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Finishes Differ in the Color They Impart

color comparison finish lacquer nitrocellulose shellac the finishing store unfinished water-based wax wood woodfinishing woodwork woodworking

You might choose a finish for its durability, drying speed, ease of use or cost, but you might also choose for the color it imparts to the wood.

The accompanying picture shows unfinished oak at the top left, then seven common finishes and their color. If you haven’t done this comparison side by side, you may be surprised at the amount of difference.

On top row from the left: unfinished, clear paste wax, water-based finish and nitrocellulose lacquer.

On bottom row from the left: clear/blonde shellac, amber/orange shellac, polyurethane varnish and boiled linseed oil.

In practice, wax would be an unusual choice because it offers almost no moisture resistance. Linseed and other oils offer only a little more because they can’t be built to a moisture-resistant thickness. But they are easy to apply, so they work fairly well on objects without tabletops.

Of the remaining film-building finishes (they dry hard, so they can be built to several layers) water-based finish and amber/orange shellac are the most unique. Water-based finish imparts no color; it just darkens the wood a little. Amber/orange shellac imparts a lot of orange color.

You may choose either of these finishes just for the color.



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