Woodturning finishes

Finishing is practically a religion at this point. There are different sects, each convinced that their way is the best way to finish their turned goods. 

I think that a woodturner should explore many finishing options, then tailor their finish to the piece they're making, its inherent qualities, and its intended use. For example, a display hollowform is unlikely to be handled much in its entire life, so it may not require an extremely durable finish. A bottle opener, however, may be handled frequently, so you'll need to consider that when selecting finishes.

There are two basic approaches that I take to finishing wood. For utility pieces, I simply finish with beeswax. This gives the wood sufficient protection for many uses, and it is easy to maintain and reapply.

For artistic pieces, or pieces that won't be used daily for serving, I clear all dust from the piece, apply sanding sealer, sand it back, then use OB Shine Juice to achieve a high shine.

Finish preparation is also an important step, so let's break these categories down into stages.

Finish prep


After you've taken that last beautiful end-to-end push cut that leaves your piece absolutely glistening, with zero tool marks or torn grain (right? right? Bueller?), you may not even need to sand.

For us mere mortals, sanding is the first and most important step of the finishing process. Sandpaper comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, and the selection can be overwhelming. My favorite types of sanding materials come in three types:

Sanding rolls

The person that thought this up is a genius. This stuff is perfect for woodturners. I keep rolls of 80, 150, 180, 240, 320, 400 and 600 grit stocked in my shop at all times. You simply tear off a strip, stretch it between your hands, and press it to your piece while the lathe is running. The lathe does the wok for you. You can then fold it up to get into tough-to reach areas like beads and mortises. Seriously, try a roll. It's amazing stuff.

Single-grit bulk rolls

Variety rolls

Sanding mesh


Sanding pads

These pads are more expensive than rolls of sandpaper, but they do leave a phenomenal finish. They range in grit from 80-15,000 (you read that right). The MicroMesh pads are great for those who turn epoxies or acrylics, but can also be used on hardwoods to get a brilliant finish.

Foam sanding pads

Micromesh finishing pads


Sanding grit wax

I was late to the game on sanding grit wax, but I'm glad that I came around. This stuff is a quick and easy way to get a microfine finish on any piece of wood. Follow the manufacturer's directions for best results, and don't forget to wipe off the wax before finishing!

Pita's True Grit Sanding Wax


Dust removal

If you want to achieve the highest-caliber finish possible, it's important to remove dust from the wood before applying sanding sealer or any sort of finish. Again, people debate the best way to do this, but most people fall into one of three camps: denatured alcohol, mineral spirits, or blasting the piece to kingdom come with compressed air. I prefer denatured alcohol since it flashes off quickly, but mineral spirits have worked well for me in the past. If you already own one or the other, stick with that.

The other cool thing about the solvents listed below are that they can be used for other purposes in the shop, like thinning finishes, or even as key components of home-brewed finishes (more on that later).

Denatured alcohol

Mineral spirits


Sanding sealer

An important step in professional-level finishing is to seal the pores in the wood. I tend to do this right after I remove the dust from the pores of the wood, and right before finishing. There is some debate between lacquer-based sealers and cellulose-based sealers, but I've had success with both, and I honestly don't think that it matters much. Follow the directions on the container and you'll be just fine. 

Lacquer sanding sealer

Celulose sanding sealer



Traditional oil finishes

I love these types of finishes. They enhance the character and color of the wood, protect it from moisture, and aren't very complicated to apply. Offerings from companies like Watco work just fine, but I tend to prefer to know exactly what I'm putting on my pieces. That's why, for oil finishes, I prefer Tried and True brand products. I know exactly what I'm getting in each can.

The only disadvantage to these finishes is that they are slow to dry (24 hours or so per coat)

IMPORTANT NOTE: Don't store your oily rags on top of one another. As certain oils dry, the chemical reaction happening inside creates heat and can actually start fires in your shop. Spread your rags out to dry. on a non-flammable surface, or, as I do, fill a mason jar with water and throw your soaked shop towels in there, then dispose of the jar when it gets full.

Danish oil and beeswax

Pure danish oil


Build finishes

Build finishes and friction polishes are popular in the woodturning community, as they're easy, fast-drying, and generally fairly durable. The finish that I make at home is sort of a hybrid of the two types, but they all work great and leave a high-gloss shine on your pieces.

Woodturner's finish

High friction build polish

Woodturner's finish


OB Shine Juice

Captain Eddie introduced me to this finish some time ago through his YouTube channel, and I've been using it ever since. It's an excellent multi-application finish. It goes on easily, protects the wood well, dries almost instantly, and is food-safe - what more could you want? It also creates an extremely glossy finish, which can help your pieces pop in a competitive marketplace like a craft fair or art show. 

The recipe is simple enough:

  • 1 part denatured alcohol
  • 1 part boiled linseed oil
  • 1 part shellac

Mix these ingredients up equally in a mason jar, or do like I do: buy a fleet of small LDPE bottles from Amazon, and fill and seal all 12 at once for easy use at the lathe.

I've included links to the exact products that I use in my mixture below:

Bullseye shellac

Boiled linseed oil

Denatured alcohol