How to Apply Clear Finish to Wood Furniture

paint brush and can of paint on wood table
  • 1-4 hours
  • Beginner
  • 30-100
What You'll Need
100-grit sandpaper
Extra-fine grit sandpaper
Clear wood varnish
Sanding sealer
Paint brushes
Soft, clean cloths
Drop cloth

A clear finish applied to wood furniture not only provides the necessary protection from exposure to moisture and general wear and tear, but it allows the striking natural grain of the wood to come out. Using clear finish as opposed to some type of stain or paint gives wood furniture a rustic look and suits a variety of decorative motifs. Unfinished wood furniture gives you the opportunity to put your own unique stamp on it. The process isn't very complicated, and all you need are a few tools and supplies.

Step 1 - Sand Down Rough Areas

Wrap a new piece of 100-grit sandpaper around a small block of scrap wood and lightly sand the wood furniture piece. Pay special attention to any rough spots. New unfinished furniture, especially, will likely have a few rough areas. Make sure you sand with the grain of the wood, and don't apply an excessive amount of force.

Step 2 - Wipe Dust Away

The next step is to remove any and all excess dust caused by the sanding. First brush away the biggest dust particles with a clean, dry paint brush. Follow this by wiping down the entire piece with a tack cloth. You can also use a damp rage, but make sure no moisture is allowed to saturate the wood.

Step 3 - Apply Sanding Sealer

sanding an antique table

Before you apply the clear varnish to the wood, you'll apply a coat of sanding sealer. As the name suggests, this is a sealing agent that is meant to be sanded after application. Put down a drop cloth, and have your tools and materials handy. Work quickly, for the sealer dries fast. Apply it over the wood using long, even brush strokes. Aim for an even coat, and avoid leaving brush marks. Allow to dry overnight.

Step 4 - Sand with Fine Sandpaper

Using a finer-grit piece of sandpaper, go over the wood entirely once the sealer has dried fully. As with the initial sanding, go with the grain. You know this step is done once the finish of the wood is smooth and has a slightly frosted look to it. Once the sanding is complete, brush away excess dust with a dry paintbrush followed by a clean, moistened cloth.

Step 5 - Apply Clear Finish (Varnish)

lacquered wood finish

Now you're ready to apply the final coat, called a clear varnish. Spread the drop cloth out underneath the furniture to catch any runoff. Have a clean, dry paint brush and a clean rag at the ready. Work from the top down. Apply the varnish evenly using long brush strokes. Try not to let the varnish run down the wood. Gradually work your way over the furniture, coating the entire surface with a uniform layer. In case there are any runs, gently wipe them away with a clean rag before they are absorbed by the wood. Allow the clear finish to dry completely.

Step 6 - Optional Second Coat

Follow the application instructions on the clear finish. If it recommends a second coat, proceed once the furniture is dry. This may be unnecessary, though, as the sanding sealer and single coat of varnish will provide adequate protection.