Use this chart to compare finishes based on their appearance, durability and application. For more information about using these three criteria to choose your finish, see our article "Start to Finish".
Items marked with a star indicate our most frequently recommended products. In our experience, these products are among the easiest to use, and give consistently good results.
When applying wipe-on type products, we recommend using lint-free cotton or Rockler's high-quality Cheese Cloth.
Rockler Shellac KitsCHARACTERISTICS & QUALITIES: It dries very fast and gives you a nice appearance.
APPEARANCE: Best for matching antique finishes. Tinted for different wood tones.
DURABILITY & USAGE: It is not completely water resistant, and it can be brittle.
Sam Maloof's Poly/Oil by RocklerCHARACTERISTICS & QUALITIES: Gives a very professional looking, handsome finish yet is relatively easy to use.
APPEARANCE: When used alone, you'll get a satin to semi-gloss finish with good chatoyance. Adds warmth to natural wood color.
DURABILITY & USAGE: Good durability. World-renowned furniture maker Sam Maloof uses this in combination with the Sam Maloof Oil/Wax (see below) for his museum-quality tables, rocking chairs, and other furniture.
Sam Maloof's Oil/Wax by RocklerCHARACTERISTICS & QUALITIES: This oils-and- beeswax formula is made to be used in conjunction with Sam Maloof's Poly/Oil finish.
APPEARANCE: Use after applying Sam Maloof's Poly/Oil finish to increase chatoyance and give a rich, semi-gloss appearance.
DURABILITY & USAGE: See above. Oil/Wax formula is recommended for use on furniture that won't be exposed to excessive heat or moisture.
Arm-R-Seal by General FinishesCHARACTERISTICS & QUALITIES: Deeply penetrates wood and builds to a highly protective finish.
APPEARANCE: Available in satin, semi-gloss, or gloss.
DURABILITY & USAGE: Excellent. Our most durable wipe-on finish due to the high polyurethane content. Great for kitchen tables and other pieces that need to stand up to heat, moisture, and alcohol.
Minwax Antique Oil FinishCHARACTERISTICS & QUALITIES: Deep penetrating oil blend for a classic hand-rubbed finish.
APPEARANCE: Produces a low gloss sheen with the recommended 2 - 3 coats.
DURABILITY & USAGE: Intended for use on interior raw or stained wood surfaces. Additional coats may be applied occasionally to maintain like-new appearance.
Minwax Tung Oil FinishCHARACTERISTICS & QUALITIES: This tung oil blend produces the grain enhancing effect that tung oil finishes are highly prized for.
APPEARANCE: Satin sheen.
DURABILITY AND USAGE: Good durability on interior wood projects. Can be applied to raw or stained wood, or over other Minwax finishes.
Minwax Wipe On PolyCHARACTERISTICS & QUALITIES: Voted best value in a wipe on finish by Fine Woodworking Magazine. Combines the beauty of a hand rubbed finish with the toughness of polyurethane.
APPEARANCE: Satin sheen with very light amber cast.
DURABILITY AND USAGE: Good to excellent durability. Easy application and suitable for interior projects like furniture, molding and trim.
Butcher Block OilCHARACTERISTICS & QUALITIES: Safe natural penetrating oil finish for butcher blocks, cutting boards, wood utensils, salad bowls and other wood surfaces.
APPEARANCE: Grain-enhancing, flat sheen.
DURABILITY & USAGE: A completely natural oil that meets all FDA requirements for surfaces that contact food.
General Finishes EF ExtenderCHARACTERISTICS & QUALITIES: Specially formulated to for use with General Finishes waterborne wood finishes. Use to increase the drying time of General Finishes top coat finishes.
APPEARANCE: Does not affect the final appearance of the finish when used as directed.
DURABILITY & USAGE: Use EF Extender in hot, dry weather to enhance the leveling properties of GF top coats, or whenever extended drying time is desired.
Tried and True Original Wood FinishCHARACTERISTICS & QUALITIES: Tried and True Original Wood Finish is a premium oil finish made with 100% natural, plant-derived ingredients. It's FDA approved as non-toxic and nonallergenic.
APPEARANCE: Natural sheen finish.
DURABILITY & USAGE: Excellent durability and this finish will become even more hard and durable as it ages. Safe to use on children's toys, cutting boards, etc.
Rockler's 100% Pure Tung OilCHARACTERISTICS & QUALITIES: A 100% natural oil containing no driers or solvents.
