What kind of wood finish should I use?


What type of wood finish should I use?

The use of a piece of furniture or ravages of time can be limited by a finish coat or durable top. While the terms stain, polyurethane, varnish, and lacquer are commonly used in referencing a final finish in overall, these products are not similar and are also not recommended to be used interchangeably. 

Now that you have finished your woodwork project, you will need to protect it with a top finish. What do you choose between the different wood finishes? Here is an exclusive look at the difference between stain, varnish, lacquer and polyurethane.

What is Stain?

Wood stain is basically any translucent or transparent agent used in coloring wood. The coloring agent in the stain is usually a dye dissolved in a liquid, unlike paint that contains pigment suspended in a binder. 

The stain color penetrates the fibers of the wood while the paint rests on the wood surface film. Wood stains mimic the color of the wood after being absorbed. This is different from varnish, which is transparent and clear. Coating laying on top of the wood. 

Wood stains come in three forms, including resin, oil, or alkyd. Once the stain has been absorbed into the wood, you can wipe the excess stain. It is after completing the staining process that you need to finish the job by applying a protective coat. 

Some of the best protective coatings include varnish, lacquer, and polyurethane.

What is Varnish?

The name varnish is commonly used to refer to a top coat or finish generally. However, this is, in a real sense, a very specific product. The terminology confusion is aggravated by manufacturers who refer to lacquers, and polyurethanes as varnish for marketing sake. 

As popular as it is, the varnish is a hard, clear solution that forms a protective film around the wood and gives it a glossy finish. The components of varnish include a solvent or a thinner, drying oil and an alkyd resin. It is not a lacquer and is not a polyurethane. 

The varnish is ideal for raw wood and outdoor projects such as rustic homes and exterior trims and doors the fact that varnish has little color makes it viable in application over wood stains to enhance the wood shine.

Varnish is closely related to polyurethane because Poly is a varnish type. However, Poly has less oil and is more rigid and harder than varnish. Varnish is flexible and contains more oil. Chemically, the two products are very distinct. This makes varnish suitable to all types of climatic conditions as its flexibility enables it to expand and contract depending on the subjected temperatures.

As mentioned above, the wood varnish is perfect for use on outdoor furniture and is resistant to heat, UV light, cold, and saltwater. Though a bit durable, the varnish is not as durable as polyurethane. Its ability to give the wood a warm grow makes it sometimes to be used on indoor furniture.

What is Lacquer?

Lacquer has been used for more than seen a thousand years. The first lacquer was found in China during the Neolithic age. Initially, it was obtained from the Chinese lacquer tree. Modern lacquers are manufactured synthetically. 

This product is a solvent based product made by dissolving nitrocellulose, pigments, and plasticizers in a volatile solvent’s mixture. Its name originates from the Portuguese language with ‘lac’ meaning a particular resin form expelled from insects. 

This product also has a shellac solution in alcohol that makes a synthetic coating creating a high gloss surface. This makes it impervious to alcohol and most household liquid that might spill on it.

Lacquer has the fastest drying time for about thirty minutes and is best for crystal clear finish. You can hence get about three to four coats in a single afternoon. It is one of the hardest top finish and is exceptionally durable. 

It is better wearing and stronger than varnish and shellac. It is still debatable on which among lacquer and polyurethane is more durable and harder. Lacquer finish can produce an excellent high gloss finish. 

Lacquer has two classes, those that dry through a chemical reaction and those that dry via solvent evaporation. The lacquer that dries via chemical reaction is known as catalyzed lacquers. They are available at paint specialty store but have a short shelf life.

Lacquer is the best top coats in terms of forgiving mistakes. You can easily sand away a run or patch a furniture area that was not well coated. Applying a new coat redissolves the previous coat, and they blend perfectly together. 

In cases when you want the natural wood beauty to show through, lacquer is the best choice as it is the clearest top coat. However, in some instances, lacquer can get rid of the 3D wood quality that would be achieved by a polyurethane finish.

When it comes to drawbacks, lacquer may discolor over a long period; it contains a high volatile organic compound (VOC), and dust mast cannot shield you from the lacquer vapor.

What is Polyurethane?

Polyurethane was first discovered during the second world war. This product is a set of human-made synthetic organic compounds. As its word suggest, it is a polymer resulting from the reaction of a diol and diisocyanate. 

