United States

Tips & Techniques

Useful information for successful wood projects.

Helpful Wood Finishing Terms


Ambering - The tendency of a clear protective finish to take on a warm, yellow appearance as it ages.


Bleeding/Bleedback - A staining phenomenon occurring when the stain seeps back to the surface of the wood.

Brush Marks - Lines or ridges left by the brush and dried in the finish.


End Grain - The wood surface exposed when a board is cut across the grain, opening the elongated pores so that they absorb more liquid than the other parts of the board.


Ferrule - The metal band used to hold the bristles to the handle of a brush.

Flagging - Tips of bristles that have been intentionally split to carry more liquid from the can to the wood.


Gloss - A surface shininess or sheen, ranging from satin to semi-gloss to high gloss.

Grain - The arrangement or direction of the fibers in wood.

Graining - A technique that uses stain to duplicate the grain pattern of a type of wood on a non-wood surface.

Grain Raising - A condition that occurs on the surface of wood when its fibers absorb water, causing them to stand, and giving the wood a rough surface.

Grit - The numbering system that reflects the relative coarseness of the abrasive particles on sandpaper. Lower grit numbers indicate coarse abrasives; higher grit numbers, finer abrasives.


Hardwood - Wood that comes from broad-leafed trees, such as oak, walnut and maple.


Knot - The hard cross-grained mass of wood that forms where a tree branch meets the trunk. In a sawn board, it is darker and harder than the surrounding wood.


Lacquer - A clear or pigmented protective coating, formulated with cellulosic or synthetic resins to dry by evaporation, forming a solid film.

Leveling - The "flowing out" of a freshly applied finish, during which brush marks disappear.


Mineral Spirits - A distillation product of petroleum used as a thinner for oil-based paints, varnishes and stains.


Oil-Based - A stain or clear protective finish comprised of resins dispersed or dissolved in a solvent such as alcohol or mineral spirits.

Overspray - Finish, propelled by aerosol cans that lands and dries on surfaces other than the target.


Polyurethane - A synthetic resin used to formulate durable varnishes.

Polyurethane Finish - An exceptionally hard and wear-resistance varnish noted for its overall balance of high performance properties including durability and abrasion resistance and household chemical resistance.

Pores - Cell-like cavities that characterize the grain of the wood.


Run - A finish defect resulting from too much finish on a vertical or tilted surface.


Shellac - A varnish made by dissolving lac (a natural resin) in denatured alcohol.

Softwood - Wood that comes from trees that bear needles such as pine and fir.

Solvent - Any liquid that can be used to dissolve other substances. The most common solvents in wood finishing are water, mineral spirits, denatured alcohol, acetone, turpentine, and toluene.

Spar Urethane - A durable varnish formulated for exterior use; it remains slightly softer and more flexible than interior varnish allowing it to expand and contract with changing weather conditions.

Stain - Any of several products containing dyes and/or pigments to add color to wood.


Topcoat - A clear protective finish, such as polyurethane, that is applied over bare or stained wood.


Varnish - A preparation for coating wood surfaces, consisting of resins dissolved in oil, denatured alcohol or water.


Water-Based - A stain or clear protective finish comprised of resins dispersed, dissolved or emulsified in water.

Wood Conditioner - A liquid applied prior to staining to obtain even stain penetration and uniform color. In the case of water-based products, wood conditioner also controls grain raise.