Every wood piece we build needs a finish applied, whether we’re talking about countertops, islands, tables, chairs, butcher block, doors or cabinets. Without a finish, wood can dry, crack and gradually break down. If unfinished wood is exposed to moisture, it could swell. The drawers of a dresser might not shut. A door might get stuck. You get the picture.

At Bison Woodworking, we use three different types of finishes. As we discussed in a previous post, we apply a mineral oil finish to butcher block and countertops that will be used frequently for cutting. We recommend regular applications as you use it.

Mineral oil is a penetrating finish because dries inside the wood. This prevents the butcher block from drying and cracking. Because butcher block is used for food preparation, we only use mineral oils with natural, food-safe ingredients.

We apply a conversion varnish like polyurethane to tables, cabinets, and any other wood piece that won’t be used extensively for cutting. This is called a surface finish because it dries on the surface of the wood. Stain can be applied before conversion varnish.

Not only does conversion varnish provide a very hard coating that makes the wood resistant to nicks, scratches and stains, but it also seals moisture in the wood to prevent it from drying. Unlike mineral oil, a conversion varnish finish is typically a one-shot deal. You may want to apply a fresh coat after 20 years of regular use, but that first application will go a long way.

The surface is usually natural wood, but customers often ask us to paint the legs of tables, chairs and islands, as well as door fronts and face frame cabinets. We use a high-quality paint that makes even the hardest of hardwoods more resistant to dents. If the customer wants their piece painted, we prefer to use maple because it’s durable and has very tight grain that paints really well.

Of course, it’s not just about the wood finish. Metal needs to be finished as well. We use a baked-on powder coat. We’ll sandblast a piece of steel to get rid of the mill scale, dirt and grime, and send it through a wash system. Then it goes through a booth that applies powder, which clings to the steel. The last stop is inside the oven so the powder can be baked on for maximum durability.

Choosing the right wood finish might be a bit more complicated than you thought, but don’t worry. We’ll explain your options so you can protect the wood (and steel) and achieve the look you’re going for.