When you run your hand across the top of a new table, you feel the finish of the project, not the wood itself. For nearly every project, finishing is what makes it complete.

In this article, we’ll discuss a few of the most popular finishes on the market and explain how William’s Handcrafted creates an exceptional finish for every project we do.

What is finishing?

First, let’s clarify what we mean by “finishing”. Finishing is the process of applying a variety of products to raw wood to create a protective barrier and bring out the color of the wood.

Within the process of finishing, there are finishes. This is a separate family from stains, dyes, and glazes which each have unique characteristics to change the color of the wood or create special effects.

There are three primary types of finishes: Penetrating finishes, waxes, and film-building finishes.

Custom dining table handcrafted in Richmond, VA

Penetrating finishes

Penetrating finishes are typically oils. They penetrate into the wood to provide a little protection and enhance the richness of the wood. Many antiques are finished with oil finishes as they were low-tech, easily accessible, and easy to apply. Penetrating finishes are typically wiped on, allowed to sit for a while to penetrate the wood, and then the excess is wiped off.

Penetrating finishes provide very little protection. Think of penetrating finishes like sun tan oil. It makes you look good, but it does nothing to protect you from the elements.

One benefit of oil finishes is they are easy to re-finish. Simply apply more oil to the wood when it looks “dry” and you can breathe new life into your piece. 


Waxes are a step above penetrating finishes. Waxes are designed to till the very top layer of wood cells and provide a very slight “film”. Wax finishes offer more protection than oil finishes and often create a slicker finished surface. Waxes are typically wiped on with a rag and then buffed. The buffing creates heat which melts the wax into the pores of the wood and creates a smooth surface. Simply waxing a surface does little to impart the richness we typically want from hardwoods.

Several companies now offer a product called a hard wax oil. This is a blend of wax and oil to both penetrate the wood and seal the top with wax. A benefit of the hard wax oils is they come in multiple colors to alter the color of your project. While a hard wax oil like Rubio Monocoat can make a project look great, they are not as durable as other film-building finishes.

Film Finishes

Like their name suggests, film finishes create a film on top of the wood. Polyurethane, paint, and nearly anything you sand between coats is a film-building finish. Film finishes provide the most protection to a workpiece by creating a hard shell around the workpiece. Instead of sun tan oil, film-building finishes are like a long-sleeved shirt. They go over the workpiece to protect it from the elements.

One downside to film-building finishes is they are more difficult to refinish. Unlike oil where you can easily wipe on more finish, film-building finishes require you to sand the finish off and re-apply.
Nearly every cabinet shop uses film-building finishes. There’s a variety of subcategories in film-building finishes like lacquer, conversion varnish, and 2k polyurethane. These finishes all fall under what is generally termed in the industry as “industrial wood coatings”.

Industrial Wood Coatings

Lacquer is going to be the softest of these three finishes. It is easy to repair since the solvents in the fresh lacquer will actually melt into the previous coats of lacquer. While this chemistry makes the lacquer easy to apply, it also makes it more prone to damage from cleaners. 

Since the late 2000’s, many cabinet shops have switched to conversion varnish. Conversion varnish gets catalyzed right before the finisher sprays it. Unlike lacquer which dries from air and heat, a catalyst creates a chemical reaction which causes the finish to cure. Conversion varnish is often mixed with 10% acid catalyst.

Since the finish cures by way of a chemical reaction, catalyzed finishes withstand abuse and cleaners far better than single-component finishes. An example here is glue. Garage floor epoxy is much more durable than just rolling paint on your garage floor. The catalyst in the epoxy helps it withstand the abuse of being a garage floor.

Recently, there’s been a new finish introduced to the North American market. 2K Polyurethane is the best, most durable finish you can get for residential custom cabinetry. Mixed 50-100% with resin catalyst, 2k poly has distinct chemical differences that create a superior product on the molecular level.


 Here at William’s Handcrafted, we use almost exclusively 2k urethanes.

2k Polyurethanes will hold up the best to aggressive grease cleaners and chemical cleaners often found in kitchens and bathrooms.

In fact, automotive finishes are often 2k finishes. Think of when you get a dent in your bumper. The body shop is able to pop the dent out without damage to the finish. This is because 2k finishes have a bit of stretch to them. Because 2k Poly has more flexibility, the finish will actually stretch when dented with a pot or pan. On the other hand, conversion varnish is a hard finish and as a result, it chips easily.

2k poly is so durable that you do not need to use a coaster on our wood furniture.

Custom Cherry Side Board


With any finish, moisture is the enemy. Penetrating finishes provide no protection from moisture which is why you often see water rings from wet glasses on older wooden furniture. Waxes provide slight protection but will eventually wear down. Film-building finishes provide the best protection when properly applied. However, if the finish separates from the wood which is often the result of wood movement or an external impact, water can work its way between the film finish and the wood. This will cause finish failure. Because of the strength and durability, 2k finishes hold up the best to water.

Regardless of your finish, try not to abuse it. Just like your long-sleeved shirt isn’t bulletproof, any finish will fail if an impact damages the wood beneath it.


It is easy to feel overwhelmed by all of the different options for finishes. Fortunately, William’s Handcrafted has years of experience and personal relationships with leading industry experts. We want to create an heirloom piece for your home, and that includes the finish. Reach out to us today, and our experts will guide you to the best finish for your project and you can trust it will last for decades to come.

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Richmond, VA

The capital of Virginia, Richmond, is a bustling metropolis and home to 1,260,029 people. The town has a proud architectural history and houses magnificent buildings like the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, built in 1906. Other must-see attractions include the Carpenter Theater, the Virginia State Capitol, and the Egyptian Building at VCU.

We also service nearby areas such as, Charlottesville Midlothian, Tuckahoe, and Goochland