Get professional-looking results with these easy-to-apply choices.
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After putting all the time and effort into building a great project, a flawless finish really sets it off. These finishes go on quick without a lot of fuss or expensive spray equipment.

Finish furniture with a wipe

It takes a few coats before Arm-R-Seal builds to the desired depth and appearance. To avoid transferring contaminants to the can with the brush, pour some finish into a clean container for application.

Polyurethane creates a hard, protective finish but can be difficult to apply without brush marks, sags, or drips. The low viscosity of Arm-R-Seal—a blend of mineral oil and urethane resin—creates a thin film, eliminating those problems. Apply it with a natural-bristle brush, foam brush, or lint-free cloth. Then wipe off the excess with a lint-free cloth within a few minutes.

The first coat may not provide a consistent sheen and you may wonder about your decision to use it. But Arm-R-Seal looks and wears best after three or more coats, allowing each coat to dry overnight. Buff it to a nice sheen with a cloth once it cures.

In the end, Arm-R-Seal imparts a light amber tone to wood and, like most penetrating oil finishes, highlights the grain. Its high durability makes it suitable for furniture, tabletops, and even benchtops. It can be applied over stains and other finishes (follow the manufacturer's recommendations). Find it for around $20 per quart.

Rub it in for a fantastic finish

Odie's Oil finishes contain non-toxic oils and waxes that offer plenty of protection.
Because of the waxes and oils in the finish, Odie's Oil has a stiff consistency until it's mixed thoroughly.

Originally developed for hardwood floors, Odie's Oil contains waxes in addition to resins that provide a nice sheen. Its initial paste-like consistency becomes more liquid as you stir it.

A little Odie's Oil goes a long way. Apply a thin coat with a white, non-woven abrasive polishing pad, working it deep into the wood. Wait about 45 minutes and then buff it with a clean cloth, removing all of the excess finish. The resulting even, satin finish shows off the wood grain.

If you want to apply more coats, allow 24 hours between them. No sanding is required between coats. It takes two weeks to cure for maximum protection against water and other liquids. A 9-ounce jar costs $45.

Another version of this product, Odie's Super Penetrating Oil, has a thinner consistency, making it easier to apply to larger or more complex projects. The trade-off is a less durable finish than the standard Odie's Oil. The application process is the same. You'll spend about $100 for a 32-ounce jar of Super Penetrating Oil.

A Note on Safety

Oil-soaked rags can spontaneously combust, presenting a fire hazard. Dispose of applicators and rags in a metal pail with water and secure the lid, or spread them out to dry thoroughly before disposing of them. Thoroughly clean any non-disposable brushes.

Tradition meets convenience 

The linseed oil in Tried & True makes it feel "sticky" on application and requires a little more effort to apply than thinner oil finishes.

The modified linseed oil in Tried & True Varnish Oil harkens to 18th-century traditional oil finishes. The manufacturer adds a rosin-based derivative from pine trees that improves the durability of the finish. It costs around $35 per quart.

To apply Tried & True, wipe on a thin coat using a lint-free cloth. The viscosity, a little thicker than boiled linseed oil, requires a bit of effort to work the finish into the surface.

After an hour or so, rub the surface briskly with a cloth until completely dry. The finish fully cures in 24 hours, after which you can buff it using #0000 steel wool or a soft cloth. Additional coats increase the depth of shine and level of protection.

Beauty and durability in one

This water-thin coating soaks into the wood while leaving a protective film on the surface. Use a natural bristle brush to lay down a smooth finish.

Like other oil-based finishes, Waterlox Original Sealer/Finish absorbs into the wood to seal it while adding a protective film. Its water-like consistency helps carry the resins deep into the wood fibers.

Waterlox adds depth to the wood while providing water-resistant protection. It's suitable for any-size project, including hardwood floors and countertops. With its blend of tung oil and linseed oil, the first coat shows off the wood. Additional coats add durability and depth to the finish owing to resins in the blend.

Apply up to four coats for optimum protection, allowing 24 hours between coats. Although this prolongs finish time, the end result is worth the wait. You'll find Waterlox Original Sealer/Finish for $32 a quart.

Spray for speed

A quick-drying, spray-applied lacquer allows you to build multiple coats quickly.

When it comes to a quick finish for small projects, nothing beats spray lacquer in a rattle can. You can easily apply several thin coats within a few hours. Lacquer works great as a stand-alone finish or as a topcoat for stains and other finishes.

Spray only in a well-ventilated area—if you can spray outdoors, all the better. (The finish dries fast enough to minimize dust nibs, even outdoors.) Always start spraying off to the edge of the project, then move the can in a smooth, even stroke past the opposite edge, keeping the nozzle the recommended distance from the surface. This avoids buildup along the edges of the project that causes runs or sags. Practice on a scrap piece to determine how far away and how fast to move the can for the optimum finish.

Although lacquer dries to the touch rather quickly, it's best to wait at least an hour before applying another coat to allow most of the solvents to evaporate. The great thing about lacquer is it doesn't require sanding between coats. The solvent from the freshly sprayed finish reactivates the lacquer of the previous coat to aid adhesion.

A can of lacquer costs around $10 and is available wherever paint supplies are sold.