While building 40 or so projects a year for WOOD® magazine, design editors Kevin Boyle and John Olson spend a great deal of time in the finishing room. They build everything from small toys and keepsake boxes to large furniture pieces, and have different go-to finishes, depending on the project characteristics, such as the wear the piece might get, or the time they have to apply the finish. Here are four of their favorites.
Watco Danish Oil Finish
Watco (shown above)
It doesn't get easier than this. Danish Oil, like most varnish/oil blends, can be all you need, especially for small- to medium-size projects. Simply brush or wipe it on, and the oil will both deepen the appearance of any figure and add a warm, amber tone. Wipe off the first coat after a few minutes, then after it dries, follow up with one or two more coats that you don't wipe off. When building coats, it's best to apply on horizontal surfaces to avoid runs.
Bulls Eye SealCoat
quart $15, gallon $40
Although this dewaxed shellac is marketed as sanding sealer, it makes a great base coat for almost any project. It's especially helpful in preventing blotchiness with some wood species, such as pine and cherry. Just brush or spray on a coat, sand smooth, and cover with a stain or dye for an even coating. Every topcoat finish sticks to it well, and it can be its own topcoat, but it will take 3–5 applications to build a good protective finish.
Enduro-Var Water-Based Urethane
quart $35, gallon $100
Water-based topcoats provide a key advantage over oil-based products: fast dry time. That's important for two reasons. First, the faster it dries, the fewer airborne dust particles will settle on the wet finish. And second, you can apply two or three coats in a day. Enduro-Var provides great protection for wear surfaces, such as tables, desks, and chairs. Plus, it adds a slight amber tone we like. It's best to spray Enduro-Var because it dries quickly, but if you must apply it by hand, use a foam brush to prevent streaks.
MagnaMax High Performance
Here's another fast-drying topcoat that's best sprayed. MagnaMax creates a glassy-smooth finish that's very durable, perfect for furniture and cabinets. Two coats are often all you need. As with all precatalyzed lacquers, it must be used within a month or so before it becomes unusable. So don't buy it unless you know you'll use it soon. MagnaMax can only be bought through paint stores and woodworking retailers; check the dealer locator on the company's website.