Let’s discuss the application of stains and finishes on your Douglas fir. Unlike the stain on your best button-up or the frayed finish on your go-to denim, the stains and finishes we’ll be talking about beautify and protect your wood. But, researching stains and finishes can be about as much fun as deciding where to take the family for dinner when your mother-in-law is gluten intolerant. This is one headache we hope to relieve by reviewing the function of stains and finishes, how that applies to your project, and recommended uses. And we’ll throw in a little bit of extra information that we hope is useful to you.
So, what function do stains and finishes serve? That answer is simple. A stain’s job is to accentuate the wood grain. Let’s say you’ve just installed your Douglas fir flooring and you feel a different tint will really show it off. Stain it. When it comes to a finish, it will protect wood from damage and deterioration and should be the last step in your DIY project. Think of it this way, a stain is like an accessory; it’s not required, but it looks nice. As for the finish, it is essential to extending the lifetime of your wood, like putting on your pants in the morning is essential to keeping your job.
What are you working on? Are you replacing the siding on the sunny side of your house or installing wainscoting in the bathroom? It matters if your project is indoors or outdoors. Or if it's in the bathroom or kitchen, which have different conditions from the living room or your bedroom, for example.
Also, what do you want the finished product to look like? Do you want a natural finish or would you like to add color without painting? The answers to these questions make a difference, especially if you want to save yourself from making multiple trips to the home improvement store. So, know before you go.
Let’s start with stains. Use an exterior stain for siding, shingles, decks, and patio furniture. To protect against mildew, decay, and warping choose a water-repellent stain that protects the wood against weather. Indoor woodwork, furniture, and flooring should get an interior stain. An oil-based interior stain offers smoother application with longer drying time, while a water-based stain dries more quickly, is less odorous, and makes for easier cleanup.
Know your colors, too. Are you into au naturel or do you prefer bold and bright? If you want to accentuate the natural grains in your wood, a dye-based stain will penetrate the pores. Dye-based stains are ideal for very fine or close-grained woods like CVG Douglas fir. Pigment-based stains tend to hide the natural grain because they sit on the surface, but they do leave your wood with an impressive color effect. They work best on less dense woods.
Wood finishes are generally referred to as either penetrating or surface. Penetrating finishes “soak” into the wood and leave you with a more natural look. They are also easy to apply, but can be messy. If looking to finish your log cabin, consider Linseed oil. Tung oil is food-friendly so use it for butcher-block countertops. To create a look of luster on your indoor trim and paneling, try Danish oil.
Surface or topcoat finishes form a film around the wood and shield it from most everything. For woods that are bound to take a beating – siding, trim, patio furniture – use a surface finish. Expect to see shellac, lacquer, and polyurethane on labels while walking down the wood finish aisle. Again, save yourself the guesswork and frustration by knowing what you need before you go. For instance, decorative wood items get a glossy-shine from shellac. Lacquer also leaves a gloss, but it’s tougher than shellac and comes in multiple colors. It’s typically recommended for furniture.
Two other popular finishes are polyurethane and spar urethane. Both are clear surface finishes, but spar urethane is recommended for wood in climates with extreme temperature changes. It has a higher oil-to-resin ratio that helps it work harder and longer to protect your wood from sun damage and water exposure. Although there are polyurethane finishes for exterior woods, its oil-to-resin content is lower than spar urethane. This results in reduced breathing room for your wood as it expands and contracts during seasonal changes, and it may be more prone to yellowing from the sun’s rays. Look for UV-resistant and water clear on the label to prevent this from happening. Polyurethanes are recommended as a finish for floors and cabinetry because they resist scuffing. As for choosing an oil or water-based finish, consider the item you are finishing and your preferences as the qualities found in finishes are similar in oil or water-based stains.
Additional information to consider
For DIY-ers looking for greener home improvement options, there are environmentally preferable products. Water-based stains and water-based finishes tend to be more earth-friendly, as are finishes made from plant oils and waxes. Other products boast low Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) common in cleaning supplies, paints, and lacquers, which is certainly a breath of fresh air. Ask your home improvement specialist for greener products, or shop online.
Now that we’ve helped to pinpoint your project needs, you can be in and out of that home improvement store with plenty of time leftover to take your mother-in-law to dinner.
- Nicole Morales