How to Choose the Right Wood Finish for Your Project

Creating a woodworking project is comparable to painting a masterpiece; it requires not only skill but also an eye for the final aesthetic. Your choice of wood finish is the final brushstroke, the protective coating that also defines the beauty of the grain and the warmth of the wood - selecting the right finish is essential to your project's success and longevity. 

This article will serve as your guide through the world of wood finishes, ensuring that you can make an informed decision tailored to your project's needs.

Understanding Wood Finishes 

Before we delve into the types of wood finishes, let's establish what a wood finish is. Essentially, a wood finish is a substance applied to wood to protect its surface and enhance its appearance. Finishes provide a barrier against environmental factors such as moisture, heat, and wear, which can all cause damage over time. Additionally, finishes can enhance the wood's colour and grain, giving your project a professional, polished look.

Finishes come in many forms and can be categorized by their carrier (oil or water based), drying time, and the type of sheen they impart. They can also be differentiated by how they interact with the wood: some form a protective layer on top of the wood, while others penetrate into the wood itself.

Types of Wood Finishes

Navigating the sea of wood finishes available on the market can be daunting, but understanding the basics will help you chart a course to the perfect choice for your project.

The Characteristics of Different Littlefair’s Wood Finishes

Extra Strong Varnish: Our versatile varnish offers exceptional durability in three finishes - matt, satin, and gloss - providing excellent protection for indoor wood surfaces.

Floor Fast Varnish: Also available in matt, satin, and gloss - our floor varnish delivers fast-drying, long-lasting protection for indoor wooden floors, ensuring a flawless finish that withstands heavy foot traffic.

Water Repellent Wax Polish: Choose between a Clear Finish or Antique Brown for a traditional wax polish that enhances the natural beauty of wood while providing a protective layer against daily wear and tear. 

Superior Danish Oil: Ideal for interior and exterior wood, our Danish oil has been specially formulated for finishing woodwork when a highly durable, natural looking, waterproof finish is required.

Superior Worktop Oil: Our specially formulated oil provides a deep penetrating long lasting protection that won’t peel or flake, whilst enhancing the natural colour and beauty of the wood.

Superior Decking Oil Plus: Engineered to withstand the rigors of outdoor exposure, our Superior Decking Oil Plus offers unrivalled protection for wooden decks and outdoor furniture. With its advanced formula, it penetrates deep into the wood, providing long-lasting moisture resistance and UV protection.

Titan Topcoat: For Superior Robust Protection – Titan Topcoat is our multipurpose, low odour and quick drying waterproof coating providing a tough but flexible non-yellowing finish, available in matt, satin, and gloss. It can be applied to most types of wood and sheet materials, such as plywood and MDF. In addition, it will bond to many other surfaces including masonry, concrete, terracotta, metal, and laminates.

Shop Wood Finishing

Choosing the right finish for your project is paramount to both its appearance and durability. Start by considering the intended use and location of the piece.

Prioritise finishes with adequate protection against environmental factors if the piece will be exposed. Also, consider the desired aesthetic effect, whether you aim for a glossy sheen or a smooth matt look – our satin finishes offer a delicate sheen finish somewhere in between the two.

Lastly, factor in health and safety considerations – for a food safe finish you should consider our Superior Worktop Oil. By thoughtfully assessing these aspects, you’ll ensure your finished project not only looks stunning but also stands the test of time.

The Durability Factor 

Durability should be a key consideration in your decision-making process. A dining table, for instance, would benefit from a hardy finish like our Extra Strong Varnish or Titan Topcoat to resist dings, heat, and spills. In contrast, a bedroom dresser might be well-served with a softer, more repairable finish, like Wax Polish or Danish Oil, since it endures less rigorous use.

Considering the Aesthetics 

The finish can dramatically affect your project's visual appeal. For example, a glossy finish can suggest sophistication and elegance, while a satin or matt finish might evoke a more modern and understated feel. Consider the final sheen carefully; it should complement the wood as well as the style and decor of where the piece will reside.

