I imagine I must not be the first person, after applying mineral spirits, to think "that's exactly how I would like it to look when I finish it".

So what finishes most closely resemble the look of wood after applying mineral spirits? The 2 currently at the top of my list to try are shellac and Rubio Monocoat Pure.

  • 1
    Almost all finishes (clear finishes, i.e. untinted/unpigmented) will replicate this look fairly closely after just a single application. The exceptions are basic waterbased finishes and other 'water white' finishes. Are you asking generically or did you have a specific application in mind?
    – Graphus
    Commented Dec 10, 2022 at 8:58
  • Generically, but with a preference toward whatever is simplest to apply and clean up.
    – BVernon
    Commented Dec 11, 2022 at 16:10
  • 1
    Yes but what do you need the finish to do? Looks are only part of the story, the amount of protection offered is an important component for many applications — not so much for purely decorative work like some turnings, but fairly critical for e.g. a user coffee table.
    – Graphus
    Commented Dec 11, 2022 at 16:31
  • 1
    As for what's simplest and easiest to apply, there's some subjectivity to that and it's partly dependent on experience, whether someone is set up to have all their ducks in a row before beginning finishes A, B, C etc. I don't personally feel there's any effort difference between applying wiping varnish or many other oil-based finishes. But strangely others seem to feel differently, despite the applications processes (and any cleanup) being essentially identical. And, for me, a rudimentary shellac job requires approximately the same effort (but this would be different for large projects).
    – Graphus
    Commented Dec 11, 2022 at 16:46
  • It's just a picture holder. Found a piece of pine with a really cool knot that looked like a heart when bookmatched with nice figuring below.
    – BVernon
    Commented Dec 12, 2022 at 17:58

1 Answer 1


Almost all finishes (clear finishes, i.e. untinted/unpigmented) will replicate this look fairly closely. Just one coat of nearly any oil, including oils that don't dry, will also tend to look quite similar at least initially.

But for practical applications almost no finishes are applied in just one coat..... even Rubio Monocoat, despite its name and the manufacturer's application directions, is frequently applied a second time by users :-)

For more conventional film finishes which are routinely applied in 3+ coats, the more coats you apply the more they can begin to stamp some amount of individual character on the wood — due to 'build' and its direct affect on the actual colour (from the thicker film on the surface) and the indirect optical effect this has (reduced light scattering = "deeper" or "richer" colour).

As I mention in the Comments appearance is only part of the picture though. And because so many finishes can look similar — just try and tell various finish types apart from looks alone! — the amount of protection offered can actually become the most important deciding factor.

  • So obviously Rubio Monocoat and other hard-wax oils might be great contenders as long as their cost isn't an issue, and the better ones (not all are made equal so caveat emptor!) are suitable for a wide range of project types, including some challenging applications.

  • Shellac, if applied lightly, is a good option for a limited range of projects — this thin, shellac offers little protection so it's really only suitable for decorative objects and light-traffic items.

    The look of shellac isn't quite the same as an oil-based product (although the difference is subtle on some woods). Plus the colour of the shellac flakes used to make the liquid shellac are obviously a factor.

  • Wiping varnish — any oil-based varnish thinned to wiping consistency (but primarily it's done with poly) — can also be a solid choice if you don't build up too thick a film.

    It's very easy to apply, available pretty much anywhere and is inexpensive to make, but despite this it can provide decent protection in only 2-4 thin coats. Drying, and particularly full curing time, could be an issue.

  • CPES — clear penetrating epoxy sealant — might be an option for some users, depending on cost and easy availability.

    Similar to shellac, the final look isn't identical because of the different way that epoxy 'wets' wood fibres, but without a direct comparison who's going to know the difference?

  • I suppose what I personally meant by "simplest to apply" is easiest to apply without having streaks and bubbles and such. Do you normally need to sand with a high grit after applying final coat?
    – BVernon
    Commented Dec 12, 2022 at 18:09
  • 1
    "I suppose what I personally meant by "simplest to apply" is easiest to apply without having streaks and bubbles and such." With any finish that requires you wipe away the excess (includes hard-wax oils, wiping varnish and blended finishes like "Danish oil) bubbles are impossible. Even with the application and the subsequent wiping streaks can still happen due to thinner areas, but generally the next coat solves this (BTW this is one reason it's common to apply a 2nd coat of Monocoat).
    – Graphus
    Commented Dec 12, 2022 at 19:46
  • 1
    "Do you normally need to sand with a high grit after applying final coat?" Nope. It can be done sure, but you should not normally need to do any sanding after applying the final coat unless you're going for a dead-flat surface and/or a flawless shine like you might see on a boardroom table. Because it's cheap, strong and so effortless I finish almost everything with wiping varnish and I might buff the final coat down after it's fully dried with some brown paper, but generally the last coat is so thin it lays down perfectly (on an already near-flawless surface) so zero sanding is needed.
    – Graphus
    Commented Dec 12, 2022 at 19:50

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.