Tag Archives: varnish

Buying Used Furniture for Restoration: Shellac vs. Stain vs. Varnish

Finished Wooden Desk

Life is full of possibilities. Buying used furniture is no exception, especially when you’re doing it as a restoration or upcycle project.

It can be hard enough finding just the right piece for a space, but factor in all the options out there for customizing it and you’ve got seemingly unlimited options. This quick guide to three of the most common wood finishes should help you get to the right look and texture for you.

Shellac

You might be surprised to know that this finish actually comes from the resin produced by an insect (think about that the next time you drop a chip on a shiny table surface).

That said, shellac can be, in a literal way, an all-natural option. This is versatile stuff, capable of being used as a primer, sealant, and finish all in one. Shellac is renowned for being durable and protective, and even comes in an array of colors that leave a high-gloss look.

Stain

Treated Wooden Table

One of the big benefits of stain is that it can be used on difficult woods like cherry that tend to resist soaking up finishes.

Stains are easy to apply and can either enhance the wood’s natural look or alter it slightly (this can also depend on the type of wood – lighter-density woods like pine will soak up and be affected much more). However, to lock the look in you’ll also need a finish.

Varnish

This can be where varnish comes in. The great thing about varnish is that it doesn’t provide much of its own look, so if you have natural wood or a stain that you love but need to keep it protected, varnish is your bet.

It also comes in a variety of gloss levels, ranging from “shiny” to “flat,” depending on what you want your wood to look like.

Wood Varnish Application

Which to Choose When Buying Used Furniture

In the end, which one(s) you need is dependent on the look and function you want and even the condition your used furniture piece is in (some may need more help than others). Stain and varnish are the most customizable, while shellac is in some ways more streamlined.

Photo Credits (from top): Pallet Furniture DIY, Daniel Borio, and DIY Network