Preserving Beauty: How to Seal Natural Wood at Home

Sealing your natural wood planks can be a game-changer for DIY home projects. This process doesn’t just enhance the beauty of your living space, either. It often increases the wood’s lifespan.

As with any long-lasting DIY solution, sealing natural wood might seem daunting for those unfamiliar with woodworking. But don’t fret. With the right knowledge (and tools) in hand, it’s certainly manageable.

In this article, we’ll look at the benefits of sealing natural wood planks. We’ll discuss a few top coat options, give a step-by-step guide on the sealing process, and leave you with a few tips in case mistakes happen.

The Importance of Sealing Natural Wood

Sealing natural wood means more than just putting a final aesthetic touch on your DIY project. It’s an essential step in preserving its lifespan, especially when planks are exposed to extreme conditions. Let’s explore why sealing natural wood is worth considering for your next project.

Prolonging Your Furniture's Lifespan

 A well-sealed piece of wood can withstand the test of time far better than its unsealed counterpart. Whether you’re installing natural wood floors, crafting custom furniture, or installing planks for an eye-catching statement piece, each deserves proper care and preservation.

Did you know? Applying top coats like polyurethane offer protection against wear-and-tear scenarios like accidental spills. That’s not all, though. Top coats also help to shield natural wood from cracks caused by changes in humidity and weather.

Maintaining Wood’s Natural Beauty

Natural wood planks have unmatched characteristics that give them a solid place in homes around the globe. Each plank is different, so you’ll get a variety of:

  • Rich hues
  • Grain patterns
  • Naturally-occuring knots

Unfortunately, prolonged exposure to sunlight or weather can wreak havoc on natural wood if it isn’t sealed. Three of the most common sealers are polyurethane, polycrylic, and wax finishes.

Key Takeaway: Sealing natural wood isn’t just a finishing touch; it’s a crucial step in preserving beauty and longevity. From protecting against wear and tear to changes in humidity, proper sealing is essential for any DIY project.

Top Coats for Sealing Natural Wood

The type of top coat you choose can greatly impact the longevity and appearance of your natural wood floors, walls, furniture, and structural pieces.

  • Polyurethane sealer enhances the warm tones found in darker woods, giving varieties like mahogany look richer.
  • Polycrylic protective finish is great for woods like pine or cedar, where preserving the original color is essential.
  • Wax finishes provide a soft sheen that adds a nice touch to design elements that aren’t subjected to heavy usage. 

So whether you’re working with cherished possessions or shielding a new project from the elements, applying the right kind of sealer makes a world of difference.

Polyurethane for Darker Woods

Oil-based polyurethane sealers are popular choices due to their resilience. This makes them perfect for high-traffic areas or surfaces that are often exposed to moisture and usage.

If you’re considering using polyurethane on your natural wood projects, take a look at something like Polyurethane Ultra Flat. Ultra Flat gives good protection while maintaining the visual appeal of natural planks. Clear top coats like this are perfect for light woods like ash, maple, and birch.

Safety tip: When dealing with sealants, proper ventilation is top priority. Polyurethane contains high levels of VOCs which can be hazardous if inhaled in large amounts. Break out the fans, open windows, and don’t keep working if you start to feel light-headed.

Polycrylic Clear Matte for Lighter Woods

A less toxic alternative to polyurethane are polycrylic matte finishes. These types of sealants emit fewer odors during application (though ventilation is still important). They also resist yellowing over time – critical if you’re working with lighter woods or white-painted furniture where discoloration would be instantly noticeable.

To explore this option further, consider trying out Polycrylic Clear Matte, especially suited for light-colored woods or paintless natural wood projects.

Wax Finishes for a Soft Look

The last option we’ll consider in this article are wax finishes, which are best used on decor items. They don’t last forever, but provide a nice sheen for pieces that aren’t exposed to normal wear-and-tear. Items like:

  • Side tables
  • Decorative shelves
  • Decorative wooden bowls
Key Takeaway: Polyurethane provides high protection especially suited for darker woods. Polycylic finishes work great on lighter varieties like pine and cedar. Wax finishes add luster to any decorative pieces.

Required Prepwork for Sealing

The first step in sealing for any project is to properly prepare your natural wood planks. This involves:

  • Cleaning your planks to get rid of dirt and dust.
  • Sanding using a foam sanding pad.
  • Wiping down the area to remove any sawdust from sanding.

Cleaning With a Rag

To start, it’s important to remove dust and dirt that may have accumulated over time. The easiest way to clean natural wood is by using a water-dampened rag.

