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Wood finishing is a mystery to many woodworkers. But I think this video above will help communicate the essentials to the craft of applying a nice, smooth, clear protective finish on a piece of furniture.

What Are The Basics of Getting a Fantastic Wood Finish?

  1. Apply several light coats rather than thick, heavy coats
  2. Let each coat dry thoroughly
  3. Scuff before applying the next coat and
  4. Polish the final coat after it cures for a couple of weeks

So the video above walks you through those 4 steps on a solid American walnut wood desk top. The video is actually the second part in a series on how I finished my custom built standing height desk. Since the ash base is dyed black and glazed with a gray stain for a unique look, I put that in a separate tutorial. More about how I finished that in “Part 1” >

The solid walnut top, above, is a slightly different story. I finished it with just a hand-rubbed tung oil varnish, applying 8 coats to protect the top surface while giving the walnut a gorgeous, natural warm glow, too.

In this video, you’ll follow along as I work through each step from prepping the raw panel all the way to polishing the final coat.

Watch the Video to Get a Few Pointers On:

  • dealing with a cupped solid wood panel
  • wet-sanding an oil finish to highlight the grain
  • using a sanding sponge
  • scuffing with synthetic finishing pads
  • polishing the last coat for a beautiful shine

Products Used:

  • Old Masters Tung Oil Varnish
  • Howard Restor-A-Shine Polishing Compound
  • Synthetic finishing pads
  • 220-grit sanding sponge
  • Scott Shop Towels

Quick Gallery of Images of The Walnut Top:

Vice President of Operations - Woodworkers Source We're a family-owned lumber & woodworking supply retailer with 3 delightful stores in Arizona, and 35 friendly employees. Mark oversees the company and creates tutorials on wood finishing and woodworking tips for hardwood lumber.

Discussion, Questions & Answers


  • njtrout2000

    Mark, Would you use/recommend a first coat of shellac sealer before the varnish on walnut? Working on a fireplace mantle that has a walnut top and sides. Great Video. Thanks, Andy

  • Chang Yu

    Hi Mark, thank you for the video. This is the best video I have found after spending 4 hours viewing different videos online…

    My question is: should I be worried about the VOC level of the Old Master’s vanish? I have a baby and a dog in the house, and the label on the product’s can indicate s that it has a VOC level around 525g/l

    Thank you.

    • That’s great to hear, I’m glad you found it.
      You definitely need to use it in a ventilated space and wear a respirator while applying it.
      Once it dries, it’s harmless.

  • Noah

    Hey Mark, great video, can I apply each coat in a 24 hour intervals? I won’t be able to do it every 6 hours due to work since I get home pretty late, thx

  • jimschwarzer

    could you use a car polisher to polish the finish or will there be to much heat buildup?

    • I bet you could do that, sure. I don’t have any first-hand experience though.

  • Michael Kratky

    Mark, how is the shelf life of Old Masters Tung Oil Varnish? Used to use Waterlox also a tung oil based finish, but in 90 days it would gel up in the container unless I took air displacement measures like using Bloxygen.

    • The current can in my garage is still liquid, and I’ve had it for 14 months. But, yes, oil finishes can (and will) eventually start to gel in the container.
      A lot of variables play a role, so I wouldn’t jump to the conclusion that any one finish is better or worse than waterlox for longevity, or that there’s a hard and fast rule as to how long a finish will last. How many times you open the can, how well you close it up, whether or not you unknowingly left the lid off for a while, how old it was when you got it, etc, etc, etc.

      • Michael Kratky

        Waterlox does have the dubious distinction of a short shelf life , any woodworking blog site will allude to that fact.

  • Gerald

    I am making a box frame for a mirror made of walnut. What grit would you recommend going down to before applying finish? I plan to coat the would with a tong oil finish with no stain. Would a pre-stain conditioner make sense to use before finishing?

