Coating and finishing wood is an essential part of any woodworking project. Whether you are building a bench or the staining on a wood home, coatings protect the wood’s surface. Without a finish, wood can dry, crack, deteriorate, or, if exposed to moisture, expand. A proper finish protects against swelling and cracking, as well as stains and discoloration, and enhances the natural appearance of the wood. But with so many choices out there for a wood coating, how do you know which one is right for your project? 

One of the most common questions we get is, “Which coating is right for this type of wood?” In short, it all depends and there is no hard and fast “right” answer. To determine which coating is best for certain projects, we often ask follow up questions – what look are you going for, what level of protection do you need, how much maintenance are you willing to do, etc. 

However, while there are no hard and fast “right” answers, there are some coatings that work better for some types of woods than others. The type of wood used in the project should be one factor in choosing your finish or coating.

Different Types Of Coating

Because there are so many factors to consider when finishing wood, there are many coatings and finishes to choose from. Different types of coatings will achieve different results when it comes to durability, color, shine and long-term maintenance. 


Rub-in Oils
These include oils such as tung oil and linseed oil which are rubbed on to the wood and eventually absorb into the wood over a matter of minutes or hours. These finishing oils give a wonderful appearance, varying from cedar to a wonderful brown sugar coloration.

Oil-varnish Blends
These are one of the most popular types of wood coating; they are easy to use but with more durability  than rub-in oils. They usually have a rub-in oil base with additional additives. 

Varnish
These coatings are generally oil-based but contain additional synthetic resins that up the durability level. With varnishes, you can build up multiple coats with a brush, which truly protects the wood. 

Evaporative Finishes
Evaporative finishes include shellac and lacquer, which are composed of a solvent and a resin. When applied, the solvent evaporates, leaving the resin behind.

When To Use Which Coatings

When choosing a coating, you’ll want to consider a number of things: what the project will be used for, how much durability the project needs, and what type of wood the project is made from. For log homes or cabins, interior projects, such as art or furniture, may need a different type of coating than exterior walls or decks, just the same as rosewood may need a different coating than walnut. In addition to thinking about the location and use, consider the wood type when choosing your wood coating for your wood house, log home or furniture build. We have broken down some of the main types of wood coating to explain when to use each, and for what kind of wood. 

Rub-in Oils

Best for: Walnut, mahogany, oak, cherry
Why: Oils give wood warmth and exaggerate the natural texture and patterns of the wood. They add a sheen that isn’t too glossy, which closely resembles the natural look of wood.
Avoid: Because they absorb into the wood, rather than form a coat around it, oils do not offer the best protection, so use on items with minimal wear, or where it can easily be reapplied.

Oil-varnish Blends

Best for: Same as rub-in oils
Why: In many cases, oil-varnish blends work the same way as rub-in oils, as they have rub-in oils as a base.
Avoid: Durability may be slightly better than pure rub-in oils, but still inadequate for high-traffic areas.

Varnishes

Best for: Teak, white oak, cherry. Use a water-based varnish (LINK: ) to preserve lighter color in woods like maple.
Why: When durability is a must, varnishes are the choice! These excel best with exterior wood surfaces, such as outdoor decks, boats and furniture, as well as in high-traffic areas, such as flooring, tables and cabinets.  These are also much more glossy than other options, so they catch the eye and add sophistication to many pieces.
Avoid: Wormy chestnut, ambrosia maple, banksia pods. Avoid anywhere a more natural or rustic look is desired.

Evaporative Finishes

Best for: Rosewood, colorful exotic woods (such as purpleheart, bloodwood, cocobolo and padauk), burls
Why: Shellacs and lacquers will highlight colorful or unique wood in plenty of gloss! Evaporative finishes are great for interior projects that will see moderate use but have unique colors or textures to highlight.
Avoid: Shellacs and lacquers do not do well with heat or chemical resistance, so avoid for outdoor use

Are you ready to begin your next coating or finish project? Contact the team at Lovitt’s Coating to purchase supplies or get expert advice on your wood home or log cabin project.