What You Should Know About Choosing a Walnut Finish

Walnut has a timeless appeal. And that’s why it has long been a favorite of most Americans.

Remarkably, since the 17th and 18th centuries, people have relied heavily on the material. The situation doesn’t seem like it will change anytime soon. And for good reason, walnut is sturdy, durable, and abundant with the most attractive grain patterns.

Yet, devoid of a finish, your walnut cabinet, table, or flooring will be in a sorry state along the line.

While walnut is durable, to say a finished walnut piece is in a better position than one without finishing would be an understatement.

Yet, the 64,000 dollar question is – what finish is best for your piece?

Why Applying a Walnut Finish Is a Step in the Right Direction

Of course, failure to use a finish won’t fundamentally impact how your furniture or appliances work.

So, even without a finish, your walnut cabinet will still function as a cabinet. So, why should you even be bothering your head about what finish to settle for?

Provides a shield against the elements

Constant exposure to heat (from the sun) and moisture can do considerable damage to wood.

Moreover, the wood will decolorize if exposed to too much heat from the sun. If you’re going to use your project outdoors, finishing it is a no-brainer.

The protection a finish gives to your wood will ensure it remains structurally sturdy for as long as possible.

Enhances the natural beauty of your walnut

There’s no doubt that by now, you’re thoroughly impressed by walnut’s incredibly beautiful grain patterns.

Well, applying a walnut finish to your piece does more than just preserve its attractive looks. It will add a shiny and glossy touch to your wood, giving it that premium appeal.

Ease of Use

Applying a walnut finish to your project isn’t rocket science.

Furthermore, you won’t have to break the bank to get the work done.

Moreover, a finish affords your project maximum protection. Therefore, you will not have to be forking out chunks of dollars to repair/replace your wood a few years down the line.

Steps You Should Follow for an Attractive Walnut Finish

When applying a walnut finish, there are three steps you should follow:

The preparation stage

It’s critical to get the wood in the best possible condition for the next stages. If there are any undesired prior finishes on the wood, get rid of them.

You should also eradicate existing matter like wax, paint, or grease from your piece. You want your piece completely dry and devoid of any substance.

More importantly, you should mend any possible defect on your wood. Holes and cracks here and there should be fixed.

Subsequently, sand the wood gently. You want a surface that’s as uniform and as smooth as possible. Make sure that when sanding, you do so in the direction of the wood’s grain.

You may use sandpaper with medium grit for sanding in the first phase. For the second phase of sanding, use one with fine grit. When you’re done, wipe the sanding dust off your wood.

Stain your wood

It’s not necessary to stain your wood. Though, it’s a good idea if you want to enhance the color of your wood, bringing out its natural color.

You may decide not to stain and just finish the wood if you’re satisfied with your wood’s color. Yet, if you should stain, you want to apply a pre-stain conditioner first.

Pre-stain conditioners simply prevent blotches on wood after a finishing has been applied. They do this by evening out the absorption of oil/water-based stains.

Minwax® is an excellent producer of stains. Choose from a wide variety of oil/water-based stains that’ll not only boost your wood’s color but also complement your decor well.

As a rule of thumb, in applying a stain, test it first. You may test your selected stain on a wooden piece similar to your original piece or on a needless piece that derives from the original.

Better still, you may test the stain on a portion of your piece that’s less likely to be visible by anyone.

Testing your stain in this manner will provide information on whether the color is the right one for you. You may choose to apply the stain with a rag or brush – whichever works best for you.

However, do ensure that you’re following the label’s directions and working the stain in the direction of the wood’s grain.

Finish your walnut

The final and most important stage is applying the protective finish.

Staining will indeed enhance your wood’s beauty. But, applying a finish does even more – it offers tremendous protection from the likes of heat, water, food stains, and others.

Therefore, even if you decide you don’t want to stain your walnut, don’t backtrack on your decision to finish your walnut piece.

There are myriads of protective finishes available out there. We’ll be delving into that in a bit. You can choose from varnishes, lacquer, water-based finishes, and many more.

When applying the protective finish, don’t forget to follow the label’s directions judiciously. Also – and this may sound like a broken record – apply the finish in the direction of the wood’s grain.

Walnut Finish – Frequently Asked Questions

Here are answers to some of the most pressing questions about walnut finishes

Are there walnut finishes that are harmless to antiques?

Indeed! Some finishes will not harm your antique wood if you simply want to preserve its pre-existing finish.

These finishes function as restorers. They’ll simply renew the wood’s grains without affecting the character of your antique.

Tung oil, for instance, is one to consider for your antique artifact. This finish contains no chemicals that may prove harmful to the wood’s looks and structure.

Are there finishes that are food-safe?

Many women are concerned about whether or not there are food-safe finishes out there. With the avalanche of toxins surrounding us, it’s quite a legitimate concern.