According to a research study conducted, polyurethane has been proven to be the most durable and hardest among other existing topcoats. For the past years, this has become the favorite topcoat finish for most of the woodworkers worldwide. 

Almost all the topcoat & finish manufacturer has developed a polyurethane product for sale.

Polyurethane can be purchased in all topcoats from gloss to matte. This product can be brushed on, wiped on, or sprayed on. A natural bristle brush is needed to brush on poly to avoid the formation of bubbles that in case a foam brush is used.

Polyurethane exists in two major types. It has a waterborne and oil-based form. The waterborne version is newer in the market and has some benefits. Waterborne polyurethane is created by mixing small polyurethane microscopic particles with water to form a colloidal suspension. 

This waterborne polyurethane dry fast as the polyurethane microscopic particles cures quickly with the quick evaporation of water. It has a quick dry time of approximately two hours. It is easier to clean using soap and water, offers a more transparent finish and a lower VOC.

Oil based polyurethane takes longer to dry approximately about twenty-four hours. This type cures through a chemical reaction and must be sanded between the coats to make a tooth to be grabbed on by the next coat. 

Oil based polyurethane gives the wood a warm glow for the most beautiful furniture’s.

Looking to paint your wood furniture?

If your looking to paint your wood furniture you may find it helpful to check out our article “What is Chalk Paint”  



Many types of finishes are available for use in refinishing your furniture. To know the type of finish that will apply best to your furniture, you need to understand their differences. The information in this article will help you achieve more satisfying results in your woodworking.

Whenever you’re working with any of the above products be sure to read and follow all manufactures safety precautions.


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I am a seasoned woodworker with many years’ experience creating custom furniture among other projects. In 2015 my family and I relocated from Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania to sunny Saint Johns, FL. It is here that I refined my skills into fine woodworking & home decor. I currently specialize in rustic home decor & furnishings. This has given me the opportunity to explore the creative side of woodworking to a different level.


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How to remove 6 common stains from wood

Farm House Kitchen
Farm House Kitchen

How to remove 6 common stains from wood furniture

Many of the
finishes on our furniture does protect the wooden surface from damage by
offering a protective coating. However, when you expose your wooden surface to
stains, they can decolorize it and damage it if you do not act as fast possible
in removing the stains. By removing the stains you can save the color of your
furniture and enhance the natural beauty of the surface.

There are so
many stains which can damage your wooden surface some of them are oil stain,
paint stain, permanent marker stain, red wine stain, coffee stain, and water
stain. If you wish to know on how you can remove the above stains your wooden
surface then you should read the guide below.

Precautions when removing stains from

When removing any of the above stains with chemicals, it is important to wear protective gear such as chemical resistant gloves and safety goggles. Wear closed toe shoes, long pants, and a long-sleeved shirt. By doing this, you can prevent any stain from getting into direct contact with your skin.

You should
also read the instructions written by the manufacturers about the stain

White ring stain caused by moisture (heat stain)

1. How to remove water stain from

Using a hairdryer

Just put it
at its lowest setting before you direct it at the water stain. Make sure that
you only move the dryer around the mark so that there is not direct heat onto
the wooden surface as it can overheat and damage it.

Petroleum jelly

Apply a
small amount of petroleum jelly into a soft, clean piece of cloth and use it in
rubbing around the water stain in a circular manner. In case the stain still
exists, you can try to apply more petroleum jelly product and allow it to stay
there for around 1-2 hours before rubbing the surface so that you can remove
the stain.


If you have a stain as a result of a water stain, then you can use toothpaste. However, before you use it, you must ensure that you are using a plain white toothpaste and avoid using colored one or one which is made of whitening chemicals.

Gently squeeze some toothpaste onto a clean piece of cloth and rub it gently into the water stains. Dip another piece of cloth into the water so that you can use it in wiping your wooden surface to remove the stains and toothpaste.

Steel wool

When it
comes to removing water stains using steel wool, then you must use one with the
finest grade so that can avoid scratching your table. Dip the steel wool into
lemon oil and start rubbing it gently over the affected area. Be careful as you
are doing this so that you do not damage your wooden surface finish.

