This post provides a summary of our wood finish preferences and photos of what the different wood finishes look like on walnut.
We use Arm-R-Seal Oil Based Topcoat, made with the highest-quality urethane resin, because it is extremely durable and long-lasting. It penetrates the wood to provide deep-down protection and we love the natural appearance, going on clear and showing off the grain of the wood. We feature our Legacy XL size Keepsake Box in the upper right corner of this photo finished with Arm-R-Seal.
Arm-R-Seal Oil Based Topcoat requires 3 coats, with a 12-24-hour dry time between coats. Inadequate dry time is one of the top reasons for finish failures. If in doubt, we wait longer. Besides the obvious protection the urethane finish provides for the wood, many woodworkers, including us, find urethane more visually appealing than lacquer on the finished product.
To make matters even more difficult, yet so worth it in the end, we use Satin Arm-R-Seal. We apply it with a swatch of a clean cotton t-shirt, folded into a 2″ square. With Satin, it is more important to avoid over wiping when applying, because of the increased flatting agents needed to create a Satin sheen. Semi-gloss and Gloss sheens are easier to apply because there are little to no flatting agents in them. We have tried all 3 and love the look of Satin the best.
Lacquer has the fastest dry time, though we do not use it in our shops. Even though it is more cost effective since just one coat is needed to finish the wood, it does leave the wood more prone to scratches. Most types of Lacquer have a high VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) content, thus being more harmful to the environment than urethane. Lacquer gives a shine, a look we do not prefer. We like the warmth and depth Arm-R-Seal brings out in the wood grains.
We use High Performance, a water-based polyurethane, for our Sliding Lid Boxes, Wooden Journals and Door Hanger Signs. It will not yellow; goes on clear and stays clear over time. It is a film finish; therefore, it gives a smooth non-wood finish. Since this finish is clear, it will not enhance the appearance of the grain the way oil-based urethane finishes do as you can see in our photo above. However, it is the winner of Fine Woodworking’s “Best Overall Choice Award”, voted as the hardest, most durable polyurethane topcoat. It dries crystal clear, contains a UV stabilizer to protect it from breaking down in sunlight and is the most durable product out there. It still requires 3 coats, though dry time is only 2 hours between each.
Also featured in our photo comparison:
Watco Danish Oil and Tried & True are both varnish type products made from linseed oil, so they are likely to yellow over time.
Shellac will change color slightly as it ages and it becomes less soluble.
Wax is the easiest to apply and repair if mistakes are made during application however has poorest water and scratch resistance and only fair resistance to chemicals. It is not generally used as a complete finish. Scratch protection can be added when used in combination with other finishes such as shellac and lacquer.
We differentiate ourselves from the marketplace in the pride we take in finishing our products. Finishing is an art and a science. We have gotten good at it after years of practice by understanding the properties and tendencies of each type of finish, learning the proper steps and techniques to apply and executing each step flawlessly.
Thank you for reading this post and let us know if you have any questions!