The Project's Purpose and Location

The function and future home of your wood creation are vital factors in selecting a finish. Is the piece destined for outdoor use, or will it live indoors? Will it be a centrepiece subject to constant handling, or a display piece sitting prettily on a shelf?

Indoor vs Outdoor Applications

For outdoor projects, durability against the elements is paramount. Littlefair’s Titan Topcoat and Superior Decking Oil Plus offer UV protection to reduce fading over time.

Indoor projects have more leeway in terms of finish choice, as they're generally protected from harsh weather.

High Traffic vs Display Pieces

Items in high-traffic areas require a robust finish. For flooring or a children's play table, you'll want a finish that can withstand abrasion and frequent cleaning, such as our Floor Fast Varnish – available in matt, satin, and gloss; designed specifically use on indoor flooring - Superior Worktop Oil, Titan Topcoat or Extra Strong Varnish. On the other hand, for a bookshelf or a picture frame, a softer finish like our Water Repellent Wax Polish might suffice, offering beauty without the need for extreme durability.

Expert Tips for Application 

Applying your chosen finish with care and attention will ensure the best results. Here are some insider tips for a flawless finish.

It’s important to note that the final appearance will be a combination of the natural colour of your wood, the effect of the dye and the finishing product if used. With this in mind - always produce a test piece in exactly the same way you intend to finish your project, so you can properly judge the final result. 

Preparing the Wood Surface

Preparation is the foundation of a great finish. Begin with wood that's been sanded smoothly and is free of dust and contaminants. Some woods may benefit from a Wood Dye Pre-Conditioner to ensure even absorption of the finish.

For a comprehensive guide on preparing wood for a flawless finish using Littlefair's products, dive into our blog titled "How to Prepare Wood for a Perfect Finish with Littlefair's: A Step-by-Step Guide."

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For a deeper look into applying Littlefair's wood dyes and how to get the best results before applying a finishing product, check out our blog titled "How to Apply Littlefair’s Water Based Wood Dye for a Beautiful Finish."

Read Blog

Application Techniques

Each type of finish has its preferred application methods. Oils may be rubbed in with a cloth, while varnishes often require a brush or sprayer. The technique will affect the final look, so practice on a scrap piece of wood if you're trying something new. Ensure you have the right tools for the job - high-quality brushes (such as our Ecobrushes) or sprayers and take your time to apply the finish evenly. 

Troubleshooting Common Issues

Even with the best preparation, issues can arise. Drips, sags, or a cloudy finish are common problems but are not irreparable. Often, simply sanding back the problem area when the finish is dry and reapplying a thin, even coat can fix these issues. The key is patience and a willingness to correct mistakes.


The finishing touch on any woodworking project is critical. It's not only about safeguarding your piece but also about showcasing the natural beauty of the wood and the craftsmanship that went into it. From aesthetic considerations to practicality and safety, each factor plays a role in choosing the perfect wood finish. With the right approach to selection and application, your woodwork will not only be protected but will also take on an enhanced beauty that lasts for years.


Frequently Asked Questions 

What's the best finish for a kitchen table that will be used daily?

A kitchen table that sees daily use requires a durable and easy-to-clean finish. Littlefair’s Superior Worktop Oil is an excellent choice as it is tough against heat and common household chemicals.

Can I apply a new finish over an old one?

Applying a new finish over an old one can be done, but compatibility and proper surface preparation are key. An existing finish must be clean, free of any oils or waxes, and lightly sanded to provide a "key" for the new finish to adhere to. Check the new finish's specifications to ensure it can be used over an existing one.

How many coats of finish should I apply?

The number of coats varies with the type of finish and the project's wear expectations. Typically, two or three coats will suffice for most indoor furniture, with additional coats for items subject to heavy use. Each coat should be followed by a light sanding to ensure a smooth, even finish.

When using our Superior Decking Oil Plus, you should continue to apply until the wood will no longer absorb the oil - at this point, leave to dry for several hours before wiping any excess with a cloth.

How long should I wait between coats of finish?

Drying times vary significantly between different finishes and environmental conditions. Our varnishes and Titan Topcoat may dry within a few hours, while our Superior Oils usually need at least 24 hours. Always refer to the product's instructions for specific drying times and conditions.

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