Did you know? Catching problem areas before applying sealant is essential. Cleaning natural wood reveals stains or marks that may need extra attention during the prep phase. 

If you encounter stubborn spots that won’t come clean, add a little mild soap to your cloth and gently scrub. Dawn dish soap is perfect for applications like this. Just be sure to give your wood time to dry before moving on to the next step.

Sanding Using a Foam Sanding Pad

After your planks are clean and dry, it’s time to sand. Foam sanding sponges are the preferred choice if you can find them (or order a pack online). They conform to the contours of natural wood without scratching surfaces unlike regular paper-backed sandpaper. 

The goal here is to lightly scuff the entire surface, so there’s enough texture for sealants to properly adhere in step three. 

Remember: Follow the grain direction throughout the sanding process to avoid unwanted scratches. Marks against the grain will likely become more noticeable after finishing if ignored. 

Removing Sawdust

The final step in preparing natural wood for sealant is to wipe down the area again. Even when using less abrasive products like foam sanding discs, some sawdust will remain. Use a dry cloth to remove it and make sure no problem areas jump out.

Pro-tip: Patience is key. Whether you’re sanding a large area or waiting for wood to dry in between finish coats, taking your time is the best way to ensure amazing results.

Key Takeaway: Sealing starts with proper prep work. This includes cleaning, sanding, and wiping to remove sawdust. All you’ll need is a damp cloth and a pack of foam sanding pads to prep the area. And remember: Good things take time!

How to Seal Natural Wood at Home

DIY sealing  involves careful preparation, application, and finishing. Here's a guide to help you seal your natural wood furniture at home.

Step 1: Choose the Right Sealant

Start by selecting the appropriate sealant for your wood. Polyurethane is a popular choice for its robustness perfect for dark woods, while polycrylic works well for lighter woods. If you prefer a softer look, you can opt for wax finishes on smaller, decorative pieces.

Step 2: Prepare the Wood

Before applying sealant, it’s important to prep the wood surface. Use a clean, damp cloth to remove any dust or dirt. Pay attention to corners and other sneaky areas where dust can hide.

Next, sand the wood to create a surface that allows better absorption. Use a foam sanding pad and move with the grain.

Finally, wipe down the wood again with a clean tack cloth to remove any sawdust particles.

Step 3: Apply the Sealant

Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for applying your sealant. Work by applying in thin coats, going with the wood grain to prevent visible streaks.

Pro-tip: For small items, a brush-on sealing approach works best. Larger projects benefit from professional sprayers.

It’s especially important not to rush through the layering process to ensure even coverage. Allow each layer to dry completely before adding another coat, and lightly sand between layers for a smoother finish.

How to Fix Mistakes

While sealing natural wood, mistakes can happen. Here’s how to fix them:

  • If fingerprints are left on the wet-sealed surface, wait for it to dry completely. Then, lightly sand the affected area and apply a fresh coat of sealant to blend it in.
  • If sealant isn’t sticking, wait for it to dry and sand the area again.
  • If you notice stains or other imperfections when cleaning, remove them with mild soap or sanding pads.
Key Takeaway: The sealing process involves selecting the right product, prepping the surface by cleaning and sanding, and applying thin coats of sealant in line with your grain. If mistakes happen, don’t worry. Sand and clean the area and apply another layer of sealant.

Light-Duty Use – Hemp Oil

For delicate wood projects that need a touch of protection without compromising their natural beauty, hemp oil is an excellent choice. This organic solution seeps into the raw fibers of your wooden pieces, maintaining their integrity while bringing out the natural charm.

Hemp oil application requires no specialized equipment and can be done with just a brush or cloth. It’s also non-toxic, so hemp oil is safe around children and pets.

Why Use Hemp Oil on Your Wood Projects

Hemp oil has a few key benefits when used for light-duty wood pieces (like picture frames or decorative shelves). Hemp oil:

  • Accentuates the grain pattern in your natural wood planks by bringing out depth and richness without dramatically altering the coloration.
  • Soaks deep into the pores, so planks are less likely to peel over time.

Applying Hemp Oil Effectively

Ensuring effective sealing with hemp oil is easy. Simply clean any dust and dirt from the area using a damp cloth, then apply a layer of hemp oil.

Pro-tip: Like with any finishing product, applying thin layers is the best bet. You can always add another coat if once the first layer dries!

Key Takeaway: Sealing with hemp oil is a breeze. It’s safe, easy to apply and ensures less peeling over time since it gets deep into the wood pores.

