Too many media of finishing are available out there for woodworkers to choose from. They all have pros and cons. They all have their place depending on the situations at hand.
Anyway, every woodworker has his favorite medium of finishing, the one to rely on in most cases. Recently, I reckoned it’s time for me to have one, too. So I spent time experimenting with them to arrive at the final decision.
To begin with, I crossed out polyurethanes without hesitation. Despite its great protection, they look so artificial. I love to make furniture from woods, because of their natural appearances.
In this regard, to use just oil and wax is considered the most natural. It’s also the best finishing medium in the long run. However, it’s hard to find good wax in my country. So, I have to forget oil and wax.
I experimented with varnish. They say varnish is very common in the old day, plus it provides relatively great protection, perhaps second only to polyurethanes. However, we have to wait as long as one day between each varnish coat. so it might not be the greatest medium to use regularly.
I also experimented with shellac. It’s recommended by many pros as the best finishing medium of all. Shellac is very natural, because it’s made of insect secretion. It’s very fast to apply and also preserve the natural appearances of the wood quite well. However, due to the fact that we apply shellac to the wood by padding with cotton cloth. Sometime it is hard not to leave any mark at all on the finished surface.
In the end, I went for lacquer. It has best of both worlds in all aspects. It might not give as greatest protection as varnish or polyurethanes but it does not look too artificial either. It dries as fast as 15 minutes between coats. The fact that you can apply lacquer by spraying make it easy to apply nicely. It is definitely the best medium for me considering the kinds of projects that I usually do.
To prepare the wood before applying lacquer, I sand the piece to 320 grit and clean the surface vigorously with tissue paper. Beyond that, I don’t see any improvement on the final product. I then spray the lacquer 5-6 layers by waiting for 30 minutes between layers. I am not a big fan of lacquer sealer since I notice no difference using it or not. Before the final coat, I like wait for 2 days for complete curing and then smooth out the surface with 400-600 grit sandpaper. The surface can look ugly after sanding but don’t worry. It would look great again after the final coat.