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Fine-Tuning Wood Finishes: Tools for Achieving Professional-Looking Results

13 min read

Wood Finishing Tools

Tools Explanation
Sandpaper Used to smooth the wood before staining.
Paintbrush Used to apply and evenly distribute stains.
Cloths Used to wipe off excess oil after staining.
Wax Used to seal and protect the wood finish.
Rag Used to spread wax smoothly and evenly.

woman wood carving with a tool

Wood finishes in woodworking projects

Finishing your woodworking project off with a professional-looking wood finish is key to creating a truly beautiful result.

To achieve this goal, there are a few tools you will need.

Sandpaper is essential; sanding your wood will smooth the surface and help prevent splitting and cracking.

A fine-bristled brush is also helpful for working finish into the wood and preventing dripping.

When it’s time to apply the finish, you’ll need a few applicators, such as a brush for solid stains or a rag for wipe-on finishes.

To finish up, you should use a high-quality steel wool, which will polish the surface and complete the look of a flawless wood finish.

With these tools, you’re well on your way to achieving professional-looking results.

Essential Tools for Wood Finishing

Sandpaper and sanding blocks

Sandpaper and sanding blocks are essential tools for achieving a fine, professional finish on wood.

Sandpaper can be used with either a manual or electric sander and comes in a variety of grits to remove scratches, round off edges, and smooth surfaces.

Sanding blocks are flat with sandpaper attached to one side, and are helpful for sanding on concave and convex surfaces.

Always start with a rough-grit paper to remove major imperfections and work your way to a fine grit for a smoother finish.

Sand in the direction of the grain for the best results.

With sandpaper and sanding blocks, you can make your woodworking projects look as good as the pros.

Brushes and applicators

Brushes and applicators are an essential tool when it comes to wood finishing.

Brushes are great for reaching small, hard-to-reach places and can help you achieve a smooth coat.

Foam brushes are a popular and cost-effective choice.

For larger, flatter surfaces, a roller applicator can provide a consistent, even finish.

When applying a finish, you might also want to use a rag or lint-free cloth for buffing and polishing your work.

When it comes to achieving professional-looking results on your wood projects, brushes and applicators are essential tools!

Stains and dyes

Stains and dyes are a great way to define and emphasize the natural beauty of the woodgrain.

Both stains and dyes penetrate the wood and provide a long-lasting color.

Dyes are available in a wider selection of colors in powder or liquid form.

Stains give a hint of color and may include oils and tinted finishes.

The selection of the right stain or dye heavily depends on whether you’re working with a hardwood or softwood.

It is also important to test the product extensively to achieve the desired look.

To ensure the best finish results, look for products that are specially designed for the type of wood you are using.

Sealers and topcoats

Sealers and topcoats are essential for professional-looking wood finishing.

Sealers will help protect the wood and keep moisture away, while topcoats create a smooth, glossy surface.

Sealers can be oil-based or water-based, and topcoats can come in spray, brush-on, and wipe-on varieties.

For oil-based sealers, you’ll need mineral spirits for removal and cleaning.

Water-based sealers need a water-based cleaner.

Topcoats also need the right cleaner, such as an acrylic deglosser for acrylic coatings and paint thinner for oil-based coatings.

Prepare and use these tools as instructed to get great protection and shine.

Safety gear

Safety gear is an essential part of wood finishing.

Make sure you wear gloves to protect your hands from harsh chemicals, cuts, and splinters.

Safety glasses are a must too! Put them on before you start any wood working project.

They will protect your eyes from flying wood chips, dust, and glues.

Other safety gear to consider is a dust mask, hearing protection, and a pair of snips to help grip wood.

Be sure to put it all on before you begin your project.

Safety is key for success when it comes to wood finishing.

Surface Preparation


Before starting any wood surface finishing project, it is important to clean and degrease the wood.

Start by wiping the wood down with a cloth dampened with a solution of mild detergent and water, rinsing with a damp cloth and then wiping dry.

For greasy finishes, use a degreaser such as mineral spirits to remove any oil or grease.

Rinse with a damp cloth and then dry with a clean cloth.

For hardwood surfaces, make sure to use a soft cloth to avoid scratching the wood.

For best results, clean and degrease the wood before starting with a finish.

