American Hardwoods
Real American Hardwoods

Comparison of Finish Products

Finishes such as varnishes, shellacs, oil- and water-based products, vary on measures related to durability and working qualities. Each finish type has advantages and disadvantages. Here is a comparison chart of common finish products to help you choose the best finishes for your projects.

Working Quality Wax Shellac Nitro cellulose
Most waterbased
Ease of application Excellent Good Fair Good
Repairability Excellent Excellent Excellent Poor
Water resistance Poor Fair Good Good
Chemical resistance Fair Poor Good Good
Scratch resistance Poor Fair Fair Good

Reactive finishes undergo a chemical change as they cure, making them not only more difficult to repair but also more durable (except for linseed and tung oil) than most evaporative finishes.

Working Quality Linseed oil Tung oil Oil-based varnish
(alkyd resins)
(& conversion
Ease of application Excellent Excellent Good Good Poor
Repairability Excellent Excellent Poor Poor Poor
Water resistance Poor Fair Excellent Excellent Excellent
Chemical resistance Fair Fair Good Excellent Excellent
Scratch resistance Poor Poor Good Excellent Excellent

Differences Between Oil- and Water-Based Urethane Finishes
NOFMA: (now the National Wood Flooring Association) indicates that both oil- and water-based urethanes provide durable, long-lasting finishes. They offer the following descriptions for comparison purposes:

Water-based urethanes have four major formulations that determine the primary element in the finish: (1) Acrylic; (2) Acrylic Urethane; (3) Urethane Acrylic; (4) Urethane. Generally, the more urethane a water-based finish has, the more durable and harder the finish is (in contrast to water-based finishes with high acrylic levels).

However, water-based finishes with higher urethane levels typically require more finishing expertise. In terms of visual effect, a water-based urethane finish generally yields a clear finish that enhances or brightens the natural variations of hardwood and is normally applied thinner than oil-based materials.

Oil-based urethanes typically yield hard finishes and have slower drying times than water-based urethane finishes. They tend to give hardwood a "softer" appearance and lessen the contrast of hardwood's natural variations. They are normally applied thicker than water-based materials.


Species Guide



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American Hardwood Information Center
American Hardwood Information Center8 hours ago
#NationalForestProductsWeek celebrates the essential role forest play in our environment and economy. For generations, our Nation's forests and woodlands have provided millions of Americans with an abundance of job opportunities, goods, and recreational activities. Forests are also a part of a broader ecosystem. This week, we pay tribute to the forest products industry for the important contributions it makes to our society and economy, and we recommit to keeping our wooded landscapes vibrant and strong. #MSforestry #forestproud #Forest2Market


10 hours ago
#DYK steel, aluminum, glass, concrete, and brick production requires up to 126 times more energy to make than American Hardwood products? @APAwood | Photo credit @AscherDavisArchitects #ForestProductsWeek #RealAmericanHardwood #keepitreal AmericanHardwds photo

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