Wood Finishing Systems – A Woodworker’s Options

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As a woodworker, you probably already know that architectural woodworking finishes are more than just a quick final polish. But do you know what all your options are for types of finishes, and what considerations you should make when selecting wood finishing systems?

Keep reading to find the answers to these questions, learn your options as a woodworker, and understand how you can use the AWI Standards to comply with best industry practices relating to architectural wood finishing systems. 

The Purpose of Wood Finishing Systems

An architectural woodworking finish is traditionally used as a way of enhancing or changing the natural beauty of the wood. Another clear purpose and benefit is that a good-quality wood finishing system will protect the wood from different types of damage, including moisture, contaminants, and general handling.

Types of Wood Finishing

The AWI Standards highlight a range of wood finishing systems, all of which provide protection for the wood, as well as points to consider when you’re selecting a finishing system.

In general, there are two types of wood finishing systems:

  • Factory finishing is typically specified for high-quality work where superior appearance and performance is desired. Benefits of factory finishing include consistency, control of film thickness, and curing of the finish in a controlled environment.
  • Field finishing is normally used when there is not a demand for a superior appearance. In this case, the finisher is responsible for accepting the supplied woodwork and for ensuring that the finish meets the specified standards, for example in color, texture, and sheen.

While the AWI Standards don’t cover field finishing, you can find information on factory finishing in ANSI/AWI 0400 – Factory Finishing.


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Considerations When Selecting Wood Finishes

Whichever system you choose, there are many considerations you must make when selecting the best finish. These include:

  • The specifications you are given versus what is best for the woodworking job
  • The cost of the system versus the benefit it provides for your job
  • Optimizing application techniques so they provide a durable and aesthetically pleasing appearance
  • The curing of finish systems
  • Color matching and color consistency
  • Open and close grains
  • Resistance against wear, chemicals, and the local environment

Wood Finishing: Perception vs Reality

Unfortunately, the general perception is that wood finishing is a simple job – all you need to do is give the wood a coat of protection and you’re finished.

As the considerations above show, the reality is more complicated than that:

  • If you’re working on a large project that includes a lot of wood veneer paneling, you‘ll have to account for many different factors. These include how to preserve the color of the wood, whether or not you want to add depth to the wood, the different grains, and so on
  • Under ANSI/AWI 0400, you need to follow the application instructions provided by the coating manufacturer
  • You need to understand the effects of heat on your finished woodwork 


The 13 AWS Finishing Systems

The 13 AWI Standards wood finish technologies are detailed under ANSI/AWI 0400 Section 3.3.2 Performance Characteristics. There, you’ll find more information about the types of wood finish technologies, their characteristics, and the benefits and drawbacks of each one.

These wood finish technologies include:

  1. Lacquer, nitrocellulose
  2. A. Lacquer, post-catalyzed; B. Lacquer, pre-catalyzed
  3. Latex acrylic, water-based
  4. Varnish, conversion
  5. Oil, synthetic penetrating
  6. Vinyl, catalyzed
  7. Acrylic cross-linking, water-based
  8. Acrylated epoxy, polyester or urethane, UV cure
  9. UV curable, water-based
  10. Vinyl, catalyzed
  11. Polyurethane, water-based
  12. Polyester, catalyzed

In ANSI/AWI 0400, you’ll also find more information about architectural woodworking finishes, including their purpose, a more detailed explanation of the considerations to remember, techniques to consider, compliance requirements, and more.

Equipping yourself with the proper tools for success is key to a thriving career. The AWI Quality Certification Program not only provides a strong foundation, but it also allows you to deliver compliance, consistency, and quality to your clients at every step of the project, including wood finishing.