Wood Finish Selector
The Wood Finish Selector is a software tool that helps you choose the best clear finish for your woodworking projects. It does this by ranking each finish based on the properties that you select using a ranking scale from 0 (worst) to 5 (best).
The following wood finish properties are handled:
Water resistance - Resistance to water penetration. A finish that slows the penetration of water protects the underlying wood from warpage, discoloration, and glue joint failure. Water resistance is especially important for table tops and other horizontal surfaces subject to water spills.
Water vapor resistance - Resistance to water vapor exchange between the wood and atmosphere. This is probably the most important property of any finish because it affects the stability of the wood. Excessive water vapor exchange causes wood to swell and contract at a faster rate, leading to splits, checks, warping, and joint failure. In general, finishes with thicker coatings limit water vapor exchange the most.
Heat resistance - Resistance to damaging effects of heat, including softening of the finish. The most extreme example is a wax finish which readily melts at fairly low temperatures.
Solvent resistance - Resistance to solvents such as alcohol, lacquer thinner, mineral spirits, turpentine, or glycol ether. Solvent resistance is a very important property for bar tops and other surfaces used around food or chemicals.
Brush/Wipe ease - Ease of brushing or wiping on the finish. Finishes that cure rapidly are more difficult to brush or wipe on because of the tendency to drag the finish as it becomes tacky between overlapping strokes. The finish is also less likely to flow out and erase brush marks.
Spray ease - Ease of applying the finish with spray equipment. With a little practice, all finishes except wax are easy to spray. Finishes that dry rapidly, such as lacquer, are especially valued for spraying because the overall finishing process takes less time.
Clarity - Clearness or transparency of the finish. Finishes with high clarity create the appearance of depth and don't obscure the fine details of the wood.
Non yellowing - Tendency of a finish to remain clear. Any finish containing oil yellows over time. This may be a positive for darker colored woods because it imparts a warm tone to the wood. It is not so desirable on light-colored woods.
Health and safety - How safe the finish is for you and the environment. High solvent content finishes are the least safe in terms of noxious fumes, flammability, and air pollution from solvent evaporation.
Repairability - Ease of repair. There is a trade-off here in that the most easily repaired finishes are also the least solvent-resistant.
Stripping - Ease of completely removing a finish via chemical or mechanical means.
Rubbing - How well the finish rubs out. Rubbing is used to remove imperfections in a finish, to smooth it out, and to establish a consistent sheen. Film-forming finishes that are hard and brittle respond the best to rubbing.
Flexibility - Pliability of the finish. This is the opposite of brittleness. A flexible finish is ideal for outdoor projects subject to moisture and temperature extremes because it is able to "give" without cracking. Flexible finishes are softer due to a higher oil to resin ratio and thus do not rub out as well as harder finishes.
About the Finish Properties Rankings
The numeric rankings assigned to each finish property were largely derived from material in the books listed below. Both of these are excellent references for learning about wood finishing and are highly recommended.
The New Wood Finishing Book
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