Filling imperfections

Before you start applying wood finishes, you need to make sure your surface is as smooth as possible.

Filling cracks, gaps, and other imperfections with a wood filler is a great way to achieve this.

Start by cleaning off any dirt or dust.

Spread the filler onto the cracks and use a putty knife to smooth it out.

Make sure the filler makes a smooth connection with the wood.

Allow it to dry completely and then sand the surface until it’s smooth and even with the surrounding wood.

Now, it’s ready for the finishing touches!

Sanding techniques

Sanding is key to creating a beautiful, smooth finish on a wood surface.

To properly sand, start with the coarsest sandpaper and use a sanding block.

Move in circles in one direction, slowly going from one grit to the next finer one.

The direction is important, as it helps to avoid surface scratches.

If going over a large area, use a power sander.

A piece of cardboard can be used to check the surface as you go and samples can be sanded with different grits to find the right finish.

Remember to sand with the grain of the wood and work slowly for the best results.

Choosing the Right Finish

Understanding different types of wood finishes

Wood finishing can be a daunting job to undertake, but if you know what materials and methods you’re using it can make the process much easier.

There are many different types of wood finishes – varnishes and polyurethanes, stains and dyes, oils and waxes – and understanding each one can help you get the perfect look for your project.

Varnishes and polyurethanes provide a hard protective layer and are great for long lasting protection of wood.

Stains and dyes can add color to the wood and can be applied on top of the above finishes to customize the look.

And finally, Oil and wax will offer a natural-looking finish, but may require more upkeep.

With these different wood finishes, you can choose the one that’s right for the job.

Applying Wood Finish

Proper brushing and wiping techniques

It’s important that you use the right brushing technique when applying wood finish.

Use a continuous stroke in the same direction for all coats of sealer, varnish, lacquer or shellac.

Going in different directions could cause cloudiness and unevenness.

For subsequent coats of finish, brush in the same direction as the grain of the wood.

When wiping, always use a clean, lint free cloth.

When wiping off excess, move the cloth in the direction of the grain, making sure not to change direction.

If necessary, dampen the cloth.

Finally, make sure to clean off your tools and brush right away after you’re done.

Spraying finishes for an even coat

Spraying finishes is a great way to get an even coat.

Prep the surface of the wood before spraying the finish by sanding it.

Set up a spray booth and place the wood inside the booth.

Secure the wood in position, and connect a hose to the spray gun.

Adjust the spray gun’s pressure setting and start spraying a small section at a time.

Move in overlapping paths until the surface has an even coat of finish.

At this point, the surface is ready for a second coat.

Clean the spray gun and booth once done.

Achieving the desired level of opacity or transparency

When it comes to achieving the desired level of opacity or transparency, it’s important to consider the technique used.

For example, wiping and brushing will give different results.

Wiping with a stain, for example, will require different pressure, time and pad type for a transparent result, compared to that of getting an opaque result.

To make sure you get the look you want, it’s necessary to understand these factors and practise what works for you.

Experiment until you get the desired level of opacity or transparency.

Drying and Curing

Drying Times

The drying time of a finish depends on what type it is and how much you put on.

Clear finishes like varnishes and shellacs, for example, dry extremely quickly, whereas others, such as oils, could take weeks to cure.

It’s important to read the instructions and understand any recommended drying and curing times of products you use.

It’s also important to take into account the environment you’re working in, such as humidity and temperature.

Always allow extra time for your finish to dry and cure.

Different types of wood and the type of previous finish on the wood can also affect the required drying and curing time.

Knowing this information in advance will keep you from becoming frustrated when the finish isn’t dry despite following the instructions.

Curing and Handling

Once your wood finishes have been completely applied and dried, it’s important to properly cure and handle them.

Handle finished wood products gently and be careful not to rub or scratch the surface.

Avoid touching the surface directly with your hands.

You’ll want to store wood finishes in a well-ventilated area with temperatures between 40-80 degrees Fahrenheit and relative humidity between 35-65%.

Make sure wood is clean before curing, and avoid exposing wood to direct sunlight when curing.

Also, pay attention to how long the curing process takes - some finishes may require up to two weeks to fully cure.

Following these steps will help ensure your wood finishes look their very best.

