5 Must-Have Wood Finishing Supplies


Keep a few solvents and other wood finishing supplies on hand at all times. Some items are useful for more than just finishing work.

You can create beautiful finishes without a lot of equipment, but there are a few things you should always have on hand. Here are a few things you should keep around for finishing that are helpful for other purposes too.

Lint-free Rags

Rags are great to have around the shop for many reasons, but they’re especially useful for finishing. Don’t use old socks or t-shirts; they’ll leave lint behind. Get some lint-free rags at the hardware store or woodworking supply shop.


Keep a can of mineral spirits around for thinning oils and varnishes, and for cleaning brushes after applying finish. If you’re going to do anything with shellac, you’ll need also need denatured alcohol. It’s the appropriate solvent for shellac finishes, including French polish. To brush or spray nitrocellulose lacquers, get yourself some lacquer thinner. You can use it for a lot of other things, like cleaning contact cement off of laminate or removing pen marks from melamine.

Steel Wool and/or Wet-or-Dry Sandpaper

Use a few drops of soapy water to sand your final coat of finish to a satin luster.

Use a few drops of soapy water to sand your final coat of finish to a satin luster.

To get a satin luster from polyurethane or another varnish, do a final sanding with 0000 steel wool or wet-or-dry sandpaper. Add some dish soap to a bucket of water and put a few drops on the workpiece. Then lightly sand the finish. The soapy water lubricates the steel wool and allows it to make super-fine scratches in the finish. You’ll end up with a smooth surface and a delicate sheen that’s perfect for almost any kind of project.

#220-Grit Sandpaper

Finishes that get applied in several applications require sanding between coats. #220-grit sandpaper is perfect for this operation. It’s not too aggressive, but it’ll get the job done quickly. Use a light touch to take down the nibs in each coat before applying the next.

Tack Cloths

One of the most frustrating parts of finishing is keeping dust, strands of hair and other crud from getting into your finish before it dries. Get that junk off of your surface before applying finish with a tack cloth. It’s a sticky piece of cloth you wipe on your work piece, and the unwanted specks cling to it. Whether your finish is oil, varnish or paint, a tack cloth will help you get clean results.

— Nick Lieurance

Ready to learn more about finishing? Take a look at Finishing Basics, an online class from Popular Woodworking University. You’ll explore oil finishes and varnishes with former Popular Woodworking editor Steve Shanesy. Ask all your finishing questions in the course discussions, and get the answers you need to create better work.

2 thoughts on “5 Must-Have Wood Finishing Supplies

  1. BikerDad

    Steel wool = not good (for woodworking). Especially when used with water. Use the synthetic steel wool alternatives instead. Synthetics break down far less, and as a result, they are far less likely to a) leave little splinters in YOU, and b) leave little rust generators in/on your workpiece. Also, the synthetics are conveniently color coded for “grit”.

  2. staggerlee

    A note about denatures alcohol; most brands carried by hardware stores have a significantly higher percentage of wood alcohol then they did a few years ago. This can be absorbed through the skin and make you sick (as in cold sweats and nausia: yes it’s happened to me). So, always wear gloves or use one of the so-called “green” varieties which don’t have this problem .

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