All wood furniture is subject to damage caused by accidents and everyday wear and tear. For this reason, virtually all custom and commercial furniture makers coat the new products they sell with at least one outer layer of clear finish, which helps provide needed protection and create an aesthetically pleasing final appearance. Repair and restoration experts also commonly apply one or more finish layers when completing work on contemporary and antique furniture.
Furniture owners typically must choose from a wide range of possible options when refinishing their cherished pieces. Buyers of new furniture face this same ocean of choices. Perhaps one of the least understood and most attractive looks for antique and contemporary furniture is a flat finish, which has a relatively subdued appearance when compared to most other alternatives. Over four decades of operation in the noted furniture hotbed of Southern California, the professionals at Rahn’s Furniture Restoration have perfected the flat-finish look. We use this look to enhance the appearance of new furniture and bring your older pieces back to life after years, decades or even centuries of disrepair.
Furniture Finish Basics
There are two main categories of clear furniture finish: surface finishes and penetrating finishes. As their name implies, surface finishes cover the surface layer of wood and don’t sink in any further. Penetrating finishes, on the other hand, pass through the surface and accumulate in wood’s underlying cell structure.
Products that fall into the surface finish category include varnishes, synthetic finishes, shellac, lacquer, paste wax and French polish. Each of these products has its own unique characteristics and best uses. For example, varnishes (which contain a mixture of natural or synthetic resins and natural drying oils) form a relatively tough protective layer when dry. Synthetic finishes are even tougher than varnishes. Shellac, made from a naturally secreted insect resin, sits at the other end of the durability scale and — while beautiful when applied correctly — provides only minimal surface protection from scratching, chipping, moisture or heat. Many commercial and custom furniture makers prefer lacquer for its combination of beauty, durability and fast drying during application.
Products that fall into the penetrating finish category include linseed oil, tung oil and penetrating resins. Linseed oil and tung oil are naturally occurring substances. Linseed oil has a long history of use as a furniture finish, but tung oil holds up better under varied environmental conditions and typical everyday use. Penetrating resins, which contain a mixture of oils and synthetic resins related to plastics and polyester, combine a natural appearance with high durability.
What Is a Flat Finish?
The finish used as a protective layer on wood furniture (as well as on floors and other types of wood surfaces) comes in a number of different brightness or sheen levels. The shiniest type of finish is known as a glossy finish. A semi-gloss finish has a lower level of sheen than a glossy finish, while a satin finish has a lower level of sheen than a semi-gloss finish. A flat finish ranks as the fourth shiniest type of finish, with a level of sheen even lower than a satin finish. The least shiny finish is known as a dull finish.
Which Finish Products Are Flat?
Some finish products are naturally flat or relatively flat when first applied. Products that often lack a high level of sheen include linseed oil, tung oil and traditional varnishes. But in reality, almost any type of surface finish with a glossy, semi-glossy or satin sheen can be given a flat sheen through a process called rubbing. During this process, the finish is lightly sanded, rubbed down with very fine steel wool covered with paste wax, and then quickly wiped off with paper towels or a clean cloth. Rubbing also makes the final appearance of the finish more uniform, in addition to making the finished surface smoother to the touch.
Why Choose a Flat Finish for Your Furniture?
There are several reasons to choose a flat finish for your furniture. First, flat finishes typically help mask some of wood’s imperfections, and they may help you avoid the need for some minor types of furniture repair. For these reasons, many people prefer this finish option for wood furniture that sees lots of daily use or is located in high-traffic areas. You may also prefer a flat finish if you don’t want to make a specific piece of furniture the focal point of a room’s décor. This holds true for picture frames and TV consoles, as well as tables, chairs and other furniture pieces. If you own antique furniture or older non-antique furniture, the smooth surface typical of a flat finish may also make an ideal choice.
At Rahn’s Furniture Restoration, our professional staff has extensive experience working with all kinds of furniture finishing products, from traditional linseed oil, shellac and lacquer to modern varnishes and penetrating resins. If you’re considering using a flat finish for your antique or newer pieces, we’ll gladly show you real-world samples of all four sheen levels. We’ll also work with you directly to help you decide if a flat sheen suits your aesthetic preferences and practical needs.
Once you’ve chosen a flat sheen for your furniture, you’ll need to decide which type of finish product will work best for you. This will take some consideration. That’s true, in part, because not all products capable of taking a flat finish work equally well in all situations. For example, some flat finishes can potentially make cleanups a bit harder on surfaces where spills frequently occur. Again, our expert staff can walk you through all the available options and help you choose a product that creates your desired look without making daily life more difficult.
Call on the Furniture Finish Experts
Rahn’s Furniture Restoration first opened its doors in 1976. From the very beginning, we have gained and maintained a well-deserved reputation as experts in the application and restoration of flat finishes and all other furniture finish options. No matter what finish product you prefer, we’ll give your antique and contemporary pieces a look that complements their uses and best features. Call today to ask us questions or schedule an appointment.