Protecting the Finish

The curing process can take some time, so it’s important to protect the finish from damage during this time.

To protect the surface, cover it with a drying cloth and lay lightweight objects over the top.

Use furniture slippers to prevent items from scratching the surface.

Once the finish has cured, check the surface for damage or particles that may have missed removal.

Any particles can be wiped away with a lightly dampened cloth.

Finally, apply a wax or sealer to help protect the surface from dust and dirt.

Achieving Smooth and Glossy Surfaces


It’s important to pick the right tools and techniques for getting a glossy finish.

A steel wool pad is great for softening the finish surface and removing dirt, and a good coat of paste wax helps create a smooth, glossy finish.

Sanding with fine steel wool before finishing is another good technique.

For a wet-look finish, a rub of shellac can help, especially when applied before other finishes.

You might try staining a piece of wood first for a deep, glossy finish.

And if you want to apply a topcoat of varnish to protect the gloss, use a high-gloss paint roller.

To ensure a solid, glossy finish, use multiple coats of varnish.

Experimenting with different techniques is the best way to get exactly the look you’re going for.


Polishing and buffing help to create a smooth and glossy finish on wood.

Start by lightly sanding the surface, then apply a thin coat of paste wax.

For an extra glossy effect, use a felt wheel, turning the handle of the wheel at a slow speed as you go.

Pick the right buffing or polishing compound, by testing it on a scrap piece of wood beforehand.

To prevent an unnatural finish, buff the wood in the same direction as the grain.

To finish, apply a coat of protective wax to bring out the wood’s luster and ensure the most effective result.

Final Layer

When the finish is done, add a final layer for protection.

This layer could be a polyurethane, varnish, or wax.

The level of protection will depend on the job.

Most finishes will need only one or two coats of a product, but a few heavily used surfaces may require multiple layers.

Some wood may also require a sealer before the protective layer is added.

Lightly sand between coats for a smooth finish.

Make sure to read the instructions on the container, as each product’s application method may vary.

This last step will give you a professional-looking, glossy result.

Troubleshooting Common Issues

Streaks and Bubbles

If your project has streaks or bubbles, start by making sure that the surface you’re working on is level and there’s no dust or dirt.

Lift any wood that’s lifted due to moisture or expansion.

Make sure the finish is of the right viscosity, not too thick or too thin.

If bubbles appear on the surface, use a brush with long, smooth strokes to pop them.

For the streaks, lightly scuff the surface and apply a thinned coat of finish.

Sand lightly and finish up with more coats as needed.

If problems remain, try wiping a coat of mineral spirits over the surface and allow it to soak in.

Then apply a new coat of finish.

Uneven Application

Sometimes when applying a finish to wood, it may appear uneven or blotchy when it dries.

If this happens, don’t worry! To even out the area, try neatening it up with a few sandpaper strokes.

Sanding the area with 320-grit sandpaper should smooth it out.

Then reapply the finish.

To avoid further unevenness, try holding the applicator at once angle to achieve a consistent layer.

If any areas still appear streaky, go over them again with the applicator.

After the finish is dry, finish the job with a good buffing.


If you notice a damaged finish on your wood project, don’t panic.

Depending on the severity of the damage, it may be easier to repair than you think.

Start by carefully removing any peeling or cracked finish.

Then sand the project with a medium-grit paper, wiping off dust with a damp cloth.

Once the wood is smooth again, use a wood filler to fill in any holes or gouges.

If the project is too badly damaged, you may need to completely refinish it.

Start by sanding off all the existing finish and then apply a coat of stain or paint.

After it’s dry, apply a few coats of protective finish.

With a little bit of care, your project will be looking like new.


Pro Wood Finish Tool Summary

Wood finishing is an art that doesn’t have to be complicated.

The professional look takes time and the right tools.

Here’s a summary of the essential tools and techniques you need for a perfect wood finish: sandpaper for smoothing the wood, a putty knife to apply the finish, a lint-free cloth for even application, sealer to prevent staining, and finish topcoat for added protection and shine.

You’ll also need the right type of wood finish for the job - oil-based, water-based, or lacquer-based.

Finally, proper storage and safe handling of all the materials are the keys to a successful finish.

Achieving that professional look takes practice and patience - but you can do it!

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