In tons of videos, (random YouTube example) the wood transforms into something totally different with a finish.

I can't for the life of me get anything even remotely as nice as those things. At best I get a small change in colour, but never have I been able to "buff out" the wood grain so much. What are these people using and what is the trick to get it right? Is the secret in the coating or in the wood (or both)? How much of this is editing and they're actually applying multiple layers? Should I use a piece of cloth or a brush? How much should I use? I have so many questions, but in the end I just want to have results like that. I'm looking for basically the "top 5 steps to get started and get reasonably good results".

Clarifications: I've tried different finishes sold in my local DIY store, none come even close. Results I've gotten so far range from barely visible over brown smudges to essentially paint that covers everything up. I'm looking for this "buffing" effect, where the wood looks professional, the grain shows through, and it's an even coating. I'm not looking for a specific protection or something, right now my focus is on visuals.

I'm a beginner, got a few tools but not yet a complete shop and mostly experience on practical things like an outdoor enclosure for my cats and stuff.

I've worked mostly with rough wood, I've tried sanding it with whatever sand paper I happened to have, I've tried polishing it (bought a polishing set for my grinder). I've tried an oil and a varnish from the local DIY store, both picked for colour without any understanding of ingredients. Yes, I'm a beginner. :-)

  • 1
    Welcome! What finishes have you tried, and on what woods? And how did you prepare the surface? (Planing or sanding, if sanding, then to what grit?)
    – stanch
    Commented Mar 27 at 17:56
  • From my experience, which is limited to oil and shellac on pine, beech and white oak, the finish does accentuate the grain. In fact, simply wiping the wood with water or alcohol does so as well. I do think the effect can be exaggerated depending on how the light catches the surface, and to some extent due to video production as well. Also something to note, once the finish dries, the results are often not as pronounced as when you have just applied it.
    – stanch
    Commented Mar 27 at 17:58
  • Keep in mind that an outdoor piece of furniture will definitely require a protective finish (of which paint — although it obscures the grain — is a prime example) and a careful choice of wood species. When I think of outdoor projects, the kind of “in your face” finish you describe is not what first comes to mind :)
    – stanch
    Commented Mar 27 at 18:05
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    Just a thought - for some woods, you just won't get any great effect, no matter how hard you try, it's just dull, maybe shiny dull, but nothing exciting. So maybe try a different wood species (like cherry for example)
    – Jan Spurny
    Commented Mar 28 at 13:00
  • 1
    Well there are abundant resources (understatement!) for new woodworkers online, including here in Woodworking — we've had many prior Questions here about the basics, the Answers cover a lot of beginner territory and are just a search or two away. But so so much of the online content is geared to those new to the craft, and some even specifically intended for first-time woodworkers..... which neatly leads on to a search recommendation, try first-timer and finish as search terms here, and first-timer and wood finishing in a general web search and see what comes up.
    – Graphus
    Commented Mar 30 at 6:22

1 Answer 1


I would suggest that to get the best results, you would need to be deliberate about two things:

  • how you prepare the surface
  • how you choose the finish

For surface preparation, the first thing is to get the wood flat. You can buy it flat (rather than rough), you can take it to a commercial shop to get flattened, you can use a hand plane (lots of videos on YouTube) or machines (ditto).

If you go with a hand plane, you might be able to skip the next step, which is sanding. Again this needs to be more deliberate. E.g. start with 80 grit, move to 120 grit, then to 180 grit. Draw pencil lines across the entire board so that you can check your progress (i.e. when the lines disappear). Search on YouTube for “how to sand a board” :)

For the finish selection, I recommend you to read one of the many finish comparison posts on the internet, pick one finish and try to get better with it. My first pick was shellac — it looks good but is definitely not fool-proof. Something like a hardwax oil (e.g. Osmo) can be more fool-proof, although I am sure more experienced woodworkers might take an issue with this recommendation! (Note that neither of those is outdoor-proof!!!)

This depends on where you live, but I would not necessarily trust the local DIY store to carry a good finish. Or good sandpaper for that matter. Check the many sandpaper comparison videos on YouTube. I like 3M Cubitron.

For ultimate results, the common recommendation seems to be to read this book: https://www.amazon.com/Understanding-Wood-Finishing-Comprehensive-Troubleshooting/dp/1565235665.

  • Thanks. So it seems I cheaped out on everything that matters, both the sanding and the finish as well as the products. Dang, I didn't want to make a science out of it, but this gives me a start on what to be more careful with.
    – Tom
    Commented Mar 27 at 18:40

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