How To Choose A Wood Finish, And How To Apply

In this video I'll talk about the thought process I use to decide how I choose a wood finish for my projects, and I'll show you how I apply them.  
Walnut Stain (UK): 500ml (US): 
Liberon 500ml (UK): 
Zinnser Sealcoat (US):
Motip Spray Varnish (the one I always use) (UK): 500ml 6x500ml (US) 11oz
Plasti-kote (UK): 400ML 
Everbuild Varnish 750ml (UK):
Blackfriar Polyurethane 250ml (UK):
Minwax Polyurethane Semi Gloss 1 Quart (US):
Minwax Polyurethane Gloss 1/2 pint (US):
KB Oil-Wax Original:
KB Oil-Wax Food Safe:
How I make my oil wax video:
Briwax Rustic Pine (UK): (US):
400 grit pack of 10
I'm going to talk about two different finishing scenarios, and the first scenario is for projects where I want maximum durability - a hardwearing finish that protects wood from things like moisture and heat.  A good example for would be a table top. because that's going to get quite a bit of wear and tear - maybe you'll throw your keys on it when you get home, put a drink on it when you can't find a coaster, or put a hot plate down on it now and again.
The first thing I consider is am I happy with the natural colour of the wood?  If not, then the first thing I'll want to do is apply a stain or dye.  I'll put some information on screen now showing the differences between stains and dyes.  And also the differences between water based and oil based stains.
Stains and dyes are available in a variety of different colours and can be applied using a paint brush or lint-free cloth, and then it's good to wipe away any excess with another clean cloth.  Some woods like pine don't stain very evenly as the stain can soak in more in some areas than others, so for those situations it's best to apply a coat of sanding sealer before applying the stain.  
Stains and dyes can be re-coated if you want to achieve a darker colour.  You can also thin it if you want to make the colour change more subtle - water can be used to thin water based stains, and white spirit aka mineral spirits can be used to thin oil based stains.
The next thing I think about is whether to apply oil to the wood.  Oil pops the grain of the wood bringing out the natural beauty of the grain, and it also adds a warmer amber colour tone to the wood.  
Whether I decide to apply oil at this stage depends on a number of things, such as:
Am I going to be applying a different type of finish that will bring out the grain of the wood?  If so, applying oil might serve no purpose.
When I later apply a different finish over the oil, is that finish going to be compatible with the oiled wood?  Some finishes won't bond properly to oiled wood and I'll talk a bit more about compatibility later.
And do I want to add an amber colour to the wood?  For example I'm personally not a big fan of oil on woods like beech because it can make it look a bit orange, whereas I love the colour of oil on woods like sapele and mahogany.
The best way to decide the answers to all these questions is to do some tests on a scrap piece of the same wood if you have some available, experiment, and see what you like.
In terms of oils, my go to oil is Boiled Linseed Oil because it's cheap, and it dries pretty quickly.  There are many other types of oil available like Tung oil, Teak Oil and Mineral Oil .  There are also some oils that are mixed with varnish to offer more protection and durability like Danish Oil.  While all these oils have different strengths and weaknesses as you can see from the information on screen now, they all look very similar when applied to wood.  I would not be able to tell one from another if I was just looking at different oils on a piece of wood - they all look pretty much the same.  
Oils can be re-coated, and they're really easy to apply using a paint brush , a foam brush, or lint free cloth. Once it's dry, wipe away any excess oil with another cloth.  You can also sand in between coats with some high grit abrasive paper to keep the finish super smooth - I tend to use 320 or 400 grit.
The next thing I want to decide is what finish to use to make the wood more durable.
My favourite finish for durability is usually spray varnish or spray lacquer - they're similar but the information on screen shows the differences.  I like it because it dries extremely quickly, I often re-coat it after only 10-15 minutes or so, it leaves a great smooth finish with no paint brush marks to worry about, it's quicker to apply than using a brush or wipe on finish, and it's very durable.  But there are some disadvantages too - it's not usually the cheapest option, the spray fumes are harmful so you should wear a suitable respirator while using it and it takes a some practice and a bit of skill to get a good finish with it.  If you apply it outdoors, then the wind can create problems.  If you apply it indoors, the harmful fumes hang around in the air for longer.  Spray cans aren't always the most reliable things either, sometimes they can spit and splatter the finish out which can totally ruin the finish meaning you have to sand it back and re-coat it which can be a real pain.  There are better spraying set ups for applying finishes like using an air compressor and spray gun, there are even electric and battery operated spray guns available.  But I've not had any experience with those set ups yet, it's definitely something that I'd like to in future though.
