Wooden instruments have fascinated musicians and artisans for centuries, and their care is vital to preserving their unique characteristics and sound. But how do you choose natural finishes for wooden instruments? This comprehensive guide will delve into the world of natural finishes for wood instruments, exploring their properties, advantages, and how to apply and maintain them. Get ready to uncover the secrets of preserving your instruments while respecting the environment and letting their natural beauty shine.

finish for wood instruments

Understanding Wooden Instruments

Wooden instruments are prized for their rich tones and organic beauty. Each type of instrument, from guitars to violins, has specific wood requirements and properties that make it unique. Choosing the right wood finish protects these instruments and maintains their sound quality.

Various finishes, such as linseed oil and tung oil, are available to cater to a range of wood types and preferences. Understanding the characteristics and properties of different types of wood finishes can make all the difference in preserving your instrument’s natural appearance and enhancing its performance.

Types of Wooden Instruments

Different wooden instruments have distinct wood requirements due to their unique sound and construction. Guitars, for example, typically use hardwoods like maple or mahogany, while violins and pianos often utilize softwoods such as spruce or cedar.

The type of wood and its properties play a significant role in determining the best finish for each instrument, ensuring both protection and optimal sound quality.

Wood Properties and Considerations

Choosing the right finish for wooden instruments goes beyond aesthetics. Factors such as density, grain pattern, and resonance greatly influence the performance and longevity of the instrument. Additionally, the durability of the finish is of utmost importance, as it directly affects the instrument’s resistance to environmental and physical damage.

Various wood finishes are available to cater to different wood properties and considerations. Some options include:

  • Penetrating wood finishes
  • Surface wood finishes
  • Wood stains
  • Varnish wood finishes

Each type of finish offers unique benefits and drawbacks, making it essential to weigh your options carefully before deciding.

The Importance of Using Natural Finishes

Natural finishes are crucial in maintaining the integrity and beauty of wooden instruments. They provide a protective layer that safeguards the wood from environmental factors such as UV radiation, rain, and high humidity, which can cause drying out, cracking, swelling, or rotting.

Choosing the right durable wood finish can have a lasting impact on the appearance and performance of your wooden instrument, especially when applied to bare wood, making it suitable for outdoor furniture with enhanced wood finish durability.

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Natural Finish

choosing natural finishes for violinSelecting the ideal finish for your wooden instruments requires careful consideration of various factors, including:

  • Protection, durability, and resistance
  • Enhanced sound quality
  • Aesthetic appeal and appearance
  • Environmental impact and safety
  • Ease of application and skill level

Evaluating these factors can help you choose the best finish to preserve and enhance your instrument’s unique qualities.

Protection, Durability and Resistance

Different natural finishes offer varying degrees of protection, durability, and resistance. For instance, wax protects against acids and alkali but is susceptible to water, heat, and sunlight damage. On the other hand, lacquer offers overall good durability and resistance to a range of environmental factors.

Assessing the level of protection, durability, and resistance required for your wooden instrument is crucial in determining the most suitable finish.

Enhanced Sound Quality

The choice of a natural finish can significantly impact the sound quality of your wooden instrument. Certain finishes, such as tung oil and linseed oil, can enhance the instrument’s resonance and acoustic properties, making them a preferred option for musicians and luthiers who prioritize sound quality.

These finishes protect the instrument and preserve its inherent characteristics, ensuring optimal performance.

Aesthetic Appeal and Appearance

The aesthetic appeal and appearance of various natural finishes play a crucial role in their selection. Tung oil, for example, creates a warm glow with a matte or light satin finish and a subtle golden hue, while linseed oil enhances the natural beauty of the wood, concealing dents and imperfections.

Assessing the desired appearance and finish can help you choose the most suitable finish for your wooden instrument.

Environmental Impact and Safety

The environmental impact and safety of different natural finishes should be considered when selecting the best finish for your wooden instrument. Oil-based finishes, for instance, are derived from renewable resources, making them a more sustainable option.

Moreover, some natural finishes, such as hemp oil, are non-toxic and eco-friendly, protecting the user and the environment.