If your walnut project will get in contact with your food, then it makes sense to use a finish that’ll not be harmful.

Some finishes are inherently safe. These are mostly made using natural plant or animal sources. Therefore, they are devoid of any toxins or allergens you might be concerned about.

These include among others, shellac, raw Linseed oil, and pure tung oil.

Are there finishes that will work well on walnut as well as on other surfaces?

Not all finishes are great on other surfaces as they are on wood. Varnish, for instance, will do poorly on concrete. The two surfaces aren’t compatible. Consequently, they won’t bond.

Yet, other finishes like tung oil and polyurethane will do excellently on surfaces aside from wood. So, if you’re thinking of what wood finish to apply to your terracotta or concrete artifact, these are good options.

Linseed oil is also a good one to consider.

Is there any benefit to using a multi-porous finish?

A multi-porous wood finish will seep deep into the grains of your wood. It will cover a significant amount of pores than other finishes.

That way, it shields the wood from cracking, peeling, or flaking. An excellent example of such a wood finish is polyurethane.

What do I do if I get drips or dust in my finish?

Drips are likely to form when your coats are too thick. To avoid the formation of drips, it is expedient to apply the finish in thin coats.

Nonetheless, if drips form, simply sand those portions off. You may also scrape them off with a sharp razor blade.

Also, it can be frustrating to sight dust in your freshly finished piece, especially if it’s still drying.

In case of this eventuality, just sand the wood’s surface. Thereafter, you should apply new coats of the finish.

It’s advisable, though, to apply your finish in thin coats. That way, the finish dries faster. If it takes a short while to dry, it helps reduce the time it takes for the dust to settle on the wet film.

You should also make sure that the work area is as clean as can be.

Factors That Will Affect How Long Your Walnut Finish Dries

Sometimes the label on your finish will indicate that it’ll take approximately two hours to dry. Yet, after two hours, you’d probably notice the finish is nowhere near dry.

Usually, it is an indication that certain factors beyond your control are at play.

Humid weather

High levels of atmospheric humidity will certainly play a role in causing your finish to delay in drying.

The solution is to apply it on a comparably drier day.

Better still, you could finish your piece in a room with a dehumidifier or air-conditioner. These reduce humidity levels, making it conducive for the finish to dry faster.

Cold temperature

Temperatures below the mid-20 degree Celsius range can cause your finish to take a while before drying.

And if you use a finish like lacquer in those circumstances, it may result in discoloring your finish.

It is an indication that water is trapped in the finish after the evaporation of the solvent. The phenomenon is known as blushing.

To prevent this phenomenon from occurring, apply your finish on a warmer day.

If the milky whiteness (blush) is already formed on your piece, take it to a warmer area within your space. If it persists, add another coat of finish.

Poor ventilation

A poorly ventilated area will ensure your finish takes longer to dry.

If you can, let open your windows and doors while finishing. It will aid in getting the finish to dry faster.

Thick Coats

If you want your finish to dry faster, apply it in thin coats.

Tips When Applying Finish on Your Walnut Items

These tips should be helpful when applying your walnut finish.

Apply the right tools

The instrument you use in applying the finish is critical for optimum performance.

Thus, when applying an oil-based finish, use a brush and a cloth.

Firstly, apply your finish with the brush. Thereafter, use the cloth to thoroughly wipe the surface of your walnut piece.

Nonetheless, when applying a water-based finish, it’s advisable to refrain from using a natural-bristle brush.

Such a brush soaks up water well. Should it soak too much water from the finish, it is likely to shrivel. Rather, you should use a cloth in applying a water-based finish.

Better still, you may use a synthetic-bristle brush to do the deed.

Choose your shade

Apply double coats of the finish if you want a deeper shade on the surface of your piece.

Simply make sure that the first coat has properly dried out before applying the second coat.

You should eradicate any leftover dirt/dust particles before applying the second coat, though.


It’s often difficult to reach corners and recesses of wooden pieces when applying a finish.

If that’s the case, get your brush or cloth wetter than usual to get enough of the finish in those areas.

What Type of Finish Should You Use on Your Walnut Project?

This question isn’t an easy one to answer. Of course, you want your piece to stand out magnificently. Yet, there are myriads of finishes out there to choose from.

Subsequently, it’s a matter of preference. The list below though is in no particular order. However, they are the safest bet for your walnut project.

1. Lacquer

Lacquer is an excellent choice for walnut. Most people prefer it because it dries quickly.

It is highly resistant to water and will maintain its clear color for a long time. Lacquer won’t yellow with age. You’ll also find it is somewhat thinner than other finishes.

Thus, it can deeply penetrate wood grains, providing a tough seal that’ll thoroughly shield your wood. It’ll also provide your piece with the glossiest and smoothest of finishes.

Also, it’s not difficult to apply. Just two coats of the finish are enough to protect and seal your wood.

