Finishing and Decorating Woodwork

Finishing and Decorating Woodwork

Once you have built your woodwork projects and sanded them smooth, you'll need to get them ready for the finish and final decorating. Few supplies are more important than tack cloths. Usually make of cheesecloth and soaked with a mixture of varnish and turpentine, they're very sticky and are used to remove sawdust and fine wood particulate from the projects.

Drum Table

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Tack cloths will prevent your projects from having that "crinkly" look to the finish. It's an extra step, but the last thing you want to have happen is for one of your projects to look like it was poorly made.StainingSome pieces will look great after only staining. This is made easy by using a cotton towel or an old cotton undershirt and cutting it into smaller pieces. Brush on the stain and then wipe the excess off with a piece of cotton.On pieces you plan to decorate with paint you will still want to stain the backside and edges. Simply brush stain on the backside and wipe off the excess. There will be enough stain left on the rag to do the edges.

Antique Look

If you want the piece to have an old or antiqued look, you can paint it first, and then apply a coat of stain to get that effect.


To maximize your time, do several of the same piece at the same time in assembly-line fashion. Do the base coat first, meaning the largest area to be painted with your primary color. You may wish to do half in one color and the other half in another. When this is finished and the first color is dry, repeat the process until the entire surface of each piece is complete.

Signing Your Work

Get yourself a Sharpie pen (several colors). These are great for signing your work. This is important. It gives each piece an extra personal touch. Sharpie pens are permanent markers that will not smudge. They are great for doing fine detail decorating. When a fine line is needed it is much easier to accomplish with a Sharpie than with a brush.


The supplies you will need vary based on the sizes of your projects, the texture of the woods you use and techniques you will use to finish and decorate. Several artist brushes in various sizes with round and flat heads. Regular paint brushes from 2" up to 3" in width. Toothpicks come in handy for making tiny dots, eyes and other fine detail decorating.

Sponges are also a fun way to paint. Cut a regular kitchen sponge into several smaller pieces of different sizes. You can also use natural sponge. By daubing the sponge in paint, blot a little off on paper. Then use it to paint trees, grass, clouds, etc. For example, if you were making Welcome signs that needed a background effect, first paint on a tree trunk and some branches. Dab on your leaves with the sponge. You can make them as dense or as sparse as you like. Use two shades of green for variation. Make fall colors by adding a dab of red, yellow and orange. Use your imagination. Let it run wild. You can even sponge paint an entire piece to achieve a textured look. Practice on brown paper to develop your technique.

Using stencils is another time saver. You can buy stencils already cut or cut your own. In addition to looking through the craft supply catalogs check out your local craft stores. There are hundreds of designs and sayings available. Applying a stencil is a relatively simple technique. Hold the stencil firmly in place. Then, using a round stencil brush, lightly dab paint on the cutout area until you have the desired effect. Too much paint on your stencil brush will result in a big mess. The paint will run uner the edges of your stencil and you end up with nasty smudges.

Dab your brush in the paint and then blot the excess paint on paper towels until the brush is almost dry. You may want to practice on newspaper or brown bag paper until you get the hang of it. Depending on the piece being decorated and the stencil, a sponge brush might also be used. Sponge brushes come in varying sizes and are available in most local paint stores. These can also be time savers when you are stenciling a large area. The same rule applies to these brushes. Be careful and not have too much paint on the brush. You can always add paint.


Just about any paint can be used, regular acrylic craft paint is a standard. There is a wide range of colors to choose from. You'll want to be sure and keep a good supply of the most often used colors.

If you have trouble finding just the right color you want, try mixing your own. This is especially true when you only need a small amount of a unique color. Just remember to write down the amounts and colors you used so you can duplicate the formula for future needs.

Some woodworkers develop special colors and they can be catchy. Color and color combinations are important, a specific color can catch on and be the hottest seller. This makes it very important for you to write down formulas. Knowing which of your colors and color combinations sell the best will help you in deciding which items to increase your production on.

If you are using a lot of paint in specific colors, go to your local paint store and buy interior latex by the gallon. If they don't have the colors you're looking for, ask them to mix it up. Be sure to remember the mix code. Also watch for paint sales and be sure to check out the "one-of-a-kind" bins. You'll be surprised at some of the bargains you can find.

When buying paint by the gallon, pour what you expect to use into a smaller jar and work out of this. It's important to keep the lids on your paint cans tightly sealed at all times. This prevents your paint from "gumming" and will extend its life.

If you make and sell woodcraft that you will displayed outdoors, you'll want to decorate them with with outdoor paint so they will withstand the elements. Outdoor pieces are very popular, but you must make sure their finish will hold up. Be sure to get a supply of polyurethane or varnish spray to use as the final coat on all outdoor pieces.

Many woodworker spray a coat on their indoor pieces. Use a "matte' finish so your pieces won't be too shiny. High gloss pieces end up looking "store bought". A light poly coat gives your work a protective finish that will last for years.

Finishing Touches

Ribbons, bows, buttons, lace, dried flowers, herbs, apple and cinnamon sticks, old pieces of leather, bent nails -- you name it. These are just a few of the items you can use to add a unique touch to your projects. Now you know what to do with all that stuff you have saved up over the years. To apply these "little treasures", get yourself a hot glue gun. It is easy to use and holds things fast and tight. The glue will dry clear and not destroy your project's finish.

Local Classes

If you've never done any decorating before, you might want to enroll in a painting class at a local craft center, recreation department, the Y, or senior citizens center. You can learn a lot and it is a way to meet people that have the same interests as you.

The uniqueness of your projects will ultimately depend upon just how creative you make the decorating on your woodcraft. Keep your eyes and ears open to all sources that might serve as brainstorming ideas for decorating.

Finishing and Decorating Woodwork