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Home > Projects & DIY Toolkit > How-To Articles > Working with Oil-Based Interior Finishes

Working with Oil-Based Interior Finishes

Oil-based finishes are known for imparting a deep rich appearance to wood. They typically add a warmth that seems to glow and even radiate from the surface. If you're looking for a way to make your projects really pop, an oil-based finish may be just what you need. Lowe's is happy to provide this information as a service to you.

Tools & Materials


  • Rubber gloves

  • Goggles

  • Dust mask

  • Tack cloth

  • Clean, soft cloths/rags

  • Natural bristled brush

  • Gloves


  • Sandpaper

  • Fine steel wool

  • Sanding sealer

  • Oil-based wood stain

  • Oil-based topcoat

  • Mineral spirits or Paint thinner

  • Paste wax or furniture polish

Prepare the Surface

Always sand with the grain of the wood.

Finishing highlights the beauty of wood, but the process also magnifies imperfections. Sand the wood smooth and repair all defects before finishing.

  • To produce smooth surfaces, always sand with the grain of the wood. Depending on the surface's smoothness you may need to start with 80 grit, move to 150 grit and finish with 220 grit. Use a tack cloth to remove dust between sandings.

  • After sanding, wipe with mineral spirits or paint thinner. Check all surfaces in a raking light (a light shining at a steep angle to the surface). The combination of solvent and light will reveal any imperfections in your sanded surface. Final sand as needed.

  • Wood is a natural material with pores and grain patterns that accept stains at different rates. Even in the same board, shifts in grain patterns can cause blotching. Blotching occurs when larger pores or wavy grain patterns absorb too much stain and appear much darker than the surrounding material. A quality sanding sealer can be used to counter the effects of blotching. Simply apply a light coat of sanding sealer with a rag or soft-bristled brush. Allow the sealer to dry according to the manufacturer's instructions. Rub the wood with fine steel wool to smooth the surface. Apply another light coat of sanding sealer, and allow it to dry.

  • Inspect the material for small nicks or imperfections. Rub out any rough spots with steel wool. Wipe the material with a clean tack cloth to remove any dust.

Apply Stain

Stain shades vary in appearance on different wood species. Always test stain on wood of the same species as the material with which you are working. When possible, test in the same type of light prevalent where the completed piece will be displayed. Colours appear to change when they are exposed to different light sources, based on the spectral colours that make up the light. Yellow is the dominant colour in incandescent light (regular light bulbs), and blue-green is dominant in fluorescent light (common in most shops).

  • Stir the stain according to the manufacturer's instructions. To maintain an even colour, stir the stain periodically during application. When finishing large pieces that require more than a single can of stain, mix all the stain together in one container before applying. Mixing the stain in the beginning helps to ensure even colour distribution.

  • Apply the stain with a clean, soft cloth or a soft natural-bristled brush. Wipe or brush the stain in the same direction as the wood grain.

  • Allow the stain to penetrate the wood for five to ten minutes. Wipe the excess stain off with a clean, soft cloth. Allow the stain to dry completely. If a darker colour is desired, apply a second coat.

  • After the final coat of stain has dried, rub the material vigorously with a clean, soft cloth. Rubbing helps even the finish and smoothes the surface for the topcoat.

Safety Note:

  • Always apply finishing materials in a well-ventilated area.

  • Wear eye protection and rubber gloves to prevent exposure to finishing materials.

  • Read and follow the manufacturer's instructions and cautions.

Apply Topcoat

Once you achieve the desired effect with the stain, protect it from scratches and moisture damage with a topcoat of clear, oil-based finish.

  • Stir the topcoat according to the manufacturer's instructions.

  • Apply a thin coat with a natural-bristled brush.

  • Allow the finish to dry according to the manufacturer's instructions.

  • Apply a second light coat and allow it to dry.

  • Sand the topcoat lightly with 400 or higher grit sandpaper or steel wool. Remove any sanding dust with a tack cloth.

  • Brush on another light coat of finish and allow it to dry.

  • Apply subsequent coats as desired, allowing each to dry fully before applying the next.

  • Polish the surface with paste wax or furniture polish.

Good idea: For more finishing ideas and information see our finishing chemicals buying guide.

Tools, products, materials, techniques, building codes and local regulations change; therefore, Lowe's assumes no liability for omissions, errors or the outcome of any project. The reader must always exercise reasonable caution, follow current codes and regulations that may apply, and is urged to consult with a licensed professional if in doubt about any procedures. Please visit our terms of use.

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