What is Finishing really? [ how much protection do you really need ]

Ask wood workers why we put a finish on our projects and the answer most often given is ” to protect the wood”. This is understandable we put many, many hours in to a project and we want it to last. But how much protection do you really get from the different finishes. Is there a real difference between them? Do this experiment. Take a board any board, divide it into as many sections as you like. Finish each section with several coats of a different finish of your choice. Now find a four year old and sit him or her in front of you finished board with a magic marker, then give the child a ball point pen, then a knitting needle and then a rock, you get the idea. I don’t care what finishes you chose to use, when the child is done you will see very little difference in any section of the board. The truth is that the difference in protective ability of the commonly available finishing product is negligible or only slight at best. I have seen a kitchen finished with conversion varnish all beat to hell in two years and a cherry kitchen finished with just oil that is beautiful after fifteen years.

So what is finishing? It’s a fashion statement, it’s a way to enhance the way a piece looks, it’s a way to make a piece blend in with a decor.

The most important choice in finishing is “how does it look” and next is ” can it be repaired”. If it can’t be easily be repaired it increases the odds of it ending in the trash.

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2 Responses to What is Finishing really? [ how much protection do you really need ]

  1. Tico Vogt says:

    I agree with your premise that no finish can withstand a four year old’s attack. For the pieces I make, the finish is often about stabilizing moisture exchange, aesthetics, and providing a finish that’s going to give enough short term protection so that they won’t be needing repair when (they will go unnamed) residents leave sweaty and dripping glasses and cups on horizontal surfaces and I have yet to come around with a dry cloth. Not enough can be said for the good old beverage coaster!

  2. Steve S. says:

    I’ve been less and less impressed with the way any finish (other than paint) protects the wood. Perhaps that has something to do with all the kids running around my house. So instead of trying to get the finish to protect the wood, I try to choose a wood that doesn’t need much protection. A piece that will see heavy wear should be made of a tough wood like white oak, not soft maple.

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