How to get perfect natural indoor wood finishes

Perfect indoor wood finishes

Get perfect natural finishes for teak, pine, mahogany, walnut or oak.

A clear natural finish for interior wood really brings out its natural beauty and can protect it for years ahead. But getting that finish requires a little thought and care and there are two things to keep in mind: the qualities of your chosen wood and the qualities of your sandpaper. Sandpaper is graded according to grit size (grit is the abrasive particles on the paper). As a rule, 60-80 grit sandpapers are coarse, 100-150 grit is medium and 180-320 grit is fine. For finishing indoor wood, only work with medium and fine sandpaper to avoid abrasion marks. Read on for advice on finishing five of the most common interior woods.

Teak table and chairs

Teak (hardwood)

This tropical hardwood has very high natural oil content, making it tough and water resistance. To protect the natural colour of teak, begin by cleaning the wood with a gentle detergent solution[LINK:product]. The natural oils make it a fine-grained wood, so gently use a scrubbing brush to lift any dirt from the grain before letting it dry. Use very fine sandpaper around a block and smooth, even strokes. When sanded down, use a soft brush to remove any debris before you apply your transparent varnish.

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Pine wall in modern living space
Interior pine wall

Pine (softwood)

Pine is a softwood, distinctive for the knots on its timber. These features are important to consider when finishing as they will absorb more varnish. You can apply an epoxy resin[LINK:product] to the knots before sanding to reduce this effect. Always sand pine with a block as finger pressure or orbital sanders will leave an uneven surface. Work from medium to fine sandpaper as you sand, changing the paper regularly, as pine will gum up sandpaper quickly. If you’re using a water-based finish, make the surface damp to raise the grain of the wood and re-sand for a smoother finish. Allow it to dry thoroughly before varnishing. 

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Mahogany hardwood cabinet
Mahogany cabinet

Mahogany (hardwood)

A tropical hardwood, mahogany is prized for its consistency of colour and the beauty of its grain. As it’s an ‘open grain’ or ‘ring porous’ wood, consider filling the grain before sanding for a more even finish. Begin sanding raw wood with medium grit sandpaper, working up to fine. Re-apply the grain filler if you can still see pores in the grain. You can use an extra layer to increase the smoothness of your final finish if needed. Though mahogany is often associated with a deep red from a resin stain, a natural mahogany finish is pink-brown.

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Walnut (hardwood)

This straight-grained hardwood ranges in colour from dark brown to yellow and a clear finish brings out it’s natural beauty. Block or hand sand with progressively finer sandpaper, cleaning sawdust away between sandings and finish with very fine sandpaper. Wipe with a damp cloth to raise the grain, then lightly sand to smooth. As a hardwood, consider applying a filler [LINK:product] to even the grain before a final light sanding and then varnish.

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Oak (hardwood)

Oak is a sturdy hardwood with a pale color similar to pine. When sanding, don’t use anything finer than 150 grit, so the pores remain open enough to absorb your hosen finish. A clear wax polish[LINK:product] will keep it looking very natural, while a clear oil will bring up its natural colors to look a little more golden. Try applying a little water to get an idea of what the final treated colour will be.