Choosing the perfect finish for your hotel’s furniture, or flooring can sometimes be more important than the material itself.
When working with wood furniture, the stain or varnish you choose is essential for protecting the wood from water damage, dirt, and wear, as it’s more difficult to clean than metal.
By applying a finish either directly on the wood or over a stain, you extend the wood’s life. But simply deciding to add a finishing touch isn’t enough. All types of finishes have their strengths and weaknesses and come with their own sets of questions. Do you want to use a natural or chemical finish? Do you want just a hint of color or shine, a natural look, or a bold piece?
It’s important to keep in mind that what you like best might not be the best option for the particular piece or project, depending on its style and use.
The two types of wood finishes
Wood finishes are broken up into two distinct categories based on how they dry:
Evaporative finishes, which include lacquer, shellac, and several water-based finishes, dry to a hard film and then redissolve in the solvent that thinned them, causing them to be less durable than reactive finishes.
Reactive finishes, which include oil, catalyzed lacquers, and varnishes, still include solvents that evaporate, but undergo a chemical change with the air that prevents them from redissolving in the solvent that thinned them. Outside of pure oils, reactive finishes are more durable when exposed to heat and chemicals.
What is varnish?
Varnish is very vague in its name, as it comes in a multitude of its own options. Varnishes are generally transparent in nature but develop a golden undertone over time. In the case that you’re looking for a finish that will provide additional or different colors, a stain would be used first and then a varnish would be applied to provide protection, particularly from water. Varnishes come in both water-based and oil-based forms.
Varnish finishing options
Again, there are an exorbitant amount of varnish options, each providing a different effect on your wood pieces. The main ones include:
Spar varnish: Extremely durable and provides natural ultraviolet light protection, it is ideal for outdoor structures, exterior doors, and trim. Spar varnish is also typically used on items that are near or surrounded by water, such as decks and beach chairs.
Polyurethane: Comes in both water- and oil-based, and is commonly used in the finishing of floors, cabinets, drawers, and decks. It’s popular in part because it is transparent and resistant to water and mildew.
Shellac varnish: This is an alcohol-based varnish that typically serves as a sealant, initial primer, or finishing coat for other finishes. It is a natural product that is extremely safe once dry but can be affected by heat or chemicals. It dries extremely fast and can thwart stains and odors while also adding an amber tone to wood. Shellac varnish is often used on furniture.
Rubbing/wiping varnish: Provides a flat and dulled finish that is ideal for wood panels that would lose their shine with a glossier finish. There is quite a bit of effort that goes into applying a rubbing varnish.
Flat varnish: Another option for a flat finish that can be applied more easily than a rubbing varnish. Because this type of varnish requires more prep work, it can be a bit more expensive.
Stain finish and the different options to do so
Stains and varnishes are often used together, as they each offer distinct benefits. Stains can serve to add color while the varnish adds extra durability and protection. Stains soak into the wood to serve a more decorative purpose than varnishes, though some can help preserve the wood.
Stains will typically darken or color wood and are available in matte to gloss, water-based, and oil-based forms. Stains are used for both interior and exterior projects and are applied directly to the clean, bare wood. No matter which stain you use, the application remains the same.
Pros and cons of natural wood finishes
The debate on using natural versus chemical based finishes has gotten more aggressive in recent years, with more information circulating the Internet and more natural options out there. There are natural and eco-friendly water-based varnishes (including polyurethane) and stains made from 100% natural ingredients.
Benefits of natural wood finishes are relatively obvious. Because they’re free of chemicals, they’re safer to use and less harsh on the body and environment than solvent-based finishes.
There is a common misconception that natural products require a higher price tag. In actuality, one of the best natural ways to add a finish onto furniture includes staining wood with coffee! As long as what you want to stain hasn’t been finished or varnished, using coffee as a stain can give it a classy, unique, and authentic finishing touch.
On the other hand, natural finishes are less durable and resistant to wear and tear and can be difficult to remove. If you plan to go the natural route, be sure that you choose the right product before it’s too late.
The value of wood finishes in hospitality
Wood is one of the most popular products used in the hospitality industry. It creates a special and comfortable ambiance that is welcoming to guests, when done right.
Regardless of what wood you choose, wood is still relatively fragile. That’s where combining stains and varnishes come into play to create a unique structure or furniture piece that has the potential to transform a room. Make your next wood project defining of your brand by taking the time to educate yourself on the finish options that exist and leverage professional expertise to ensure you’re making the best choice for your hotel.