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How To: Make Your Own Wood Finish

How To: Make Your Own Wood FinishWood finish comes in as many varieties as there are species of wood. And, they all have their time, place and use. Probably the most useful wood finish In my cabinet is my own homemade wiping varnish. The good news is, you can make your own too! It costs much less than the store bought varieties and you can tweak it to fit your project perfectly.

The Uses

This wood finish is technically a wiping varnish. Sometimes it’s called a oil-varnish blend. There are two big benefits to this type of finish.

  1. It is a “penetrating finish”. That means it soaks deep into the wood and protects and strengthens the wood from the inside out. Most varnish finishes sit on top of the wood and once scratched, their protection is gone.
  2. It’s extremely easy to apply. It is a time consuming process to build up the necessary coats, but it is almost idiot proof to apply. No bubbles or brush marks to worry about.

I prefer to use this type of finish on furniture, banisters, and any wood surface that needs to not only look great, but feel great. This finish will give your wood a hand-rubbed appearance and very “close to the wood” feel that doesn’t seem like a layer of plastic covering the surface. The finish can be used on floors, but I general don’t recommend it because the time needed to build up enough coats is prohibitive. It does go on in very thin coats and is therefore time consuming to apply the many coats needed. But it is so worth it!

The Recipe

Get out a sealable metal container and mix the following:

This is my standard formula. You can modify it in many ways. For outdoor uses, you can substitute spar varnish for regular polyurethane. I also will often use less and less BLO with each successive coat. The BLO slows down the drying process, but it is the ingredient that gives the finish its penetrating characteristics. The BLO is very important in the first 3 or 4 coats, but after that, I typically scale back to only about 10% BLO and 45% of poly and mineral spirits. Experiment and find what works for you.

The Application

The finish is best applied to bare wood that is sanded smooth. Don’t sand any smoother than a 220 grit sandpaper, or the finish won’t soak in as well. You can use an old T-shirt or wiping rag to apply the finish once the surface is clean of any dust. Simply dip the rag in the mixture and apply it VERY liberally to the surface. I try to flood the surface, especially on the first couple coats. The varnish will soak into the wood fairly quickly depending on the species. Just keep adding more until it stops soaking in.

Once the wood is saturated, let it sit about 30 minutes and then come back and wipe off the excess. Let the varnish dry for 8-12 hrs and then come back and repeat the process by adding another coat. Every other coat, be sure to sand the surface with 0000 steel wool to level out any high spots in the finish and smooth out the surface. If the varnish is gumming up the steel wool instead of coming off as a fine dust, then you need to wait longer between sandings.

Continue this process for about 6-8 coats. The wood will absorb less and less of the varnish with each successive coat, and the continued steel wool sanding will make the surface as smooth as (insert your favorite smooth object here). Sometimes I’ll finish with a coat of paste wax and other times I’ll leave it as is. Either way, you’ll have a beautiful and well protected project that you can enjoy for years.

Here is an example of a night table that I finished with this method:

Got a better mixture? We’d love to hear it! Share it by commenting below.

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87 thoughts on “How To: Make Your Own Wood Finish

  1. Any problem using this mix on a dining table? Concerns I might have would be-finish not holding if liquid spilled on table, lots of residual odor. Thoughts? Thanks.

      1. Hi Scott, I was wondering if this mix would keep for a while in sealed containers and if so, for how long? Thanks

      2. I used this finish on my dining table. It has been a year with sweating glasses with no coasters, warm plates and hot dishes on how plates. Looks like the day I finished it.

  2. Good day. Just spent quite some time looking for suggested drying times for this specific mix, thank you for ending my search. Love the satin look so I’m certain this will look great.

    1. I’m so glad this information was helpful for you! That’s why we do what we do. 🙂 -Alyssa at The Craftsman Blog

  3. Very excited to try this but was curious on using it on finishing landing nets for fishing. Hand rubbiing multiple layers for protection will it held up to the water and weather conditions?

  4. Ive been using this loveable little mixture for a few years now. Ive used it on old furniture, a two toned stair and hand rail set, lots of decorative wood art décor that I make at Christmas and birthdays and am about to use it on a slotted folding door I took apart to take a few inches off of, (then boredom and maybe a bit more enthusiasm than I realized I was biting off), and decided to stain all the little slot pieces an American Walnut color while the frame is done in a Golden Pecan, (to match the two tone stairs and hand rail that will be accessible by this door). Don’t have any more varnish and the DEPOT is closed so jumped on the find out what could be used in place of Spar Varnish. Wouldn’t you know it I have a brand new unopened Satin Polyurethane gallon that should make enough of this recipe to get me through the next couple years at least. The article said varnish could be used to replace the urethane so Im looking forward to see how much a difference it is when finished. If anyone is looking for a recipe but having doubts what to try I highly recommend this.

