What are chair finishes?
Chair finishes, or wood finishes, are applied to a piece of wooden furniture after being completely assembled. They are the cherry on top. Though they obviously serve more functions than a cherry does on top of a sundae, chair finishes add protection and enhance the wood’s beauty. Popular finish options include varnish, penetrating resin, shellac, lacquer, wax, and oil. Finishing is almost always present in wood pieces because it serves an important purpose in the life of a piece of furniture.
What do finishes do?
Chair finishes provide both protection to the wood and can enhance the look. The wood may crack, dry, swell, and/or deteriorate quickly without the right finish. There are many options for furniture finishes, all with different advantages. Additionally, while the finish of a chair is important, it is not immutable. Many finishes can be removed and redone with enough work, giving your chair a new look and an extended life!
Which finish is the best?
There are two broad categories of wood finishes to consider: penetrating finishes and surface finishes.
Penetrating finishes enter the wood’s pores and offer a natural look that enhances the aesthetic of the wood and woodgrain. Most penetrating finishes are oils, with the most popular being tung oil, which is naturally occurring and environmentally friendly, and linseed oil, which gives the wood a shiny finish. Thus, penetrating finishes are the best option to preserve the natural beauty of a chair and offer the added benefit of fewer potentially harmful chemicals.
Surface finishes sit on top of the wood to provide a protective layer. These are the most common finishes as they often lend the wood a more substantial change of appearance. These include shellacs, lacquers, varnishes, stains, paints, and more. Surface finishes are commonly used when furniture is intended to live outdoors as their water resistance can keep the chairs looking new for longer, but are also used indoors when the color of the chair needs to be altered.
The finish that best suits your project will depend on many factors, including your desired look, the craftsman’s skill level, and the way you plan to use the furniture.