I know what it’s like to be completely overwhelmed and confused by all the different choices of wood finishes, polyurethane or lacquer, wipe on or spray on, and what the heck is tung oil? I’m Richard Jenkins from ThatPainter and today we’re talking about the most common wood finishes from Watco, the differences between them and how to choose the right product for your project.
Best Clear Wood Finish
Clear wood finishes help protect the wood against damage from moisture, UV rays, and everyday wear and tear, so it not only makes your project more durable, but it brings out the natural beauty of the wood grain. Whichever finish you choose, preparation is key, so be sure to prep your project before applying a protective topcoat.
There are two main types of finishes, layered and oiled. A layered finish lays on top of the wood, while the oil finish will penetrate into the wood grain. Polyurethane and lacquer are examples of a layered finished, while tung oil and rejuvenating oil are examples of an oiled finish.
One factor to consider when choosing your finish is durability. What is the project type? Is it a dining table where you’re going to need maximum protection against spills, or is it a jewellery box that isn’t subjected to moisture or heavy wear and tear? With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at these products by Watco and Minwax (actually some of the best solutions on the market).
First, we have polyurethane. It’s one of the most common finishes, but it can be a little tricky to apply. Most polyurethanes are either brushed or sprayed on, and you need to be very diligent about drips or brushstrokes on the surface.
Best Natural Wood Finish – Wipe-On Poly
- No Drips or Brush Marks, Easy to Apply
- Provides a Hand-Rubbed Look (Gloss or Satin)
- Great Protection
Minwax 63010444 is a polyurethane that’s been thinned down, so it’s more forgiving and it’s great for detailed wood finishes. It’s so easy to apply. You just wipe it on with a cloth and allow it to dry. You could build up each layer without having to worry about brush strokes or drips. It protects against water, stains, general wear and tear, and it comes in gloss or satin sheens. Now, the sheen won’t affect its durability, so it’s just a matter of preference.
Tung Oil for Great Moisture Protection
Next, we have Tung Oil. Now, this is a finish that penetrates deep into the wood to protect against moisture, and it enhances the wood grain and the warmth of the wood. Now, it won’t provide as much protection as a poly will, but I really love its natural hand-rubbed finish, and it doesn’t darken over time.
You want to reapply it whenever the wood has lost that luster, so depending on your project, this finish may require a little more maintenance. Tung oil can be used both on bare or stained wood, so you just apply the oil and let it penetrate into the wood for about 15 minutes, and then buff it off with a soft cloth.
- Gloss Level Increases with More Coats
- Enhances the Natural Color
- Enhances Wood Grain and Warmth
Two light coats are recommended, and the gloss level will increase as you add more coats. Watco also has a product called Danish oil, and it’s a hybrid blend of oil and poly. So you can get the best of both worlds, that natural earthy finish of an oil with a protection of a poly. Danish oil hardens within the wood, so it provides that hand-rubbed finish that brings out the natural beauty of the wood. It comes in several wood tones like natural, cherry and dark walnut. Here, you could see the difference between the tung oil and the Danish oil.
The Best for Countertops – Danish Oil Wood Finish
There’s a slight difference in color, but it’s more so in sheen. Now, let’s take a look at this satin wax. You can apply this on top of an oil finished for that added layer of protection. So if you’re looking for that natural hand-rubbed look, but you need a bit more durability, applying this wax is a great alternative to poly. The wax sticks to the surface of the wood, and it creates a soft satin luster. It’s water resistant. It hide scratches, and you can reapply it whenever you need to.
You simply wipe it on with a soft cloth, wait 10 minutes, and buff it off. It can be used on bare, stained or oiled wood. Something to remember, since this is a wax finish, you cannot topcoat this product. Here, you could see the difference between the tung oil and the satin wax. The tung oil, because I have more coats, it’s a bit shinier, but they both have that hand-rubbed finish. Now, if you have an old project that needs a little love, you’ll want to use this rejuvenating oil.
- Hybrid Blend of Oil and Polyurethane
- Hardens within the Wood
- Enhances the Natural Beauty of the Wood
It’s like a moisturizer for old wood, and it’s designed to restore oil finishes. It removes surface grime, and it creates a renewed luster and protection. It rejuvenates and restores old wood. You just wipe it on, wait 10 minutes, and then wipe it off. If you apply it over a wax finish, there’s no need to strip the wax because the rejuvenating oil will dissolve the wax and remove minor surface scratches. Perfect for cabinets!
Best Outdoor Wood Finish – Teak Oil
- Restores the natural warmth of the wood grain
- Outstanding UV and Moisture Resistant Finish
- Won't Crack, Chip or Peel
This product can beautifully restore worn down surfaces. Another kind of oil finished is this teak oil. It’s made for denser woods like teak, mahogany or rosewood. It penetrates deep into the wood fibers, and it provides great protection from UV rays and moisture. It also creates a warmer glow to the wood, which a lot of people like. I personally prefer a finish that doesn’t alter the natural tone of the woods, so I tend to use a finish that’s crystal clear.
To apply it, you would shake the can. Then flood it onto the surface, and allow the wood to absorb all of the oils. Add more where the wood absorbs all of the oil, and then allow it to penetrate for another 15 minutes before wiping it off. Now, here’s a finish that’s especially great for outdoor projects like decks and fences. You can use this exterior wood finish on new, old, or pressure-treated wood, and it creates a UV, moisture and mildew resistant finish. It won’t chip or peel away, and it reduces warping and swelling in the wood caused by temperature changes.
You want to make sure that the wood is dry and any kind of existing finish like paint or varnish is completely removed before applying this finish. So you’re going to want to mix the container really well. Then apply the finish with a brush, cloth, roller or a spray. Then allow it to penetrate for about 30 minutes, reapply, then wait another 15 minutes, then wipe it off the surface completely. Now, it will be ready to use in about eight to 10 hours.
- No sanding between coats
- Each coat fuses with the one below to build a superior coat of protection
Best Scratch Protection – Lacquer Clear Wood Finish
Finally, let’s take a closer look at lacquer. Lacquer is a layered finish like polyurethane. You could either spray or brush it on, but unlike polyurethane, you don’t have to sand in between each layer because each coat fuses to the one below it to provide the best protection. Lacquer creates a durable scratch resistant finish, and it’s available in gloss, semi-gloss, satin and matte sheens. It tends to have a pretty strong odor though, so you want to wear a respirator to block out those harmful fumes.
Watco Spray-on Lacquer
Now, for the spray-on lacquer, you just shake the can for a couple of minutes. Then you spray on a light coat. Be careful not to spray too heavy of a coat because it will run or drip. It’s better to spray on several light coats rather than one heavy coat. It’ll dry to the touch in about 30 minutes. Once the previous coat dries completely, and it feels hard, then you can apply the next coat. Three coats are recommended for this, and you want to allow to dry for 24 hours before you use your project.
Use A Brush
Now, for the brush on lacquer, use a good quality brush to apply. You want to stir the can. Don’t shake it because you’ll create bubbles. You also want to avoid using a foam roller or over brushing because it’ll cause bubbles in your finish. Apply the first coat. Then let it dry for two hours before re coating. Three coats are also recommended, and it’ll fully harden and cure in a week. This wood was finished with a lacquer and this one with a polyurethane. There isn’t much difference between the two as far as the look goes, but I’d offer the lacquer finished simply because it’s just as easy to apply, but it dries a lot quicker, and it’s more durable.