    1. Hello! Thanks so much for reading our content and also commenting. I hope it worked great for you and best of luck with all of your projects! Feel free to subscribe to our blog or YouTube channel for frequent DIY tutorials like this and more. 🙂
      -Alyssa at The Craftsman Blog

  5. I’m excited to use this finish. Thank you!
    Question: how do you walk across the floor within 30 minutes of application to remove extra product without gunking up the floor by walking in it?
    Thanks for your help.

  6. Hi. I want to make water based lacquer of wax emulsion which is glossy shine and instant dry. Plesse guide me about ingredients, their ratios and formulatiin

  7. I am refinishing an old pine corner cabinet. It has BLO as it’s finish. Your mixture, can color be added to tint the wood to match other peices in the room?

  8. Scott,
    I would like to use this finish on a table desk that I built from reclaimed wood. As part of the character, I would also like to leave sparse areas of paint on it but most of it will be sanded off. Would this finish work for this type of application or would it cause problems with the remaining underlying painted areas?

  9. Hi Scott! I’d like to use something other than the 0000 steel wool for the sanding. Is there a very find grit sandpaper that I could use instead? I love this wiping varnish – I’m finishing a depression era bedroom set with lots of embellishments and grooves.

  10. Just bought 3/4 in. #2 cypress T&G to do my ceiling. Was planning on doing linseed oil as only finish. Do you think this 1/1/1 blend would last longer. Would love something that didn’t need to be redone in a few years. Or will 3-4 coats of pure linseed oil give me the longevity since it’s ceiling and not getting any ware. My house has very little natural light so no sun damage coming in on wood.

  11. Absolutely amazing and well written article. Just tried this out myself and I’m currently waiting for the first coat to dry. It went on incredibly easy compared to using only polyurethane with a brush… You have my gratitude kind sir. Greetings from Holland

  12. Hi , can I use a plastic container to mix the three parts ??? Then pour in a metal container to use and store ..thanks Allan

  13. Very interesting making this varnish.
    Is there a way to reduce the gloss of the PU? I often have only glossy PU varnish, but need some more matt finish to match older pieces of furniture. Standard matt does not have the needed finished effect.

  14. Can I add a stain (such as Minwax Dark Walnut) to your “3-part” mixture. If not, do you have a recomendation about what I can add to darken the mixture. thanx.

    1. If the stain is white spirit based it would be okay,use less or instead of white spirit.
      In Britain we buy universal tinters,very concentrated so you only need a few drops.
      Or dissolve artist oil colour in some white spirit and add.

    2. I would not put this on an English blog,but American people seem to want to experiment,I am Dutch and can,t resist to try things,I have sandpaper one side is the paper and they are foambacked,I often wondered if I could also use the foamside when paperside was finished with,in a moment of madness wrapped a piece around a piece of wood,dipped it into the wiping varnish and varnished a coffee table,now a brush uses a little too,a cloth perhaps not enough this seems just right,perhaps I am the only one who has hundreds of foam backed bits of sandpaper.

  15. Scott,If you were using this wood outdoors in a highly used area(bag stands at a golf course exposed to full sun and salt water) do you think it would hold up? Is there a longer cure time between the last finish and use?

    1. With regard boiled linseed oil there is a lot to learn from the Allbäck website.
      You learn about blo from the real experts.
      Try it,not all Linseed oil is the same.

    2. Richard, there aren’t a lot of finished that will hold up to full exposure outside for more than a couple years without reapplication. I’d probably look into sikkens stains or other transparent wood stains.

  16. Hi, I’m excited to try this finish. I am refinishing a cabinet and have stained it in dark walnut.can I use this finish on stained wood?
    Thanks in advance,
    Sharon 🙂

      1. Thanks! Jocob says it may not work on oil stained surface. Do you have any experience applying to oil based stain

        1. Just make sure oilstain properly dry so 24 hours,French polishers often seal oilstain with a thin coat of shellac,then proceed with your chosen finish.After shellac just a gentle sandpaper ,220 perhaps.

    1. Hi this mixture is oil based it could possibly be not so good over an oil based stain,water based stain or alcohol based stain are fine .Just try a little area first,that is always sensible.For most of my working life I have used French polish,which is great stuff,but I must say these wiping varnish mixtures are easy to use,and look really nice.Good luck Jacob

      1. Thanks for this Jacob! I never hought of thatI do have oil based stain on my wood. I will have to test.

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