Medium-Duty Use – Clear Wax

If you’d say your project falls into the “medium-duty” category, like coffee tables or side tables, clear wax can be an effective solution. Unlike heavier sealers like polyurethane and spar urethane, clear wax gives a soft finish. And it still offers moderate protection against wear and tear.

A popular choice for this type of sealing job is Annie Sloan’s Clear Wax. This sealant stands out for the user-friendly application process and high-quality results. It also pairs well with both raw wood and painted wood pieces.

Advantages of Using Clear Wax

Clear wax might be a good choice for a couple reasons. It comes with minimal odor, so the application process won’t require as much ventilation. And it isn’t as likely to cause discoloration of natural wood when compared to polyurethane. 

This makes clear wax an ideal solution for busy households where durability and low-maintenance are high priorities. 

Tips for Applying Clear Wax

For optimal results when applying clear wax to natural wood pieces, follow the manufacturer’s instructions. This usually involves the same steps outlined above for polyurethane sealing. Here’s a reminder:

  • Clean the area with a damp rag to remove any dirt and dust.
  • Sand the wood with foam sanding pads to allow for proper absorption.
  • Wipe down the surface again to remove sawdust particles.
Key Takeaway: For medium-duty projects, clear wax like Annie Sloan’s is a user-friendly choice. It doesn’t dramatically alter the color of natural wood, and provides decent protection against wear and tear. Just remember to prep your surface properly for the best results!

Heavy-Duty Use – Spar Urethane

Spar Urethane works especially well for wood projects that will be exposed to harsh conditions. It keeps the natural aesthetic of wood planks while protecting against damage from water, UV rays, and temperature changes.

Whether it's applied indoors or outdoors, Spar Urethane can withstand heavy foot traffic as well as extreme weather without compromising its protective qualities or altering the appearance of your natural wood.

Common Mistakes When Sealing Natural Wood

It’s normal to encounter a few snags throughout the sealing process. So if you make a mistake, don’t worry. You’re not alone – and you can fix it!

Mistake 1: Applying Too Much Sealant

A common pitfall when trying to seal wood is applying too thick a layer of sealant. This could lead to an uneven finish or even cause the topcoat to bubble and peel over time. 

But don't worry. If you've already applied excessive sealant, simply sand down the area with fine-grit sandpaper or foam sanding pads until smooth again, then wipe away any dust before reapplying a thinner coat.

The key here is patience. Always apply thin coats and allow each one enough drying time before adding another.

Mistake 2: Insufficient Drying Time Between Coats

Completing a project quickly may be tempting, but rushing the sealing process can lead to a lot more work down the road. Streaks and smudges are common signs that the area wasn’t allowed enough time to dry between coats.

If this happens to you, don’t fret. Brush fine grit sandpaper gently across those areas where there are streaks until they disappear. Then carefully reapply thin layers, ensuring adequate dry periods each round.

Mistake 3: Skipping Pre-Sealant Sanding Process

Even with the best of intentions, it’s easy to skip steps in a large project. Skipping the prepwork  in sealing natural wood often results in rough patches and an uneven look. It’s not hopeless, though. Follow the sanding steps above, then clean and start fresh. You’ll be left with a much higher-quality result you can be proud of.

Key Takeaway: Remember to avoid common sealing mistakes like applying too much sealant, rushing drying times between coats, and skipping pre-sealant steps. If mistakes happen, no worries. They can be fixed with a bit of patience and the right technique.

How to Seal Natural Wood – FAQs

What is the best way to seal natural wood?

Sealing wood properly involves:

  • Cleaning
  • Sanding
  • Wiping
  • Applying

The choice of sealer depends on your project and what type of wood you’ve selected. Common sealants are polyurethane, polycrylic, and wax finishes.

Does natural wood need to be sealed?

When used in exterior applications, sealing wood is vital. Unsealed natural wood indoors doesn’t have to be sealed. That being said, it’s a good idea for high-use applications or areas where water damage could occur.

How do you seal old raw wood?

Clean the wood thoroughly with a damp cloth, then lightly sand the surface before applying your chosen sealer. Be sure to apply sealant in thin layers following the wood grain.

How do you seal wood for outdoor use naturally?

Spar Urethane is an excellent option for sealing outdoor wooden structures due to its weather-resistant properties.


Sealing natural wood planks is important for many home improvement projects, and a DIY approach is possible. Polyurethane, polycrylic, and wax finishes each have unique benefits (and some drawbacks). Whatever you choose, good preparation is vital to ensuring a high-quality result.

For the DIY enthusiasts: Check out our selection of reclaimed wood planks at Planks come in an abundance of varieties, and the peel-and-stick installation process couldn’t be easier!