This article will cover what a finish is, reasons for applying one, what finishes we recommend and a step-by-step description of how to apply a finish to your final piece.


Environmental conditions have a significant effect on timber, UV rays from the sun, moisture, and heat cause damage and deteriorate timber furniture, products or architectural elements.

There are quite a few ways timber can be maintained, but one effective method is with a timber finish. Finishing is the final step of the manufacturing process that gives wood surfaces desirable characteristics, including enhanced appearance and increased resistance to moisture and other environmental agents. Finishing can also make wood easier to clean and keep it sanitized, sealing pores that can be breeding grounds for bacteria. Finishing can also influence other wood properties, for example tonal qualities of musical instruments and hardness of flooring

This article will explore some finishing options for indoor and outdoor timber pieces, how to prepare your timber and apply finish as well as some extra tips and tricks for the best application practices.

What is a finish?

A 'finish' is a coating made from a range of materials listed below. All of these types of finish offer different degrees of protection, durability, ease of application, sustainability, toxicity levels and appearance.

These finishes are categorised as:

  1. Waxes

  2. Oils

  3. Varnishes

  4. Shellacs

  5. Lacquers

  6. Water-based

These categories are further explored in Finishing Continued.

Evolution Hardwax Oil Classic

The Evolution Hardwax Oil is a blended wax and oil based product which is an open-pored, breathable finish made from natural raw materials. It easily soaks in, lightly colours the wood and forms a water resistant, hard wearing finish that is easy to apply and easy to restore.

At the MSD Machine Workshop we carry Evolution Hardwax Oil and recommend it to students for finishing their final projects.

We recommend to use this product as it:

  • Provided for free at at workshop!

  • Is made from natural raw materials making it...

    • Sustainable

    • non-toxic and food safe once the hardwax-oil has cured

    • hypo-allergenic

  • Gives a beautiful glowy finish deepening the colour of the timber

  • Highlights the grain pattern in your timber

How to prepare your timber

New surfaces

  1. Fill any holes & cracks before applying finish

    • Products to use - Wattyl Woodstop or Timbermate wood putty

    • Use a putty knife to apply the filler, leaving a bit standing above the surface & then sand smooth once dry.

  2. Finish by sanding

    • Sand along the grain, as sanding across the grain will leave scratches.

    • Begin with rough sandpaper 120-180 grit, and work towards finer grits 240-320 grit.

    • Make sure all glue residue has been removed, if you miss some glue spots the finish will highlight the glue and the finish will not bind to those spots.

    • If you are using an orbital sander, the circular sanding disc will leave tiny circles, which should be removed by hand.

Previously finished timber

  1. This timber will need to be stripped before a new coat applied.

    • Find instructions online as different finishes are removed with different processes.

  2. Fill any holes or cracks that may not have been previously filled or that have appeared overtime.

  3. Finish by sanding

Setting up your space

  1. Read the instructions on the tin to understand the process, drying time and how many coats are required.

  2. Take note of the temperature before beginning as varying temperatures can affect drying times.

  3. Set yourself up in a space with good airflow and ventilation (outside if weather permits) with:

    • plastic drop sheet or paper to protect the bench from finish drip off

    • gloves

    • a face mask if you are sensitive too the smell

    • a stirring stick

    • application equipment - an applicator pad and a clean rag

  4. Open the tin with a flat head screwdriver (do not use a chisel for this) and use a flat stirring stick to mix the finish together without creating any air bubbles.

How to apply

  1. Follow the directions on the manufacturer’s label.

  2. Pour enough hardwax oil into a clean plastic container (do not use finish straight from tin).

  3. OPTIONAL: Dip your applicator pad into your finish and test it on an area that can’t be usually seen by rubbing a small amount of product onto the timber.

    • This will give you an idea of what the finish will look like on your particular piece of timber.

  4. Rub the applicator pad along the timber grain, spreading out the finish evenly.

  5. Repeat this step without using too much product (a lot goes a long way!) until the whole surface of your timber has an even coat, avoiding lapping yourself.

  6. Once applied and still wet, use the clean rag to wipe along the grain to remove any excess finish and buff the finish in nicely.

  7. Wait for the time instructed on the tin (usually overnight, depending on the ambient humidity) for the first coat to dry.

  8. Apply a second coat at minimum, followed by third or fourth subsequent coats if you are inclined.

Note: the timber species you are using will affect the final finish and build. Open grained silky oak can easily take up to four coats, although grain filling prior to oiling can reduce this significantly. Hardwoods such as blackwood and jarrah are less thirsty with their closed grain and therefore need fewer coats.

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