Polyurethane is the best option for a painted piece, though it’s also a popular finish for stained furniture. Polyurethane comes in multiple sheens and your choice will depend on personal preference between a matte finish or a shinier final look.
It’s applied in multiple thin coats, just like paint with a brush or roller.
Oils like Tung Oil, Danish Oil, or Antique Oil, for example, are the best choice for stained furniture that won’t see a lot of day-to-day use. Follow the directions on the particular product, but oil finishes are generally applied to the wood, left to soak, then removed by rubbing off, similar to wood stain.
Lacquers are very durable because they dry very hard, but are a little more labor intensive to apply than the other options. It’s best applied with a spray for a smooth finish, but can be applied with a high quality brush, too. A con to this choice is that it can discolor and become scratched over time.
Furniture waxes don’t offer a lot of long-term protection against the elements because they never truly harden, so this is another option that’s best for pieces that don’t see a lot of wear and tear or temperature change. Wax is a popular option over chalk or milk paint and is often used as another finishing layer over the top of a different finishing option like penetrating oil.
Want to take on this project? Check out our guide on how to refinish your wood furniture!