Wood furniture has always been a popular material for home furnishings. Sun exposure can be one of the most damaging elements on wood, causing permanent discoloration. Not only does wood fade, but it can also darken it, depending on the type of wood.
Your furniture requires a sealant to fight against the sun’s UV rays, but not all sealants are equal. The following are a few available options:
- Varnish is made from resins, oil and solvents, and is generally used as a top coat. They come in a variety of finishes, ranging from flat, egg shell, semi-gloss to high-gloss, and offer excellent protection against ultraviolet light, heat, water and everyday wear.
It's fairly easy to apply with a brush and has low toxicity, but does have one of the slower drying times. Typically allow 24 hours for the drying period and a week or more to cure. However, newer water-based varnish is ideal for indoor furniture due to its fast drying time, durability and clear nature.
- Lacquer is a solvent-based product containing nitrocellulose resin, which allows the coat of lacquer to dissolve into its previous coat. This makes lacquer rather forgiving, making it easy to apply, polish and repair any scratches or scuff marks.
Due to its evaporating solvents, it has an extremely fast drying time, creating a hard shell that gives furniture an intense gloss finish and a durable, long-lasting protection. However, it's best to be avoided on coarse grain wood, such as oak, or very soft wood, such as cedar.
- Polyurethane is essentially plastic in liquid form until it hardens. They come in both water- and oil-based options, as well as satin to glossy finishes. Water-based polyurethane goes on clear, is easy to apply and has a low toxicity level, but cost twice as much as oil-based counterparts.
While oil-based polys add a warm amber color to the wood, it’s fairly toxic and takes much longer to dry. Both kinds are long-lasting and extremely durable, offering protection against scratches and abrasions, making them a popular option among DIYers.
However, they can be susceptible to cracking under heat and sudden shock, making them less ideal for intricately curved furniture.
- Shellac is a natural product made from the resin of lac bugs and mixed with an alcohol solvent, creating an extremely fast-drying sealant. It brings out the rich warmth of wood grains, while keeping the surface soft and natural. It's especially attractive on walnut, mahogany and fine veneer woods.
Whilst easy to apply, it isn't as durable nor holds up to heat as well as some of the other sealants, offering only average resistance to scratches and wear. Thus, it is best used on decorative pieces that won’t encounter hard wear.
Shellac is available in liquid, solid and flake form, although the liquid variety would be best suited to homeowners. They also have the shortest shelf life among the sealants.
- Wax and oil finishes are the easiest to apply, requiring only a rag and some elbow grease. They will enhance the wood, leaving it rich and natural. The ease of application leaves little room for mistakes, but the downside is their lack of durability.
They offer little protection against the elements and scratches from everyday wear. They also require more regular upkeep, depending on how often the furniture is used. Most furniture can get by with a new layer every three to five years, while tabletops and chair arms usually require attention every six months to a year.