Testing Wood Finishes


Corporate Member
Does anyone know if there is a good way to test finishes on wood? This would mostly apply to a pigment type finish (like white cabinets). I don’t know that it would be important to test a penetrating oil type finish, but it would be good to be able to test clear finishes like polyurethane or lacquer.

As I try different finishes I was looking for a way to get a fair assessment of its performance and if it was properly applied. You can read all kinds of reviews where people swear by various finishes but it doesn’t really tell you objectively how good they really are. An experienced painter can probably get good results with almost anything. Myself being a novice painter has me concerned that I the application is the problem versus the product. For example, I recently painted a couple cabinet doors. One had BIN shellac primer under it and the other didn’t. Just doing a fingernail scratch test it was obvious the one with BIN performed better. This was totally unscientific testing, but it was enough to see one was acceptable for hard use while the other was not. But if I didn’t do that test, the bad paint job would not have been exposed and I would have been really unhappy the first time it got scratched.

Maybe I’m overthinking this given my background. I used to qualify powder paint for use on steel and aluminum for indoor use. We started with a specific raw cold rolled steel coupon (about .030 thick which is critical for some of the tests). The tests include the following:
- Impact - specific size, shape and weight dropped from specific heights.
- Scratch/Adhesion - cross hatch then tape pull.
- Thickness
- Gloss
- Color
- Chemical resistance. This can be done with MEK, alcohol or whatever harsh cleaning solution you might think appropriate. We used MEK and it had to endure 10 back an forth rubs with no degradation. (I doubt there is a wood finish that would endure this. Something like 25 rubs with household cleaner would be more appropriate.

Of all those tests, I would say the scratch/adhesion test is the most similar to what you might do on wood. For metal you could use a specific cutting tool that cuts multiple lines at the same time. You cut horizontally, then vertical to make a cross-hatch. You can do this with a exacto-knife as well. You then apply the tape and rip it off and see if all the little squares are still stuck. I think you could do the same with wood, however unlike powder paint, you would have to wait until the paint is cured.


Some of what your after is indeed qualitative or subjective based on the use application and flat out finish preference as is relates to the end appearance, feel and the process to apply & clean up. Also would the finish be subject to UV damage being in front of a window. These factors limits each type of finish and of course and why some “swear by” certain products. The wood species matters as well. You could try calling tech service from the finish company’s you wish to test and ask if they have data vs their competition but not sure or if they do if they’d share it with you.

There have been a few decent attempts at testing different classes of finishes on different species of wood on YouTube that are worth viewing. I believe the Wood Whisperer has done this a couple of times over the years and most recentoy comparing the various hardwax oil finishes to see how they perform vs Rubio.

If those tests do not satisfy your investigation then try setting up a series of experiments on your own ?

Happy researching & if you do find said data I’d be curious to review it !


Corporate Member
Wow, a bite of the whale. This is a big rabbit hole, but here goes:

Generally speaking, you need to define what it is covering, then decide on its durability relative to the intended use/application.

Now the fun part. As the Environmental rules keep changing, it gets harder to keep up.

Understanding the solvents and suspension agents used really helps you navigate what material might be best to use.

For example- Latex type paints (most water based mix designs) use Acetate Esters - Acetic acid ethyenel acetate, Texanol acetate alcohol, polyvinyl acetates ... etc. If you are using latex products understanding their solvents is helpful. BTW, these solvents are handy with prep and cleaning.

Most high resistant super durability products we been using here lately, usually center around acetone based products, though not always. They dry really hard and have a decent modulus of elasticity (stretchy-ness). I use these where high traffic areas or surfaces that get a beating.
Epoxies are good, but in retrofit they can be hard to place. So, a more basic paint like materials like this is a nice consideration.

However, relative to wood working.... My general go to is lacquer, because it is easy to apply it is reasonably durable, but the only issue is as it ages it is more susceptible to yellowing & some impact cracking.

What ever you use, try to think of the long term use impact, things like sun exposure, cold/hot delta T, what it might be applied next to (other coatings can cause reaction) and its ability to keep it freshly applied look durability.

Best advice - whatever you use remember to think though the intended final use and the potential issues before you apply a finish.


Corporate Member
@jfynyson @Oka no doubt, all good things to consider. Perhaps to help narrow the intended scope let me try to simplify. Lets assume we have the right finish for the application. Also, the test criteria would depend on desired outcome. I think all or some of the tests I listed for powder paint might be relevant. Some would be exactly the same. The question is, how would they differ for wood? Maybe the only difference between powder paint and wood paint is expected performance?

I have reached out to someone at Sherwin Williams. Hopefully I can get the recommendations for end user testing versus factory testing.

Also understand some test results are designed to help determine problems in both the product and the application process. For example, if the chemical resistance test fails on powder paint, it could mean the parts did not reach the required minimum temperature to properly cure the paint. If you put those parts back in the oven with a data pack to verify they reached the correct temperature and it still fails, then you have bad powder.


Board of Directors, President
Staff member
Corporate Member
What are you hoping to achieve with this information. If you are looking for a bulletproof finish, it doesn’t exist. The real trade offs are between durability and repairability. The higher durability finish is much harder to repair than a lower durability finish. And comparing finishes designed for other surfaces to wood finishes is comparing apples to oranges.


Corporate Member
Not looking for bulletproof finish. Perhaps I’m just not communicating effectively. I’m just trying to see if there are some tests that can be done to verify the paint is stuck and I didn’t do anything stupid when applying it. God knows if there is a way to screw it up I will find it. I’ve done a lot of powder paint testing, and believe me the minimal time investment is well worth it. It helps to identify the good and the bad powders initially and can catch small problems before they get big.

For example, I make a table and carefully deliver it to your daughter. Everything is great because I haven’t bumped it or given it any kind of miss-treatment that table is likely to see at some point. The finish by all appearances looks great. Now, your daughter has baby and when it becomes a toddler it starts hitting the table with the wood car you just made them. Paint starts coming off and the baby eats it! Wouldn’t it be great if you could identify the paint was never stuck in the first place by making some test coupons and running a couple tests?

Another example, I paint all my kitchen cabinets, install them and they look great. My wife comes along and sprays some mild household cleaner to remove the dough she stuck on them while making bread. The cleaner removes the shine from the cabinet because when I sprayed the the relative humidity wasn’t right because my mini split died when I was spraying.

Maybe I’ve just worked with too many suppliers who didn’t follow quality procedures and made thousands of defects products that got shipped all around the world…but I’m not bitter, just a little crazy 🤪.

Premier Sponsor

Our Sponsors