To apply the spray varnish or lacquer I shake the can up really well, and I make sure to start and end each spraying motion either side of the surface I'm spraying - what I mean by that is instead of spraying from here to here, I spray from here to here.  It's best to keep the spray can upright and parallel to the surface that you're spraying for best results and to minimise the risk of the can spitting and splattering. I keep the can around 25-30 centimetres away from the surface I'm spraying to get the most even finish.  If you get any closer, you'll get some streakiness of the sheen in the finish.  I apply multiple thin coats, then I spray on a bit of water and wet sand between each coat with a high grit wet and dry paper like 320 or 400 grit to de-nib the finish which keeps it really smooth, then I wipe away the dust with a damp cloth, dry it off and re-apply the next coat.  The more coats you apply, the more lustre the finish will have an the more hardwearing it will be. 
Other alternative finishes for great durability are polyurethane from a can, which is available as water-based or oil-based.  It can be applied with a paint brush, a roller, or a foam brush in the direction of the grain.  You can also get wipe on polyurethane which you can apply with a lint-free cloth so that you don't need to worry about drips or brush marks, or you can also thin down the normal stuff so that it's better for wiping on, using white spirit aka mineral spirits for oil based polyurethane, or water for water-based polyurethane.  If you do thin it down, bear in mind that you'll want to apply more coats to get maximum durability. Again, sanding with 320 or 400 grit between each coat helps to de-nib the finish and keep it nice and smooth
Varnish is another durable finish, but it dries slower and isn't as durable as polyurethane. It is usually cheaper than polyurethane though, and offers better UV protection.
Compatibility of finishes is really important.  If oil or stain has been applied to the wood before you apply polyurethane, varnish or lacquer, you do need to make sure that the varnish or spray that you're using is compatible - for example a water based finish may not bond properly to an oil based finish.  However having said that, the water-based acrylic spray varnish that I use all the time has always worked perfectly well over oiled wood for me, I do always make sure that the oil has fully dried first before applying, and I've never had any issues with that even after several years of finishing a project.  But if you can, definitely do some tests on some scraps of wood prior to applying finish to your project.
Another finish that offers excellent durability is hard wax oil.  It's a relatively new product, and it's really expensive to buy at the moment - I expect over time the price of them will reduce.  I don't have any experience with them whatsoever, I've never used it but from what I've read it's meant to be brilliant.  It sounds like it's the ultimate finish - information on screen now about why they are so popular.
The second scenario I want to talk about for wood finishes is for when you want to add a bit or protection and durability, but aren't likely to be in contact with heat or moisture.  Something like a wooden box, a wine rack, or an item of furniture that isn't going to have drinks perched on it.
My favourite to finish for those items is an oil-wax finish.  I make my own using a mixture of beeswax, oil and solvent, I also make a food safe version which is a blend of mineral oil and beeswax - great for cutting boards.  I have a video about how to make it which I will link to in the description box below.  It's also available to buy via my Etsy page if you'd like to try it out for yourself.  What I like about it is that it's super quick and easy to apply, you can wipe it on with a lint-free cloth, use a paint brush or apply it with 0000 steel wool, a little goes a long way, and it just needs one coat.  After rubbing it on, I wipe away any excess with another cloth.  I can also buff it out with a cloth to get a nice sheen. The oil in the mixture brings out the grain and natural beauty of the wood, and the wax makes the wood super smooth to the touch.  
Another alternative is to apply an oil first, and I already talked about the various oils you can use earlier in the video, then wait for it to dry, and then apply a wax polish like - the waxes available from Briwax. Briwax is available in clear but it doesn't pop the grain, which is why I prefer to use my own home-made wax mixture or apply oil first.  Briwax is also available in different colours, which is a great way to add colour to wood without using a stain or a dye.  The one thing you'll want to consider with the coloured waxes though is that you need to really thoroughly buff out the wax once it's been applied, otherwise the stain will come off on things like clothing - so I wouldn't coloured waxes on something that is likely to be in contact with clothes like a chair for example because I think it's too much of a risk.
You can also just apply wax without applying any oil if you want the wood to retain it's natural colour and you don't want to pop the grain.  Wax can be applied on top of any finish, but it's important to remember that wax should always be applied last.
You could also just use oil as a finish without the wax.  Oils that contain varnish such as Danish Oil and Teak Oil work best in my opinion because they'll add a bit of sheen, but if you wanted to add sheen using another oil like Boiled Linseed Oil for example, you could just sand to a really high grit in between coats to get a really nice polished surface.
Another finish you might want to consider is shellac, which is more of an old fashioned finish which makes it great for antiques.  Shellac is what is used in french polishing.  It looks fantastic and it can be applied directly over the top to practically any other type of finish except for wax as I said earlier which should always be applied last.
Shellac is available as a pre-prepared liquid which is ready to use but it does have quite a short shelf life, or as flakes which need to be dissolved in alcohol.
It's easy to apply using a paint brush, a foam brush or a lint-free cloth in the direction of the grain.  I sand in between coats using 320 or 400 grit abrasive paper and then wipe away the dust with a damp cloth, dry it off and then apply the next coat.