careful preparation is needed to achieve a natural finish.

Dyes and wood stains


These are slower to dry than water-based and they do not penetrate so deeply. However, they are less likely to produce overlap marks. Allow plenty of drying time, and then seal the surface with shellac.

Stain preservatives

Often used for exterior timbers where protection is required as well as an attractive finish. They normally include a fungicide to inhibit mold growth. They tend to be very thin and soak into the timber and are far less prone to peeling. They can be used on sawn bare or previously stained wood.


Easy to use and resistant to fading, they are best applied after the surfaces have been sanded and the surface dampened with water to raise the grain. After application, seal with a coat of sanding sealer before applying a finish.


These have a polyurethane varnish combined with a wood stain, so the stain tends to sit on the surface of the timber rather than being absorbed into it. Remember that each coat applied will darken the wood further. To maintain a light finish, it may be wise to apply a coat of clear varnish as a first coat or after the desired shade has been achieved. For a durable finish, always apply a thinned first coat so that it will ‘key’ into the timber…

Bestseller No. 1
Minwax 260914444 Interior Wood Gel Stain, 1/2 pint, Coffee
The non-drip formula makes it ideal for vertical applications like doors and molding; The thick-bodied consistency makes it ideal for giving fiberglass or metal doors
SaleBestseller No. 2
Minwax 308240000 Wood Finishing Clothes, Dark Mahogany
Experience the fast and easy way to finish wood; Wipe off the excess with a clean rag, let dry for an hour, and you’re done
$7.74 −$0.75 $6.99
Bestseller No. 3
Varathane 262029 Premium Fast Dry Wood Stain, Half Pint, Kona
Ideal for use on all interior wood projects: furniture, cabinets, doors, trim and paneling


Dust is a problem with all varnishes, specks of dust can ruin the look of an otherwise perfect finish. For a durable finish, always apply a thinned first coat so that it will ‘key’ into the timber.

Acrylic Varnish

Quick-drying and non-toxic, brushes can be rinsed out in the water. Available in gloss, satin and matt finishes.


Specially formulated microporous varnish, which allows the wood to ‘breathe’. Also, contains an ultraviolet filter to reduce bleaching by the sun, and a fungicide to prevent mold growth.


Gives a clear, tough surface, and is available in gloss, satin and matt finishes. Once fully hardened, they should not be marked by hot cups, etc. being rested on them.


A high gloss finish based on tung oil and phenolic resins, with extra durability and, as the name suggests, resistant to sea, freshwater, and all climatic conditions. Very good for use on outside timber even when well away from the sea.

Bestseller No. 1
Rust-Oleum 207008 Marine Spar Varnish, Quart
Oil-based formula expands and contracts with changing weather conditions; Dries to the touch in 2 hours and covers up to 150 sq. ft.
SaleBestseller No. 2
Minwax 63010444 Fast Drying Polyurethane Clear Finish, quart, Satin
Provides long-lasting beauty and protection to any interior wood surface; Among the most durable coatings for wood protection
$11.99 −$1.03 $10.96
Bestseller No. 3
Howard Products RF1016 Restor-A-Finish, 16 oz, Neutral
Restor-A-Finish restores the finish without removing any of the existing finish; Before you go to the extreme of stripping it, restore it

Polishes – the traditional finish for internal furniture

French Polish

Made from pure shellac and alcohol, and designed to give a good finish on furniture. In addition to standard French-Polish, other options are available:

  • White Polish-made from bleached white shellac.
  • Button Polish, made with button shellac, producing a more orange color.
  • Ebony Polish, gives a jet-black finish when applied.
  • Garnet Polish, gives an attractive deep rich brown cast to wood. French Polishing kits are available for the beginner.

Wax Polish

A good quality wax polish with added beeswax will gently lift and remove grime, and then leave a hard protective coating with a natural sheen The traditional wax has no added oils, color or perfume. Wax Polishes are available in a number of forms including liquid, paste, a special brushing wax, colored waxes, and staining waxes.

SaleBestseller No. 1
Howard Products FW0016 Wood Polish & Conditioner, 16 oz, Orange, 16 Fl Oz
Enhances the natural beauty and depth of grain in finished and unfinished wood; For use on antiques, dining tables, kitchen cabinets, wood doors and trim, etc.
$24.98 −$11.63 $13.35
Bestseller No. 2
Old English Furniture Polish - Almond Scent 12.5 oz Aerosol Can
Protective Shield Formula for polishing wood surfaces; Helps protect against watermarks and stains on both light and dark hardwood surfaces
Bestseller No. 3
Weiman Furniture Polish & Wood Cleaner Spray - 16 Ounce (2 Pack) Condition Your...
Restore - Gently cleans, moisturizes & conditions wood, fantastic Cherry Almond fragrance; Protect - Quickly removes dirt, soil, and residue


Danish Oil

Excellent on pine, it is based on Tung Oil for extra protection and durability. It gives a natural low luster finish.

Finishing Oil

Specially formulated to revive old woods, it can be used as an oil finish, or in preparation before wax polishing.

Lemon Oil

This provides a suitable finish for teak and matt finished woods where a wax finish is not desired. It has the aroma of fresh lemons.

Linseed Oil

A natural product is available in natural and boiled form. Although a traditional finish, it is best not used for wood finishing (apart from cricket bats) as it goes gummy and sticky with age.

Teak Oil

Based on Tung Oil and added resins, it gives a quick drying penetrating seal to teak and similar woods. It leaves a slight sheen when dry.

Tung Oil

This oil gives a superior finish to that of linseed oil and is water-resistant. It can be easily applied using a rag.

Two-part coating These are cold cure lacquers, which need to be mixed together before application. They tend to be resistant to heat, solvents, and abrasion. They can be polished to a high gloss finish or rubbed down to produce a satin or matt finish.

They give a VERY hard finish and can be susceptible to chipping and can be problematic to repair or remove.

Bestseller No. 1
Food Grade Mineral Oil for Cutting Boards, Countertops and Butcher Blocks - Food...
Easy to Use - Push applicator cap and easy squeeze bottle makes maintenance a breeze; Made in USA - Stringent quality, not imported from China
SaleBestseller No. 2
Old English Lemon Oil, 16-Ounce Bottle
Old English Lemon Oil helps protect wood surfaces; Cleans, conditions and shines to bring out wood's natural beauty
$6.43 −$2.96 $3.47
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