Wood Finishing Products

Paint isn't the only decorative finish you can apply to wood. There are several wood-finishing products that can enhance and colour the wood grain. Some are for use indoors, others outdoors for garden furniture, fences and outbuildings.


Varnish is a clear finish for interior or exterior wood - basically it's paint without the pigment. It brings out the natural colour of the wood grain as well as giving it a tough water-and-wear resistant coating. Traditional varnish is a solvent-based product, performing well but suffering from slow drying and the unpleasant smell associated with some solvent-based paints. The most widely available types are based on polyurethane resins. There is a choice of finish - gloss or satin, and matt surfaces can be created by the use of fine abrasives on the dried varnish film.

Quick Drying Varnish

Usually formulated with acrylic resins, this is a water-based finish and as its name implies, it dries much more quickly than solvent-based types so a second coat can be applied within hours of the first. This type is also available in a gloss or satin finish.

Yacht or Performance Varnish

This is used for extra weather-resistance out of doors. It's formulated using flexible resins that withstand movement and resist peeling and cracking better than polyurethane types.

Floor Varnish

Floor varnish is a quick-drying low-odour water-based varnish that can be recoated in two hours, and is ideal for sealing sanded floorboards or finishing unsealed cork tiles.

Coloured Finishes

There is an ever-growing range of finishes for wood that give a degree of colour while still allowing the grain pattern to show through the coating. Some are almost translucent, like a colour wash on paintwork, while others are more densely pigmented. Always check the container for information on the type of finish the product will give. These tinting products should not be confused with wood dyes.

Wood Dyes

These dyes penetrate the wood deeply and are mainly used to give pale, cheaper softwoods the appearance of more expensive hardwoods such as oak or mahogany. Wood dyes only colour the wood so need overcoating with a clear varnish to make the wood durable and water-resistant.

Exterior Wood Stains

For use on windows, doors and eaves woodwork, exterior woodstains are basically microporous finishes which give the wood an opaque waterproof coating while still allowing moisture vapour to evaporate through it. They come in a wide range of wood shades and paint colours, and because they weather by erosion rather than by peeling and cracking they are much easier to maintain than traditional exterior paintwork.

Exterior Wood Preservers

Wood preservers are pigmented treatments for garden woodwork. They colour the wood while allowing the grain pattern to remain on show, and also contain a preservative to discourage rot and insect attack. Different types are labelled as to their intended use - garden furniture finish, for example, or shed and fence treatment. Pick the product to suit the surface you're decorating.

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