I recently had a special request to explain the difference in furniture finishes. I will explain the most popular wood finishes, what they are typically used on, what they look like and why they are used.
First let’s look at different characters of finishes.
First is how the finish cures:
Evaporative- An evaporative finish has solvents that will evaporative as part of curing. This type of finish will also amalgamate into itself.
Reactive– This type of finish has a chemical reaction to cure. Reactive can also amalgamate into itself but only for a window of time.
Coalescing- Coalescing is both reactive and evaporative. This type can amalgamate as well but it is only for a window of time.
Second is how it goes on the wood
Penetrating finishes– This types of finishes soak into the wood grain dry into the wood.
Surface finishes- Surface finishes do just as it says sit on the surface of wood and dry.
Now lets take a dive into some different types of finishes
I am going to start with the most popular. Majority of manufactured furniture today is finished with lacquer. Lacquer comes in all sheens from flat to gloss. It is very popular with manufactures because of how easy it is to spray and the quick dry time. Lacquer is also the easiest to repair or touch up. Lacquer is evaporative finish, it will amalgamate into itself, which is why it is a good finish for touch-ups. There are many precautions that need to be taken when spraying lacquers which is why it is not popular for DIYing. Tara Lou’s Recommendations: My go to brand is Mohawk. and Premier.
Shellac is one of the oldest finishes. It can be worked to different sheens. For example French polish which is a high gloss finish is done with a technique of hand rubbing shellac with a rag soaked in linseed oil. Shellac has a very distinct look and patina to it. Shellac can be sprayed but is very easily brushed on as well. It is also popular on musical instruments. Shellac is also an evaporative finish which will also amalgamate/melt into itself.
Both shellac and lacquer are surface and evaporative finishes.
Waterbase is one of the up and coming popular finishes. It is also the go to finish for Tara Lou (when I am not restoring a genuine antique). It too comes in all sheens from the manufactures, from flat to gloss. Waterbase is enviormently friendly it can be sprayed and brushed on easily. It has a very soft feel and covers nicely when done correctly. One downfall to water base is when scratched or damaged it cannot be easily touched up like lacquer can. However it is a very durable finish. Waterbase is a coalescing and penetrating type finish.
Tara Lou’s: For DIYing clients I am going to recommend MLCampbellAgualente this is a sprayed on finish however I have brushed on with success.
Waxes can be very popular and can also be added to the top of some top coats to get a desired look or feel. I have waxed furniture after water base finish was applied to get a specific look. Wax sheen is flat to a stain if rubbed repeatedly. Wax is an evaporative and surface type finish.