Why Use a Wood Sealer?
Wood sealers and stains are ideal for showing off the natural grain and beauty of wood. Choosing a high quality interior wood stain is important to ensure a nice even finish. There are a lot of different products to use, including oil-based and water-based stains. It is important to note that stain only provides a color, and not a finish. Always apply a finish or sealer on top of stained wood. Or, if time is short, reach for a product that combines both stain and finish with one coat; (However, I’d strongly advise not using a stain and sealer combined product).
Types of Wood Sealers
Tung oil provides a hard surface finish that is waterproof, and resistant to dust, acetone (nail polish remover), alcohol, and acids from things like fruits and vegetables. It can be applied to interior and exterior surfaces. Most people use Tung oil because of its appearance, not because of its durability.
Boiled Linseed Oil
While the name suggests that boiled linseed oil is boiled, it is a chemically modified product for faster drying time. While a slow drying oil based product is typically a good thing, regular linseed oil can take weeks to fully cure. Boiled linseed oil only takes a few days to dry. Boiled linseed oil, like any other oil based product, penetrates to the core of the wood, ultimately creating extreme protection and preservation.
Varnish is typically used a generic term to describe a top-coat or hard finish. It is extremely durable because it contains a higher ratio of solids than many other top-coats. The most common type of varnish is spar-varnish because it works well on outdoor surfaces and provides natural UV protection. Beach chairs, wood boat docks, wood patio furniture and decks.While varnish is transparent, it often has a yellowish tone. Varnish is more flexible than other protective finishes, which helps reduce cracking and splitting.
Lacquer is much thinner than other wood sealers. Lacquer is often thought of as the best all-around finish for wood. Although, unless you’re familiar with applying it, I would advise not using this type of wood sealer until you’ve had more practice. It dries quickly, and its very durable. It is more durable than shellac, although it is very thin and must be applied in many thin coats. Lacquers are available in brushing or spray form. Because its so viscous, it should be applied with a sprayer. Some lacquers are available in spray paint style can, but it can still be tricky to apply. I would highly recommend amateurs not apply a brushing lacquer because it is easy to over apply. Its also important to note that while lacquers can be used on most woods, it cannot be used on mahogany and rosewood. This is because the oils in these woods will bleed through the finish. In addition, lacquer can begin to discolor and become scratched over time. Lacquer however, does provide a beautiful glossy furniture like finish.
Shellac comes from the female lac bug that secretes the shellac resin. Shellac isn’t nearly as popular as it has been in the past and that’s because its not a versatile as other wood sealers. Its not as durable, and it also doesn’t resist water or heat. In addition, Shellac can be challenging to apply, and it ‘ambers’ over time. It is available in a clear or amber tint. Shellac brings out the rich warmth of wood grain making surfaces look soft and natural instead of plastic. As long as shellac does doesn’t come in contact with chemicals, water or heat, the finish will last many years.
Polyurethane is one of the most popular and versatile wood sealers on the market. Its essentially a liquid plastic. There are 2 different types of polyurethane…Water base, and Oil base. Polyurethane is available in 4 sheens (Flat, Satin, Semi-Gloss and Gloss). While each type of polyurethane serves the same purpose, there are difference between them.
Water base Polyurethane
Water based polyurethanes evaporate the water first and feel dry to the touch but gradually harden and cure over a period of time. Water-based polyurethane is usually a better choice for amateurs tackling projects on their own.Water based polyurethanes are popular because they won’t yellow over time like an oil base will, and because of their low odor and easy cleanup. In the can, water based polyurethanes appear milky, but go on clear and remain clear. Water based polyurethanes also dry much faster than oil based, which allows you to apply multiple coats in a shorter amount of time. Certain water based polyurethanes will withstand water and heat but most will not. My personal favorite water based topcoat is General Finishes High Performance Water Based Polyurethane because it withstands water and heat.
Oil base Polyurethane
Oil based polyurethanes are slightly more durable than water based, but they yellow or amber over time. Oil based polyurethanes also have a strong odor, and mineral spirits or paint thinner are required for cleanup.
A quick word on applicators
Its important to know which applicator will work best for the type of wood sealer you’re using. If using an oil base product, you’ll want to use either a white bristle brush, black china brush, or a foam roller. These applicators will give you the best finish possible when working with oil base products.
If you’re using a water base product, any nylon, polyester, or chinex bristle brush will work. A fabric roller that has no lint is also be an appropriate applicator for water base products.
For more information on brushes and which brand is best… check out my blog post “Battle of the Brushes: Purdy vs. Wooster”
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