Exploring Different Types of Hardwood Finishes

Before introducing polyurethane, penetrating oil finishes (like tung or linseed) soak into your wood’s pores to enhance its beauty and offer low-sheen protection. These finishes are easy to repair and require less frequent maintenance.

An industrial-grade finish, aluminum oxide offers unmatched durability that can last decades without wear and tear. It is also harder to apply and not readily available for DIYers.


Whether it’s hardwood floors, fine furniture, or outdoor decking, a coat of durable wood finish is essential to preserving these precious works of art. However, it’s important to understand that there are various options for protecting your projects, each with a unique set of pros and cons.

Polyurethane is a clear liquid coating that protects wood and can be used as a topcoat over stains or paint. It is similar to varnishes and shellacs in that it is essentially plastic, but it has an advantage over these products in that it can allow the lower surface of the wood to show through while remaining hard.

Most Denver hardwood finishing uses polyurethane that can be applied using a natural bristle brush, a spray can for larger jobs or even a cloth for an elegant hand-rubbed finish. Because it’s a chemical-based product, applying it in a well-ventilated area is important and wearing a respirator when necessary, especially during the lengthier drying time.


Oil finishes are gaining popularity due to their natural aesthetics and low sheen. They highlight each piece of wood with its unique grain and color and are ideal for those who want a more natural finish that doesn’t look too polished or artificial.

Depending on the type of oil you choose (boiled linseed, tung oil or Danish), these penetrating wood treatments nourish and revitalize the surface. They are easy to use, odorless and provide good protection from water damage and stains, but require re-application every couple of years.

They also don’t hold up well to high-stress areas, such as kitchen and bar tops that get assaulted with scratches, hot coffee pots, etc. However, they are good for furniture, bookcases, picture frames, and turnings. Garrison exclusively uses WOCA oils, which are plant-based and VOC-free, so you can be sure that your home’s environment isn’t exposed to any unnecessary chemicals.


Wax is one of the oldest types of finishes available. It provides a warm, organic feel with a low sheen that enhances the natural color and grain of the wood. It is a great option for historic homes and is often chosen by do-it-yourselfers. It’s also nontoxic and contains natural ingredients such as beeswax, carnauba wax, linseed oil, paraffin, and tung oil.

Wax can also protect the floors from dirt and other elements by creating a seal that traps moisture. However, it is less durable than different finishes and requires frequent buffing and re-coating to maintain its protective qualities.

Another traditional finish option is an oil sealer, which has recently gained popularity. This type of finish goes on as a liquid and is absorbed into the wood’s pores, where it will harden. These finishes are not as durable as a polyurethane or penetrating finish, and they will need to be refreshed with a product specific to oil finishes every few months or reapplied yearly.


Water-based polyurethane has a milky, translucent look in the can but dries clear and resists yellowing over time. Its high sheen offers a clean, modern look that hides scratches and other damage well, although a broom and damp mop will still be necessary to keep your hardwood floors looking great. It has a high VOC content and strong odor, so you must have good ventilation during application and wear a respirator.

A professionally-applied acid-cured finish also known as a Swedish finish, uses alcohol and acid to create a hard film. It’s extremely durable—even more than a two-component polyurethane—and shows off the character of exotic species like Brazilian cherry. However, it’s toxic during curing and can take several days to cure fully, so you can’t put area rugs over it until it’s completely dry. It can also be difficult to touch up damaged areas. On the other hand, Moisture-cured urethane is easy to apply and dries quickly.

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