Wood Finishes - Your Furniture Buying Guide

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Wood Finishes - Furniture Buying Tips

Wood finishes enhance the beauty of your furniture with rich colors and brings out vivid wood grains.

 Manufacturers use many different kinds of finishes to coat their furniture, and each creates a look all its own. 

The big question

Why are there variations in the grain or color on various pieces in the same high quality bedroom group? Or why do the chairs in an expensive wood dining set not match exactly? Cheaper built sets (gasp!) may even appear to match better.

Why?

Keep in mind that no pieces of wood are ever exactly alike, even if they come from the same tree. More closely grained parts of the wood absorb less of the stain or pigment than do more open grained areas. These natural differences in color and graining affect the way each piece of wood reacts to the various staining materials.

It's interesting to note that some very cheap furniture matches perfectly. There is NO variation in color or grain at all.

There not real...

This is because it isn't "real wood". It's a pressed wood product with the finish "printed" on. (Sometimes referred to as "engraved", "roto", or "photographic" finishes.) The one advantage to the printed finish is it's complete lack of variation. Even the grain "repeats" every 18 inches or so...just like wallpaper. It's about as boring as wallpaper too.

We're talking about what I call sawdust board.

Don't damage them

While they are basically  durable...corners tend to break and edges chip.  this is VERY hard to repair.

And...

if you ever damage one of these printed finishes, it's much more difficult to repair than real wood. It requires a professional to fix it. Just look at the steps involved...

  • first the damaged area has to be filled
  •  then the graining hand "painted" back on in exactly the right colors
  • then the final finish matched to the surrounding area for luster

Real wood, on the other hand, can usually be fixed with a "wax stick", or some "Old English" furniture polish. Generally a do-it-yourself proposition.

We like to think of the natural variation in real wood furniture as a reflection of it's uniqueness.

Also, real wood finishes, over time and with use, will assume a warm patina (antique appearance).  Like fine wine, the finish ages gracefully. In contrast, the finish on the fake stuff just wears off.

Terminology

Fillers: Open grain woods like oak, ash and elm require filling if a smooth finish is desired.

Sealer: Sprayed on, dried and sanded, the sealer provides a smooth base for the finish coat.

Glazes: Finely dispersed pigments in a slow drying solution.

Top Coats: Synthetics and polyesters can produce durable finishes that are impervious to some of the things that in the past would have caused damage to the wood finishes. Easily produces a high gloss finish without all of the hand rubbing required as it was originally.

Oil Finish: Walnut, Pecan and other hard woods with rich natural colors can be finished by applying several coats of linseed oil two or three days apart. The oil is brushed on and wiped after setting. This finish can be renewed with another coat when desired.

Polyester Finishes: Resilient, durable and easily maintained; polyester finishes are available in a rainbow of colors with wonderful depth. This type of finish can produce a mirror type shine and is unparalleled in mar and scratch resistance.

Color Washing: Using thinned paint or glaze, the color is applied over a dry surface, and then wiped off using a cloth, feathers or a brush. Surfaces look best if only a thin layer of wash remains.

Combing: Using a cloth, cardboard or decoratorsí comb, (the comb can be plastic, steel or rubber), the object is run through a wet surface, paint, glaze or a light plaster. This produces a checkered or parallel effect.

Gilding: Thin gold leaves are applied either with the process of water-gilding or oil-gilding.

Lacquer: A form of resinous varnish capable of taking on a high polish. Applied in layers, each layer must dry and be slightly sanded before the next layer can be applied.

Spattering: Paint is flecked onto a dry surface from a wet brush using a variety of hand movements.

Conclusion:

Go with the natural Beauty of Real Wood...stay away from the sawdust stuff.  It may cost a little more but it will be well worth it in both the short term and long term

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