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I want to make wooden curtain rods and curtain rings, and finish them so that the rings glide as easily as possible along the rods. I'm leaning toward red oak, but I'm still considering other hardwoods too.

In the past, I've always used polyurethane as a finish. However, I feel that poly wouldn't work well in this situation because it's in a window, so subject to solar heating, which can soften it a little and make it tacky.

My requirements for the finish would be:

  • smooth finish with low friction so that the rings will glide easily.
  • stable over a wide temperature range; won't soften in direct sunlight, and can withstand any condensation that forms on cold nights.
  • UV resistance is a nice-to-have but the windows are new and block most of it, so this would be lower priority than the other requirements.

What would be an appropriate finish to use for this project?

  • no option of a metal bar in the rod for a hard-wearing surface? – ratchet freak Mar 30 '15 at 16:01
  • @ratchetfreak I've got metal now and don't really like them; I'd prefer wood. I'm leaning towards red oak, but could still consider other hardwoods. – Niall C. Mar 30 '15 at 16:05
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    I mean routing a slot in the rod and putting a metal bar in it for the rings to glide on. The rod will be on the upper side out of sight. – ratchet freak Mar 30 '15 at 16:11
  • I suppose that's a possibility, though I'm not sure my knowledge and skills (and probably current set of tools too) would be up to it. I suppose there's another question there... :) – Niall C. Mar 30 '15 at 16:34
  • I would probably try a fair amount of beeswax on a scratch sample piece. I'm not fully sure about the temperature stability, though. – Christopher Creutzig Mar 30 '15 at 17:00
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I would just use several coats of the varnish of your choice because it will protect the wood itself from wear. Polyurethane will be reasonably wear resistant but more difficult to repair when it does wear, since the coats are distinct layers and you'll have to completely sand off any layers that are partly worn through. Laquer, on the other hand, will be easier to repair because each new coat burns into the existing coat, and you can just apply new lacquer to any worn areas.

Unless you have light entering the house from a skylight or other window and shining directly on the curtain rod, I don't think you'll need to worry about direct sunlight. Typically the curtain rod is hung above the window and does not receive direct sunlight through the window over which it is mounted. I'm not sure whether any heat radiating upward from closed curtains would be intense enough to affect the curtain rod's finish, though maybe it's an issue in hot regions.

I'm also not sure that condensation would be a serious issue, but perhaps if you leave your windows open at night or have poorly-insulated windows in a cold region, it could be an issue.

Another option would be to simply use a hard, wear-resistant wood for the curtain rod, along with an oil-based finish and maybe some wax, though I think this would require more maintenance and the wax may not hold up as well if you have a significant amount of heat radiating from the curtains.

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I would think an oil or stain would do the trick.

  • It soaks into the wood, so it shouldn't produce any stickiness when heated.
  • Wear would be along the top of the rod which isn't visible from the ground
  • Wear would be along the inside of the top of the rings which could be turned to give them more life before refinishing.
  • As rob indicated, it's not really in direct sunlight, so fading shouldn't be a significant issue.

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