Finishing Your Unfinished Oak Furniture

When you buy unfinished oak furniture you have chosen a fantastic piece of furniture that can give you years of pleasure. Oak is very tough and hard wearing and it can withstand most of what life and children can throw at it.  Before you buy make sure that you are looking at solid oak furniture, as oak veneered furniture will not give the same result, check the joins to see if you have solid timber. So if you have chosen oak dining furniture or oak bedroom furniture you can be sure to have a piece of furniture to treasure. An unfinished piece of furniture allows you the option of personalising it. You can stain it, paint it, wax it, choose the shade you prefer- whatever you like. It will also cost you much less than a finished piece of oak furniture. Whatever path you decide there are some steps that you have to take.

unfinished-oak-chestDecide on the kind of finish you would like- staining, waxing, or varnishing are some of the options. This will help you to decide which steps to take.

Before you start always ensure that the surface of the timber is free from any oils or dirt and is clean, and that you have all the tools and materials to hand.


Unfinished furniture is exactly that the final steps of preparing the finish have yet to be done. Whatever kind or finish you intend to use you will have to sand you furniture. Sanding is the process of making the surface of the furniture smooth to touch and to take the stain or paint that you intend to apply to it. You must perform proper sanding in order to achieve the best results. A thorough sanding will lift the finished furniture form merely OK to beautiful. There are two types of sanding prep sanding and final sanding. Prep sanding is the initial sanding and can be done using power tools, final sanding is the sanding is the last sand and between any top coats and is recommended to be done by hand lightly. Sanding should be done using progressively fine sandpaper. It is recommended that for oak sanding should start with no larger than #120grit and finish with no finer than #180paper. This is to allow the stain to penetrate the wood. Over sanding should be avoided as it may seal the wood to such an extent that it will not take a stain. Be aware that the end grains will always take more stain than the rest so additional sanding may be necessary to keep the stain absorption constant. A good tip for oak is to wipe the surface with a damp cloth and leave for 30minutes before the final sanding – this will give a silkier finish.


After you have sanded the oak to a finish you are happy with it is time to apply the stain. Or you can go with the natural color and just wax it. There are 4 points to consider when choosing a stain

  1. Color- find one you like, if you can’t find one mix some colors together and make your own – just make sure you have enough for the whole project.
  2. How porous the wood is. White oak is more porous than red oak, and will absorb the stain differently
  3. How long the stain is left on
  4. In what way the excess stain is removed.

With all stains always ensure you have enough to complete the whole project before you start. Always thoroughly mix the stain every time you open it, or you may end up with uneven colors.

Check the base of the stain you have chosen you will have less time to work with water based stains than oil based ones. Apply a generous amount of stain to allow ease of working. It is a good practise to wipe of the excess stain in the direction of the grain and do it consistently to get an evenly distributed color. A second coat can applied to get a darker shade.

Before you start ensure that the surface of the furniture is dry, clean and free from dust.

Top Coat

This is the final finish for your labours and is usually wax, oil or lacquer. Any of these may used once the stain has thoroughly dried.  Several coats of polyurethane may be required with light sanding between the coats. This will give your furniture a sealed finish and make it more resistant to staining. I love the natural wood buffed to shine with oil and wax, and it always has such a lovely smell associated with it. Whichever way you choose to finish your unfinished oak furniture, you will enjoy the rewards of your efforts for many years.