5 Common Wood Finishing Mistakes You Need to Know

Published on: January 14, 2022
Written by Eric Devin / Fact-checked by David Rowan

There are several types of mistakes made by the DIYers during execution of wood finishing projects.  Wood finishing task is a little tricky as it has to go through three levels of tasks including sanding, staining and finishing. Each of the tasks requires sound knowledge about species of wood and finish. It also pursues huge patience and extra vigilance in terms of quality aspects and expected outcome of the project. 

Sanding is the first step which prepares the wood surface for smooth finishing. Choosing the right grit of sandpaper based on the coarseness of the wood surface is extremely essential. In fact it greatly impacts on the sanding task for producing a finer wood surface. In failure, the remaining two tasks would be worthless if they are done somehow.  

Then the tasks of staining and finishing have to be critically dealt with using the oil or water based solvent and type of wood you are going to apply on. And a lot of risk of health hazard and environmental pollution is involved here if the things go wrong. 

However, taking care of every aspect at all levels has no substitute. With this brief note, I have designed this article focusing on common mistakes to make you aware and skilled to deal with your project efficiently. 

Here, we will survey the most common mistakes made by property holders. We will reveal to you how we can maintain a strategic distance from these mistakes, how to save ourselves.

5 common wood finishing mistakes you need to know

Common Wood Finishing Mistakes

As discussed earlier, wood finishing projects follow sanding, staining and finishing. If you don’t bother with the steps, it won’t produce the desired result. 

For example, a wash-coat is one kind of diluted coat of shellac applied before stain.  This coat is essential to create a more even surface for the stain and makes scope to apply more coats of paint.  This wash-coat works great for the wood including maple, pine, birch, cherry and alder wood. 

Improper Sanding

To achieve the best finishing, sanding is the first and foremost step to complete flawlessly. Inadequate or improper sanding is one of the top common mistakes in the wood finishing project. This kind of sanding mistake usually originates from the use of the wrong grit of sandpaper. The sanding task always follows the use of sandpaper grit from lower to higher to produce a smooth surface successively.

For example, 60-80 grit of sandpaper is used to remove the abrasive scratches from the wood while sanding with 220-grit is done to achieve a finer wood surface. The simple equation of sanding is the lower the grit, the rougher the sanding while the higher the grit, the smoother the finish on the wood surface. 

Therefore, going with the wrong sanding technique to finish your wood surface would ultimately spoil your wood-finishing project. 

Another mistake is not inspecting the wood surface after each sanding to monitor the sanding result. If you don’t inspect the sanding from time to time, you can’t decide which grit you need to use for the next finish. Sometimes sanding with the rougher or finer grit of sandpaper unnecessarily and also causes undesired results in sanding tasks.  

Another mismanagement is not procuring the variety pack of sandpapers. It creates huge inconvenience as you can’t get it as immediately as you need them to continue your tasks.      

Application of Incompatible Finish

Another aspect is all types of wood finish are not compatible with all types of wood. It varies depending on the species of wood. For example, oily type of wood often causes problems after having finished. The finish does not easily dry off after application and stays tacky for an indefinite period of time because of its wood type. It hampers proper curing through the oxidation process due to the presence of antioxidants in the oily type of wood. 

Therefore, specific finishes are manufactured for specific types of wood. So if the finish is not compatible with the wood’s type, it won’t produce the desired result. Further, if one kind of finish is combined with another kind of finish, this mix automatically turns incompatible due to a certain type of chemical reaction between them. 

Another mistake is mixing both oil-based solvent and water base with the finish to dilute. Because oil and water never mix due to their different chemical composition. So when you are procuring wood finishes, it’s recommended not to buy incompatible solvents to dilute your finishes. Try to procure a finished product combined with the same base solvent to avoid a dilution mess. 

Insufficient Coat of Finish

The application of an insufficient coat of finish on your wood surface is another major mistake. A single coat of finish sometimes though apparently seems good enough, in reality, it’s not. The first few coats with polyurethane, lacquer and shellac would give you a high-quality finish because of their quality and protection.

