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I'm really new to woodworking and have a question. I hike a lot and have this Oak walking stick I've been using. Just recently I got my hands onto tools so I could sand and fix up the walking stick. So it's really smooth and how I want it to be now, but I'm not sure how to finish it. I want to keep the natural colors but protect it and make sure it will last awhile but don't know what finished to use.

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Stain is to colour wood, you only need to use that if you want to change the basic colour of the oak (make it darker, more brown, more reddish etc.) but you sound like you're happy enough with it as-is so you really only need to worry about the topcoat or final finish, the protective coating.

Your easiest and best option here may be polyurethane varnish (poly for short). It is a tough, durable coating that shrugs off moisture and is inherently scratch-resistant.

I would suggest you get the original oil-based type of poly rather than a waterbased version as actually they are quite different products and oil-based poly is broadly speaking a superior finish.

I would also suggest that even if you don't want a glossy surface that you buy gloss poly. Any sheen from satin or semi-gloss all the way to quite matt can be achieved after application if desired, without having to buy a satin or matt version of poly. So this makes gloss poly a much more versatile buy, and the potential for irregular sheen when drying is much lower.

For application I would recommend you thin it somewhat to turn it into wiping varnish, see The Basics of Wiping Varnish by Bob Flexner for more detail (be sure to also read page 2).


Since you're new to woodworking you won't be using your remaining poly in the tin very frequently, so after ensuring the lid is firmly secured it is beneficial to store the tin upside down. This helps prevent a problem where you return to your varnish weeks or months later only to find a rubbery skin has formed over the surface.

  • Alternatively, an aerosol poly can may be the easiest way to do this if you don't want to bother with a more conventional wipe-on version. That said, if you're patient it is very hard to mess up a wiping varnish. – aaron Dec 21 '15 at 14:20
  • @aaron, "very hard to mess up a wiping varnish" yup that's one of the reasons I like to recommend it, it's very forgiving of variations in application (unlike a product like "Danish oil" where you have to be more conscientious). – Graphus Dec 22 '15 at 13:09

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