APPEARANCE: Flat to satin-sheen finish.
DURABILITY & USAGE: Good to very good. Very water-resistant. Use on furniture or any wood object where easy maintenance is desired
General Finishes Salad Bowl FinishCHARACTERISTICS & QUALITIES: Made to be 100% safe for use on any wood surface that comes into contact with food. Varnish/oil blend.
APPEARANCE: Flat to satin sheen.
DURABILITY & USAGE: Good durability. Use on salad bowls, wooden spoons, cutting boards, etc.
Liberon Finishing OilCHARACTERISTICS & QUALITIES: A quick drying, low odor blend of high quality oils.
APPEARANCE: Produces a very even soft sheen.
DURABILITY & USAGE: Safe for food preparation areas. Resistant to water, heat, alcohol and food acids.
Behlen Woodturner's FinishCHARACTERISTICS & QUALITIES: High gloss wipe on finish designed for small woodturning projects.
APPEARANCE: Ultra high sheen finish designed for turned work.
DURABILITY & USAGE: Wipe on bare wood and polish while your project is still on the lathe for a durable finish.
General Finishes Toy Maker's FinishesCHARACTERISTICS & QUALITIES: Safe for use on children's toys and furniture. Applies easily like an oil, yet looks like a varnish.
APPEARANCE: Flat to satin sheen.
DURABILITY & USAGE: Good to very good durability. Use on bare wood or stained children's furniture and toys.
General Finishes PolyAcrylic BlendCHARACTERISTICS & QUALITIES: Very fast drying and easy to apply. Easy water clean-up.
APPEARANCE: Available in satin, semi-gloss and gloss. Virtually clear so it adds almost no color to wood.
DURABILITY & USAGE: Good to very good. Use on chairs, dressers, chests, molding and woodwork.
General Finishes EF High Performance Waterbase PolyurethaneCHARACTERISTICS & QUALITIES: "EF" stands for environmentally friendly! Fast-drying. Easy water clean-up.
APPEARANCE: Your choice of satin or gloss. Virtually clear, so it adds almost no color to wood.
DURABILITY & USAGE: Excellent durability. Tough enough for kitchen/dining room tables. Durable enough even for floors!
Minwax Polycrylic Protective FinishCHARACTERISTICS & QUALITIES: Affordable choice for an all-around clear waterborne finish.
APPEARANCE: Water-clear when dry. Available in satin, semi-gloss and gloss
DURABILITY AND USAGE: Perfect for cabinets, molding and trim. Can be applied over oil-based and water-based stain. Recommended for lighter colored woods and stains.
Rockhard Table Top VarnishCHARACTERISTICS & QUALITIES: A "short-oil" varnish formulated for an extra hard and durable finish.
APPEARANCE: High-gloss with an amber cast.
DURABILITY AND USAGE: Superior resistance to moisture, household chemicals and abrasion. Use on table tops or wherever an extra hard finish is desired. For interior use.
Zinsser Bullseye SealCoatCHARACTERISTICS & QUALITIES: A clear, premixed 2 pound cut of de-waxed shellac. Can be applied with either a brush or lint-free cloth.
APPEARANCE: On raw wood, 2 to 3 coats will produce a soft velvety sheen. SealCoat is most often used as an undercoat, however.
DURABILITY & USAGE: Use to seal raw wood in preparation for a final finish. Makes an excellent sanding sealer and barrier coat. For interior use.
General Finishes EF Sanding SealerCHARACTERISTICS & QUALITIES: This waterborne sealer sands easily and is designed to seal raw wood, help fill in wood pores, and build up surfaces in preparation for final finishing.
APPEARANCE: Flat - not intended as a final finish.
DURABILITY & USAGE: Great for sealing wood pores prior to final finishing. Stearated for easy sanding and extra surface build. Easy water clean-up.
Zinsser Clear Spray ShellacCHARACTERISTICS & QUALITIES: The classic finish for furniture and other wood surfaces now in convenient aerosol form. Safe and non-toxic, this natural finish enhances grain pattern and produces a soft, deep glow.
APPEARANCE: Soft, velvety sheen after 2 to 3 coats.
DURABILITY & USAGE: Good durability. Best for small-scale interior projects where a traditional finish is desired. Also has excellent sealing properties and can be used as a barrier coat under latex and oil paint.
See Finishing Q&A with Nordy Rockler.