Just with the first three coats, you can have maximum durability and protection from humidity. However, further applying extra coats like 4-5 coats might diminish the film thickness to some extent. Always flag up extra vigilance while finishing a task takes place. Never go for too much coating. 

Another mistake often observed is not using glossy wood finish at the initial coats despite you won’t want your final sheen glossy. Because most low-gloss finishes appear to be dull after applying multiple coats as they contain a flatting agent which is key to causing dullness. The simple solution in such a situation is to either rub out the final layer of coat or apply a low-gloss finish as the last coat of finish. 

Negligence in Reading Manufacturer’s Instruction

Different brands of stains, paints, and varnish vary a lot in terms of their chemical composition and quality. Every manufacturer provides instructions, specifications, compatibility, use of solvent, application technique, etc. to guide the users thoroughly to get the staining and finishing job done efficiently.

Therefore, if a manufacturer’s instruction is not followed strictly before staining, finishing, or varnishing, it would cause a potential threat to an individual’s health, environmental safety, and successful accomplishment of a wood finishing project.  

Not Adhering to Safety Protocol

When you are dealing with any kind of chemical composition like a stain, paint, finish, etc. you essentially need to take necessary precautions before working with them. Because stains, finish or paint contains certain types of chemical composition and they produce harmful fumes.

When you apply them in a wood finishing project, they could cause skin irritation, respiratory problems, and environmental pollution. Therefore, maintain all safety protocols as recommended by the manufacturers. Don’t ignore wearing a mask, hand gloves, eye protective goggles, and other appropriate to prevent workplace hazards and injuries. 

Another common mistake is not keeping the work area well-ventilated and dry enough to prevent pollution caused by sanding and finishing tasks. 

Another mistake is not washing hands and facing after finishing tasks. Maintain your personal hygiene and cleanliness to avoid all kinds of health hazards.  

What Techniques Should I Use to Get the Best Possible Finish on My Wood

1. Start with good-quality wood. Select wood that is straight-grained and defect-free.

2. Prepare the wood surface properly. Sand the surface with progressively finer grits of sandpaper (120, 180, 220, etc.), finishing with very fine grit.

3. Use a finish that is appropriate for the type of wood you are working with. Some finishes work better on certain woods than others.

4. Apply the finish evenly and with a light hand. Too much finish can cause runs and sags.

5. Allow the finish to dry completely between coats.

6. Sand lightly between coats with a very fine grit sandpaper.

7. Use a good quality paste wax to seal and protect the finish. 8. Buff the waxed surface with a soft cloth.

Signs That a Finish Has Been Applied Incorrectly

1. Uneven coverage

2. Streaking or puddling

3. Bubbles or blemishes

4. Discoloration or color inconsistencies

5. Peeling or cracking of the finish

6. Cracking or chipping of the underlying material

7. Poor adhesion to the underlying material

Final Remarks

I hope you find this article beneficial for your upcoming wood-finishing project. As discussed earlier, wood finishing projects follow sanding, staining, and finishing. If you don’t bother with the steps, it won’t produce the desired result. 

However, as the wood fishing task is a little delicate as it deals with chemicals and woods, you should be extra careful throughout the project’s planning and implementation. Train yourself and consult with professionals before rushing to such a challenging project. Maintain safety protocol to prevent workplace hazards and injuries. 

As usual, I look forward to hearing from you about your project experience and problems you encountered so that I can provide you with more expert guidance in the coming days. 

I would also appreciate it if you kindly share this article with your friends and families so that they also have access to our online and offline knowledge and information hub.

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About This Writer

author eric devin

Hi, I am Eric Devin and I am a professional interior architect. Since childhood, I've always enjoyed DIY projects! And, I have loved to solve simple household problems using essential tools and equipment. I have also acquired a lot of information about basic household tools settings by working with contractors.

Hi, I am Eric Devin and I am a professional interior architect. Since childhood, I've always enjoyed DIY projects! And, I have loved to solve simple household problems using essential tools and equipment. I have also acquired a lot of information about basic household tools settings by working with contractors.

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