Red Wine

2.  How
to remove a red wine stain in the wood

possible that you accidentally spill a glass of red wine while you are at home
sitting quietly of holding a party. However, if this wine happens to land on
your hardwood table or flooring it can easily soak into thereby having a
permanent mark on your wood. Fresh red wine will be much easier to remove
compared to a stain which has been there for a longer period of time. If you
wish to remove the red wine stain then you should follow the methods below.


In case the
red wine has not dried fully, then you can use your kitchen faucet to dampen an
absorbent cloth or paper towel. Blot up this wine by pressing the damp towel
directly onto the stain without wiping it.

Oil-soap solution

In case the
wood has been stained mildly, then you can use an oil soap solution in removing
it. Just mix about 60ml of oil soap with 3.8 liters of hot water. After you
have mixed this solution just dip a dry and soft cloth onto the mixture. Make
sure you wring this cloth so that it becomes slightly wet before you can use it
in scrubbing the wood which has a red wine stain. After scrubbing the stain,
rinse the area with warm and dry it using another clean damp cloth.

Using a vinegar solution

Just mix an
equal amount of water and vinegar solution. Mix enough solution which can cover
the stained area. Soak a clean cloth into the mixture, but in this, you should
not wring it since the solution is expected to seep into the wood for you to be
able to remove the stain. Place the cloth over the red wine stain such that it
starts to lift. After the stain lifting, you can use a clean rag in scrubbing
the stain until you completely remove it.

Coffee Stains happen

3. How to remove a coffee stain in
the wood

When you
accidentally spill coffee wood but you are able to wipe it immediately, you are
likely not going to leave ant stain. However, if you allow it to soak into the
wood, it can leave a tough stain which may be difficult to remove.

To remove a
coffee stain from wood just use the procedure below.

Things which
you require:

  • One tablespoon of a wood polish
  • A clean buffing cloth. Absorbent clean cloths or paper towels.
  • One tablespoon of white vinegar
  • Water
  • ½ teaspoon of liquid laundry detergent.

procedure of removing the coffee stain

  • First, you will be required to take a paper absorbent paper towel and dip it into the ½ teaspoon of liquid detergent and water so as to moisten them. Use the wet paper towels in wiping off the stain from the wooden surface. This method is very useful when it comes to fresh coffee stains.
  • Wipe the stain carefully using the towel and try the blot the stained area using another clean paper towel.
  • Next, you will be required to treat the coffee stain which might be remained by making sure that you use a stronger cleaning agent. In this case, the agent is white vinegar.
  • Pour one tablespoon of white vinegar onto the coffee stain and leave it to settle there for about 1 minute. Using a clean towel to wipe away the vinegar. Allow the wood to dry.
  • If your wooden surface has been discolored by the coffee stain, then you can easily restore its natural shine by using a wood polish.
  • Just pour one teaspoon of wood polish onto a clean cloth and rub your surface using this cloth. Allow it to dry before rubbing again using a clean cloth.

4. How to remove an oil stain in the

Since wood
is very porous it’s able to absorb oil quickly, thereby leaving a nasty stain.
However, there are so many ways on how you can remove the oil stain, the guide
below can give you what you can do.

Things which
you need

  • Baking soda
  • Dish liquid
  • An iron
  • Thick brown paper
  • Mineral spirits
  • A scrub brush
  • Bowl

Steps for removing an oil stain from wood

  • You can start by pouring an absorbent powder probably baking soda over the oil stain until it is about 0.25 inches thick.
  • Allow the stain to stay there for about 6 hours.
  • Use a vacuum cleaner in removing the stain from the wooden surface. In case the stain has not been removed completely, just repeat the procedure as the many times until you completely remove it.
  • If the above procedure does not seem to be successful, juts ray a piece of thick brown paper over the oil stain.
  • Set the iron at its lowest setting, so that you can start rubbing it slowly over the thick brown paper. When the oil is exposed to cool temperatures they can solidify and by doing this it can liquefy them. Just allow the paper to soak them and in case the paper becomes saturated you can replace it with a new one.
  • After doing this, you can repeat step i-iii
  • In case there are stains which have remained, then you a mix some dish liquid with water and swish it on your hand so as to create suds.
  • Scoop the surface using these suds. Use a dry cloth so as to remove oil residue and soap.
  • In case the oil stain is still stubborn, then you also try using mineral spirits so as to loosen the stain.

