Stains, oils and clear coatings play a big role in your interior decor. Decide what’s right for your timbers.
Just like the perfect birthday cake, your home’s timbers need the right icing. Stains, oils and clear finishes are the toppings that give wood interiors their pictureperfect appearance.
“All unprotected wood is greatly affected by its environment,” says Rich Dunstan, President of Perma-Chink Systems, Inc. “Your home needs an excellent guard against the elements and the proper finish allows the gorgeous properties of your home’s wood to remain.”
Dunstan goes on to explain that “because interior timbers aren’t exposed to rain, snow, wind and direct sunlight, homeowners have more flexibility when choosing the color and appearance of their interior wood surfaces.” No matter if you choose to finish your timbers with a clear coating or a rich mocha stain, you’re sure to appreciate wood’s enduring beauty, as different finishing options will impart different looks to your decor. Our clear-cut guide will help you make sense of it all.
PICK A PRODUCT
With so many finishing options available, choosing the right product can seem a bit overwhelming. So, how do you know what kind of finish is right for your wood?
“The very first choice you’ll have to make when you step into the stain-and-finish aisle is whether you want a water- or oil-based product,” explains Bruce Johnson, author of The Wood Finisher. “Oil bases are more popular with traditionalists, and they give you more working time, since they don’t dry as quickly.”
However, water-based products may be more suitable when ventilation conditions aren’t ideal. Water-based stains dry quickly, which could lead to lap marks, if you’re not careful. But you can avoid this unsightly problem by working in small sections.
Once you make the oil-or-water decision, it’s time to select your specific finishing products. Here’s a rundown of what’s available:
STAIN. Available in nearly infinite hues, stains penetrate into wood to color rather than protect it. Opacity ranges from solid and semi-solid to transparent (clear) and semi-transparent (with a slight tint).
FINISH. While this term is often used to refer to any wood finishing treatment, it denotes the clear protective coating that sits on the surface of the wood. The finish lays on top of the wood and
universally protects it from water, sun and other elements. Typically, finish is applied as a separate, final step a day or two after a stain is applied. If an oilbased stain was used, then an oil-based finish should be selected.
VARNISH AND POLYURETHANE. Though they are relatively easy to apply with a brush, varnish and polyurethane are prone to dust adhesion, since they have a slow drying time. A thinned first coat may help alleviate this problem. Varnish is composed of cooking oil and a resin; polyurethane is a type of varnish made with polyurethane resin. Despite its tendency to attract dust during application, polyurethane is touted for its durability and protective qualities.
COLOR OPTIONS. Once you’ve decided on the type of product that’s best for your timbers, you’ll need to think about the color and style you want to capture. Some homeowners opt for light stains; others for dark. “Just keep in mind that the color swatches you see in home outlet stores are only a rough indication of what your stain will look like,” advises Johnson. “Your final result depends on your wood type, how long you let the stain soak in and your home’s lighting conditions.”
What’s the best way to avoid a staining catastrophe? Experimentation. “It’s important to obtain wet samples of the stain that you will use,” says Duncan. “Apply those samples on wood surfaces that are representative of the wood that you are going to stain, making sure that the same preparation techniques are used on your samples as on the house that you are preparing for the finish job.” With minimal research and a little experimentation, you can eliminate the fear factor when it comes to taking that first pass with the stain brush. With the right product and color in hand, you could even call it a “stroke” of genius.