Ease of Application and Skill Level

The ease of application and skill level required for each natural finish is another essential factor to consider. Some finishes, such as Danish oil, are easy to apply and offer moderate durability, making them a popular choice for beginners or those with limited woodworking experience.

On the other hand, certain finishes may require more skill and expertise to apply correctly. Understanding the application process and skill level needed for each finish can help you make the best choice for your wooden instrument.

Popular Natural Finishes for Wooden Instruments

oil finishes for wood at Real Milk PaintNow that we have discussed the factors to consider when choosing a natural finish let’s explore some of the most popular options for wooden instruments. These include:

  • Tung oil
  • Linseed oil
  • Hemp oil
  • Shellac
  • Wax

These finishes offer unique advantages and properties, making them suitable for various wooden instruments and preferences.

Tung Oil

Tung oil, derived from the nut or seed of the tung tree, is a versatile and eco-friendly finish for wooden instruments, similar to teak oil. It offers:

  • A pleasant soft sheen finish that does not discolor
  • Requires reapplication approximately once per annum
  • Enhances the natural beauty of wood
  • Creates a warm glow with a matte or light satin finish
  • Provides a subtle golden hue

However, it’s essential to know that some “tung oil” brands may contain additives and other ingredients to facilitate application and drying. Real Milk Paint’s tung oil and dark tung oil contain no additives and are zero-VOC.

Linseed Oil

Boiled Linseed oil is a natural oil extracted from the flax plant, often used as a wood finish to accentuate the natural beauty of the wood and provide water resistance. In contrast to raw linseed oil, which takes longer to dry, boiled linseed oil offers numerous advantages, including:

  • Enhancing the natural grain of the wood
  • Concealing dents
  • Being food-safe
  • Being non-toxic

Linseed oil is usually applied using a brush or cloth in multiple thin coats, allowing each coat to dry before applying the subsequent one. Regular reapplication is recommended to maintain its protective properties.

Hemp Oil

Hemp oil, derived from hemp plant seeds, is a sustainable and food-safe option for wood instrument finishes. This non-toxic and eco-friendly finish from Real Milk Paint offers the following benefits:

  • Easy to apply
  • Provides a natural, matte finish
  • Protects from moisture and UV rays
  • Improves the sound quality of the instrument

For best results, apply our hemp oil in thin coats with a lint-free cloth, allowing it to dry for at least 24 hours between coats.


Shellac is a traditional wood finish offering a glossy finish with a luxuriant depth accentuating the wood’s grain pattern. It is derived from the secretions of the lac bug and is available in various shades, from rich orange to a clear, pale tone. While shellac provides excellent protection and an attractive finish, it is not resistant to alcohol and has a limited shelf life.


Wax finishes are popular for adding a protective sheen to wood instrument finishes. They are relatively easy to apply and provide an abrasion-resistant finish. However, wax finishes are not particularly durable and require frequent reapplication to maintain their protective qualities.

Despite their limitations, wood wax finishes can be attractive for those looking for a simple, cost-effective solution to protect their wooden instruments.

Application Tips and Techniques

Sanding and preparing the surface of the woodWhen applying natural finishes to wooden instruments, following the proper tips and techniques is essential to ensure the best results. This includes surface preparation, application methods, and drying and curing times.

By adhering to these guidelines for wood finishing, you can maximize the benefits of natural finishes and prolong the life of your cherished wooden instruments.

Surface Preparation

Preparing the surface of the wooden instrument is crucial for successfully applying a surface finish. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Start by sanding the instrument with medium-grade sandpaper.
  2. Progress to a finer grade of sandpaper to achieve a smooth surface.
  3. Make sure to sand in the direction of the wood grain for the best results.

Following this process will ensure an even and smooth surface for the finish to adhere to.

Next, remove any dust or debris from the surface by vacuuming or wiping with a tack cloth. The surface should be clean and free of any contaminants before applying the finish.

Application Methods

There are several application methods for natural finishes, such as brushing with a natural bristle brush, wiping, and spraying. Each method has advantages and disadvantages, and the choice depends on the finish type, the instrument’s size and shape, and your preferences. Brushing and wiping are generally more accessible for beginners, while spraying may require specialized equipment and more experience.

