What is the Purpose of Finishing Wood?

By MWB-Team •  Updated: 06/03/23 • 

You know how to finish wood, types of wood finishes, and much more. However, why do you have to finish wood? Why not leave a piece of wood as it is? Why go through the smelly and messy process of finishing wood? Well, there are several very good reasons for applying a finish to wood, and we’ve discussed them in this post.

What is the Purpose of Finishing Wood

1. Make the Wood Easier to Clean

Wood is a porous material with countless holes of various sizes. These holes, through time, can accumulate dirt from being handled, contaminants around our homes, and food. This can be a health hazard as it provides a proper breeding place for bacteria and other microorganisms.

A water-based wood finish like polyurethane is great for sealing wood without changing the color. If you’re looking to preserve the natural color and seal wood, white water sealers are colorless as possible. White water sealers are made to specifically seal and enhance the natural grain of the wood.

2. Stabilize & Protect the Wood

The primary purpose of applying a wood finish is to protect the wood surface from damage. Scratches, dents, chemical spills, humidity and water, insects, fungus etc., all can affect or destroy wood. Applying different types of suitable finishes can protect wood from these agents.

Apart from protection, wood finishes can also stabilize the wood to help it cope with changes in humidity. Wood is both porous and hygroscopic, which means it can absorb and release moisture. When a dry wood is exposed to high humidity or water, it will absorb moisture and swell. Put that wood back into a dry area, and the wood releases moisture and shrinks.

Shrinking and swelling of wood or wood movement can cause checking, splitting, or warping. A wood finish slows moisture exchange, thus reducing wood movement and stabilizing it in the process.

3. Decorating & Enhancing Wood Beauty

Apart from making wood easier to clean and stabilize, finishing wood can decorate or enhance its beauty of wood. There are many different ways you can make wood aesthetically pleasing, but these can be categorized into three main groups – color, texture, and sheen.

Coloring Wood

One of the favorite parts of wood finishing is adding a pop of color. There are four tried and true ways of adding color to wood. These are bleaching, staining, glazing, and painting.

Bleaching wood takes the natural color out, leaving it looking almost white. Staining wood improves the natural texture and grain of the wood. Staining also highlights some wood defects like scratches, machine marks, gouge marks, and uneven density of the wood.

Glazing is when you add color between different finishes to create an antiqued effect. When applied evenly and thinly, glazing can change the tone of the wood color and also highlight recesses and pores. When applied thickly, glazing can be designed with various tools to look like wood grain, marble, and other designs.

Painting, shading, or toning wood changes the tone of the wood’s color, and any highlight recesses and pores. Painting wood covers every wood feature, while shading and toning allow you to see the figure and grain of the wood. Shading wood affects the color tone in only areas you want, but toning changes the color of wood evenly over the entire surface. Check out some stains you can use on wood to change the color.


Every wood has a natural texture that depends on the size and distribution of the pores. To preserve this texture for aesthetic purposes, you can use a wood finish, but keep it very thin. Thin wood finishes are very popular because they encourage the natural look of wood. You can get a thin finish by using oil or wax wood finishes. Film finishes like shellac, varnish, lacquer, or water-base can also preserve the texture of the wood as long as you keep them thin.

You can also slightly change the texture of wood by completely or partially filling the pores. This can be done using wood paste filler or applying more coats of a wood finish and sanding or scraping back. Some of the most refined wood finishes have filled pores.


Sheen is the glossy or shiny effect a wood finish has on a wooden surface. To control the sheen of a wood finish, first you can choose a finish that has gloss, satin, or flat sheen level. Second, you can rub and polish the surface of a wood to get the sheen level you want.

Wrapping Up

Wood finishing is the final process that protects the wood and also gives it desirable characteristics. Here at making wood better, we’ll share everything to help you get that perfect finish. We cover everything from preparing to finish wood, types of wood finishes, techniques of applying wood finishes, and much more.


Hello there! This is the Make Wood Better Team. Here, we share informative how-tos and guides focused on making wood better. Whether it's finishing wood, maintenance, or restoration, there's something on this website for you to learn and improve your skills.