    Thanks,
    Gerald

    • Usually, I think 220 grit is fine enough. But there’s no harm in sanding finer if that’s what you want to do.
      Do not bother with a pre-stain conditioner, there’s no advantage in your situation.

      The only situation you should bother with a pre-stain conditioner is when:
      1). when the wood you’re using tends to accept stain poorly, and
      2). when you’re using an oil based stain.

  • Erica Smith

    This tutorial was fantastic! We just redid a mahogany table and I’m wondering if there’s a good way to tell when I’ve put on enoigh layers of the tung oil finish? I started and ended with heavier ones to get it to level, but I was nervous about proper application and did 2-3 intermediary layers super thin. We are ready to do the final buff and polish and I just dont want to mess it up at this point!

    • You won’t ruin anything. If you happen to buff through it in places, you can touch it up without issue. As you probably saw in the video, 3 coats left some dull spots for me. Basically You know you’re done when the finish looks good and uniform, no dull spots. It sounds to me that you’re probably good.

  • Wonderful, glad to hear it. One quart will be more than enough for both speaker cabinets. Ideally you’d use it in weather under 90 degrees. If it’s hotter, work in smaller sections at a time. I don’t think speaker cabinets would really need much uv protection, they’re going to live indoors (most likely, right?). But if you want it the extra uv protection, I might be inclined to recommend General Finishes High Performance Water Based topcoat (probably needs a coat of dewaxed shellac first, then this topcoat. For adhesion).
    Otherwise, just let the tung oil varnish dry, then buff and polish.

  • James Savoie

    Great video Mark. How does this type of finish stand up to some of the fading walnut is susceptible to from UV light? I’m leaning towards another one of your finish recommendations using solar-lux dye… But I do love the look of this tung oil finish.

    • No, I would expect the wood to fade *some* over the years. The desk here is about a year old now, and I think it looks fine. in 10 years, the story will probably be different. For a table top, I don’t think it’s to big of a deal because it’s easy to remove and refinish. Consider that with your project.

  • tiarebeauty

    Mahalo Mark for such a thorough and easy to follow video! We are considering a kitchen remodel with an L-shaped reclaimed fir counter top and have been searching for the proper method to protect the top with a nice hand rubbed finish. We want to highlight the wood to match our cottage in Hawaii and feel the high glossy finishes overpower our laidback kitchen. Would the method presented here be ok to use for a kitchen counter top? Any suggestions on how to properly protect a wood counter top… Mahalo for your time!

    • This finish would work on a countertop. To varying degrees, water is problematic for just about any kind of wood finish. Just have to understand that going in. Fortunately this kind of finish is easy to rejuvenate with a light sanding and a fresh coat, so it’s not too big of a deal.

  • Michael Ferrari

    Great video, I am constructing a walnut bench that will be used outdoors. If I follow the same steps will my project be protected from the elements? Any suggestions will be appreciated! Thanks!

  • George M

    Great video and looking forward to using the product on my next project.

    Did you also apply the finish to the underside of the table top? I assume so or else the table might cup or warp?

    Thanks.

    • Yes, it’s applied to the bottom but not sanded in. Just wiped on and off.

  • Ken L

    If I use monocoat, will that be one step, and then done in a single day?

  • Katie Reichle

    where do you find the hand sanding sponge? its definitely not at homedepot. i cant even find anything like it. help

  • Bill Berens

    Mark it looks great. Would this method work for a walnut farmhouse table? Or would you recommend another process like Arm-r-seal or monocoat. I have never sealed a table top and want protection without a polyurethane glaze. Thoughts?

    • Pick any of the three you’re most comfortable with.
      This stuff I used isn’t much different from Arm-R-Seal. Conceptually they’re the same thing, oil + urethane. Different brands, so the minutiae of the recipe is probably different, but the end result is virtually indistinguishable. Both great products and work fine for a table.
      Monocoat would work too, it’s fantastic stuff (and quite expensive!).