Regardless of the chosen method, applying the finish in thin coats is essential, allowing each coat to dry before applying the next, ensuring even coverage and allowing the finish to penetrate the wood surface effectively.

Drying and Curing Time

The drying and curing time for various natural finishes may vary, depending on the type of finish used and the environmental conditions. Generally, natural finishes such as polymerizing oil or mineral oil require multiple coats applied over several days, while 100% oil, like tung oil, may take longer to dry and cure.

It is crucial to follow the manufacturer’s instructions regarding drying and curing times, as applying subsequent coats or using the instrument before the finish is fully cured can result in a poor-quality finish.

Maintenance and Care

Proper maintenance and care are essential for preserving the finish of your wooden instruments. Regular cleaning, reapplication, and proper storage can prolong the life of the finish and ensure your instrument remains in optimal condition.

By following the recommended guidelines for maintenance and care, you can protect your investment and enjoy your wooden instruments for years to come.

Regular Cleaning

Regular cleaning is crucial for maintaining the finish of your wooden instrument. Use a soft cloth, mild soap, and water to clean the instrument, avoiding abrasive cleaners and vigorous scrubbing, which can damage the finish.

You can also use specialized cleaning products designed for wooden instruments if necessary. Remember to test any cleaning products on a discreet area of the instrument before applying them to the entire surface.

Reapplication and Touch-ups

Natural finishes may require reapplication or touch-ups over time to maintain their protective qualities and appearance. The frequency of reapplication depends on the type of finish and the instrument’s environment. Generally, surface finishes should be reapplied every few years or when the finish begins to show signs of wear.

To reapply a finish, sand the instrument, clean it, and then apply the finish according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Storage and Handling

Proper storage and handling of wooden instruments are essential for maintaining their finish. Store your instruments in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight and extreme temperatures. Use protective cases or covers when transporting your instruments to prevent damage.

By taking care of your wooden instruments, you can prolong the life of their finish and ensure they remain in optimal condition for years to come.

Common Questions About Natural Finish for Wood Instruments

With so much information about natural finishes for wooden instruments, it’s natural to have some questions. The following sections will address common questions and concerns regarding natural finishes, their suitability for different instruments, reapplication frequency, and recommended brands.

These answers will help clarify any misconceptions and guide you in making the best decision for the protective coating you use on your wooden instrument.

While natural finishes offer numerous benefits for wooden instruments, they may only be suitable for some types of instruments. Depending on the wood and its properties, a different type of finish may be necessary, such as a lacquer or varnish.

It is essential to carefully assess the unique characteristics of your instrument and consult with a professional luthier or woodworker to determine the best finish for your specific needs.

For a natural wood finish, varnish and oil are good choices, with tung and linseed oil providing a slightly yellow or golden tinge.

Shellac and lacquer give a deep, rich look but may be more challenging to apply.

To achieve a natural finish on wood, maintain the wood color and find the flattest, most matte sealer possible.

Using natural finishes for wooden instruments provides numerous benefits, such as protection, improved sound quality, aesthetic appeal, and environmental friendliness.

Natural finishes are a great way to protect wooden instruments from the elements and improve their sound quality. They also add an attractive look to the instrument and are more environmentally friendly than synthetic finishes.

It’s recommended to reapply every few years or when the finish starts to show signs of wear to maintain the finish of your wooden instrument.

When it comes to natural wood finishes, the top-rated brand for environmentally friendly wood finish is Real Milk Paint.

Pure Tung Oil Wood Finishes (chinawood oil)

Real Milk Paint Provides Sustainable Choices for Wood Instrument Care

Real Milk Paint is a sustainable and eco-friendly choice for wood oils to care for and maintain your wooden instruments. This non-toxic finish offers the following benefits:

  • Adheres well to wood
  • Creates an even and consistent finish
  • Does not contain any volatile organic materials
  • Safe for use on wooden toys
  • Can be easily customized with various colors

Using Real Milk Paint’s superior hemp oil, pure tung oil, or dark tung oil on your wooden instruments ensures their protection while respecting the environment and preserving their natural beauty.