5. How to remove a paint stain in the

When you are
remodeling or painting the interior of your home, some drops of paint are
likely to spill onto your wooden surface. The best thing you can do in this is
to try removing the paint immediately since if you leave it longer it can seep
deep into the wooden surface, making it harder for you to remove it. You can
use paint thinner and water in removing the stain.

You must
first determine, the kind of paint stain you want to remove. Pain stain which
is water based can be best removed with a clean towel and warm water. If it’s
paint which is oil-based it will require you to use a paint thinner.

Apply a
paint thinner on the stained area in a sparing manner so as to prevent removing
the wooden finish.

Using a heat

In case you
have a heat gun, then you can point it close to the pain stain so that it
softens it. After that, you can try to scratch the paint layers using your
putty knife. Use a damp cloth to wipe the stained area. In case this method
does not work, then you can try to use a Goo Goo painter’s pal. Just apply
directly this product to the paint stain.

mineral spirits:

Oil-based paint
can continue to cling onto your wooden surface if you use plain water in wiping
it away. Just dip a clean, soft cloth into the mineral spirit and use it in
wiping the stain. Repeat this process until all the paint stain has been

Using boiled
linseed oil:

If the paint
spills have dried up you can soften them by soaking a clean cloth into boiled
linseed oil and rubbing it over the stain.

6. How to remove permanent marker
from wood

Nail polish remover

  • Pour a nail polish remover onto the permanent marker stain.
  • Scrub the permanent stain using a towel and you will realize that it will start to lift u slowly.


Another is
using a regular toothpaste by applying it directly onto the stain.

Toothpaste can offer you so many cleaning features apart from those of oral hygiene. If you have a stain as a result of a permanent marker, then you can use toothpaste.

However, before you use it, you must ensure that you are using a plain white toothpaste and avoid using colored one or one which is made of whitening chemicals.

Gently squeeze some toothpaste onto a clean piece of cloth and rub it gently into the stains. Dip another piece of cloth into the water so that you can use it in wiping your wooden surface to remove the stains and toothpaste.

Penetrating oil

This kind of
oil has low viscosity and that is why it’s mainly used in loosening rusty bolts
and nuts. If you are able to use it well, it can lift the permanent marker
stains. Just apply this oil directly onto the stains on your wooden surface and
leave it to stay there for a few minutes. Use a clean piece of cloth to wipe
off your surface so as to remove the stains.

Melamine foam erasers

Normally the
melamine foam erasers are used in removing scuff marks from painted surfaces,
vinyl, tile, and wood. These erasers can be used in wood surfaces in lightening
or completely removing the permanent marker stains.

Isopropyl alcohol

Dip a clean
piece of cloth into alcohol and gently wipe over the affected areas so that you
can remove the permanent marks. Avoid pouring alcohol directly onto the wood
surface or saturating the wood as this can damage it more.

As you can
see there are many different approaches to removing many of the common everyday
stains from your wood furniture.  Some
many work better depending on the type of stain that you have on your wood

attempting to remove any stain it is important to try the method on a concealed
area to test as you do not want to cause permanent damage to the wood finish.  I hope that this information has helped you
with your project.

How to remove white rings from wood

Heat mark on Wood table

What causes white rings on wood furniture?

Stains on wood furniture are the worst!  The white rings that appear on a table out of nowhere can drive you nuts trying to remove them.   In this article I will give you a few tips on how you can remove white ring stains from your wood furniture.

The first time I noticed one of these white ring stains on my brand new table it infuriated me!  I tried all types of cleaners which almost seemed to make it worse!   Products that claim to remove any stain we’re useless. In this article I will give you a couple of quick home remedies for removing these pesky white ring stains from your wood furniture.   

Main cause of white rings on wood furniture

First it’s important to understand where these stains come from.   Is it that I didn’t use a coaster when I put down my glass?    Could it be from the oils in your skin as you rest your arms on the table?   Did somebody spilled an entire thing of bleach on my table?

There’s a simple answer to this common problem that we all have. The main cause of these white rings are actually caused by hot plates.  That’s right, hot plates are the main cause of white rings on your table. I guess I should have listened to my mom when she told me to use a placemat at dinner time.

