Treating your wood to a clear finish lets you show off its natural beauty while keeping it protected. Whether you choose a brush-on film coating or a sealant that’s rubbed into the wood, it’s easier than ever to find green alternatives to conventional formulas, many of which are laced with heavy metals and carcinogens. Read the product labels carefully for volatile organic compound (VOC) content and compare different brands; aim for no more than 250 grams per litre.
After petroleum-based varnishes were found to be harmful, new formulas were developed. The most recent next-gen synthetic finishes use water instead of a solvent as the carrier (the liquid portion of the varnish), though they still contain polyurethane. These finishes also have more solids that form a protective film once cured, so they’re as durable against scuffs and scratches as the old products, and brush on more smoothly than earlier water-based versions. Available in liquid, gel, or paste form, most clean up with soap and water and barely smell at all.
Rub it in
Plant oils, such as linseed and hempseed oils and tung oil (extracted from a tree nut), protect furniture and decks with the bonus of lending the wood an aged patina. Rubbed into the wood, some provide water resistance. While they generally have a lower VOC content than film finishes, keep in mind they take longer to dry.