You may opt for either a pressurized or airless spray to do the deed. After applying lacquer uniformly on the wood, allow it to dry for about 30 minutes.

Thereafter, use 180-grit sandpaper to sand the walnut in the direction of the grain.

Subsequently, apply the second coat of lacquer finish on your wood. For a more pronounced lacquer finish, you may add two more coats if you so choose.


  • Dries quickly
  • Durable finish
  • Resistant to water and other liquids


  • Need the proper equipment for application

2. Shellac

Shellac is gotten from the female lac bug. This bug can be found predominantly in Southeast Asia.

The female lac bug usually secretes a natural resin that is harvested. Once harvested, the secretions are known as “seedlac.”

Thereafter, seedlac is processed into dry flaky substances.

When these dry flaky substances are dissolved in an alcohol solvent, they become what we popularly know as shellac.

Shellac is a high-quality wood finish that will intensify your walnut’s natural beauty. One positive thing about shellac is that it dries quickly.

This finish is highly resistant to UV rays from the sun. It also doesn’t turn yellow with age.


  • Easy to apply
  • Non-toxic
  • Will provide a safe surface for kids and pets
  • Dries quickly


  • Isn’t heat-resistant
  • Not so durable

3. Linseed Oil

Linseed oil is an amazing finish to use on walnut due to the wood’s burnished color.

Ordinarily, Linseed oil makes wood darker than they usually are. Talk of a perfect match!

Linseed oil will draw out your walnut’s grain patterns nicely and intensify your wood’s color.

However, it isn’t advisable to finish with raw Linseed oil. It takes a long time to dry.

Boiled Linseed oil is raw Linseed oil that has been incorporated with drying potentially hazardous compounds.

If you’re going to finish with Linseed oil, you should opt for polymerized Linseed oil. This type is pure and non-toxic. Moreover, it dries faster than both raw and boiled Linseed oil.


  • Resistant to water
  • Accentuates the texture/color of wood grains
  • Non-toxic


  • Takes a while to dry
  • Not resistant to UV rays

4. Tung Oil

Tung oil is a plant-based finish gotten from the Tung tree.

Tung oil dries way faster than Linseed oil. It’s why many carpenters and woodworkers love it.

This finish has a somewhat darkened color. And you can bet it’s going to provide your walnut piece with aesthetically pleasing warm and rich color.

It also offers excellent protection to wood from water and alcohol. Furthermore, it’s non-toxic.

Tung oil is a bit similar to Linseed oil in that it has three varieties; raw, polymerized, and boiled options.


  • Water-resistant
  • Alcohol-resistant
  • Non-toxic
  • Easy to apply


  • Vulnerable to scratches

5. Varnish

If you’re looking for one of the most durable finishes to apply on walnut, look no further than varnish.

This finish is a class above most finishes in terms of its water and heat-resisting capacities.

The finish is made of tough synthetic resins. These resins have been re-engineered with drying oils.

On the containers of varnish finishes, you’re most likely to see listed resins like urethane, phenolic, and alkyd. These influence the kind of finish your piece will eventually have.

Alkyd varnish is made with alkyd resin. It is very common out there. Plus, if your project is designed for indoor use, it is the right type to use. Alkyd features satisfactory protective properties.

Phenolic varnish is exceptional against moisture and other solvents. If your project is designed for exterior use, then this is the type to fall on.

Polyurethane varnish as compared to the other types dries quicker. It also does incredibly well against water, fungus, mildew, and abrasions!

It’s also commonly used to finish cabinets, floors, wardrobes, and the likes.

When purchasing polyurethane, you may either choose the water-based polyurethane finish or its oil-based counterpart.

Water-based polyurethane dries quicker than oil-based polyurethane. The downside to the former is that it gives walnut wood a somewhat bluish tint after use. You might want to select an oil-based polyurethane finish on that account.


  • Highly resistant to UV rays
  • Affordable
  • Easy to use
  • High resistance to scratch, spills, etc.


  • Emission of volatile organic compounds
  • May become dull over time

Ready to Finish Your Walnut?

Walnut is sturdy and durable. It also has some of the most desirable grain patterns you can find on wood.

Finishing your walnut is crucial if you don’t want your project deteriorating down the line. Plus, finishing your article enhances its beauty even more.

It’s not always easy to know what walnut finish to choose.

Lacquer, polyurethane, varnish, and all the natural oil finishes are all top drawers in their regard. Though, they each have their advantages and disadvantages.

Will your walnut project be handled constantly? Will it be exposed to heat or liquids? Will you place it in a very busy area? These are some things to reflect on when making your final decision.

Then again, the type of finish you opt for will likely depend on its ease of use, dry time, affordability, durability, and the likes.

In the end, it’s a matter of preference. What will your choice of walnut finish be? I’d like to know in the comment section below.

Related Articles


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Stay Connected


Latest Articles