Now don’t get me wrong hot plates are not the only thing that causes these white rings.  That hot coffee cup that you have every morning, the warm pizza box that you set on the table on a Friday night or that quick TV dinner that you just whipped up on a Wednesday while watching Jeopardy.

These white rings you’re seeing or actually called heat stains. What’s happening is the heat is being trapped under these things.  When the heat is trapped underneath the moisture is building up as well which is causing these white rings.

Not to worry before you go spending thousands of dollars replacing on your furniture there are some easy fixes.  Now granted all these fixes May not pan out the same depending on your situation.

Five ways to remove white rings from your wood table

1.  Get yourself a hot iron

That’s right, this is one of the easiest ways to remove these white stains.  I was actually freaked out the first time I attempted to use a hot iron on my brand-new table. I mean who in their right mind uses an iron on a dining room table?

So how do you use the iron to remove the stain? 

First you’ll want to go ahead and grab yourself an old white T-shirt or cloth. The T-shirt or cloth is going to act as your barrier between the iron and the wood surface. Then you will want to empty out all the water that maybe in the iron as many recommend.  Although I have found success with using the steam as well but always proceed with caution! 

Now go ahead and fire up that old iron that has been sitting in your closet for the last 15 years. Once your iron has had a chance to heat up you will want to place the cloth over the stain and slowly move the iron back and forth over the stained area for a short period of time.   Now that your t-shirt is completely wrinkle-free lift it up and use a dry white cloth to wipe away the stain.

So why does this iron method work?

Essentially what you’re doing with this method is heating up the moisture that is trapped in the wood causing it to evaporate and rise to the surface.   Once the moisture reaches the surface you’re wiping away the white ring stain at its root cause.  

2.  Some good old Toothpaste

 I mean if toothpaste is good enough to clean your teeth it should be good enough to get that stain out of your wood table right?  

 I can honestly say I’ve tried this method a few times and it didn’t pan out too well for me but it may for you. What you do is place a dab of toothpaste on your finger or on a towel and rub it into the wood grain until it gets a little warm.  After you’re done applying toothpaste take a damp chow and wipe it down.

 It’s recommended that you use the standard White toothpaste not the gel. Also be sure not to scrub too long or outside the stained area which may put a little unnecessary wear on the wood finish.  Always remember to test a small hidden area.   If at first you don’t succeed try and try again until the stains are gone.

3.  Let’s give that stain the Salon treatment

Now were going to turn your dining room into a full-fledged salon so break out the hair dryer.  Now take your hair dryer and turn it up to the highest setting. Get that baby close to the stain and hold it there for about 30 minutes moving at back and forth over the area.  What we’re trying to do is evaporate the moisture that is in the wood causing the white ring.  If and when the stain goes away add a little olive oil onto the wood to give him a little finish.

I would definitely recommend this method if you have about 30 minutes to kill on a Saturday afternoon. What better to do then sit in your dining room holding a hair dryer (just kidding?) 

4.   Time to bake with some baking soda

 This method is very similar to the toothpaste method.  What we’re going to do is make a paste with baking soda and it little bit of water.   It is recommended to use two parts baking soda to one part water but you can just eyeball this as it’s not rocket science.

I’ll grab one of those white rags you have laying around and apply it to the surface gently.   Baking soda can be abrasive I’ll be sure not to scrub too hard so that you don’t damage the finish.

 Afterwards use a damp cloth to wipe away the baking soda.   if the stain did not disappear by now you can always try again.

5. Let’s break out some steel wool

For this method you will need some fine steel wool and a little bit of lemon oil. You will want to soak the steel war in the lemon oil for a little bit.   Now take out the steel wool in ever so gently start rubbing the white ring away.  

  The lemon oil will help to prevent scratching the wood surface but that’s essentially what you’re doing with this method.   Think of it as a real light surface sanding.   After you’re done taking it clean cloth and wipe down the surface.   If the stain is still there you can always give it another go.

As you can see there are many ways that can help in removing white rings from wood furniture.  All furniture finishes are not created equal so if one method doesn’t work you can always move on to the next.  Just remember to always test the method on a hidden spot so that it doesn’t make more issues!

Need professional help?

If you are tired of trying to remove wood stains from your furniture give Home Built Woodworking a call!  We specialize in custom built farmhouse furniture & refinishing.