Adding Color and Finishing to Solid Wood Furniture

Beth Rice 08/03/2018

Finish either makes a product or breaks a product. –Alan, Amish woodworker at the Mt. Eaton Woodshop in Dundee, Ohio

The last steps to completing a piece of solid wood Amish furniture are applying the stain and finish. Finishing solid wood furniture is a combination of sanding, staining, and sealing that must be done with a careful eye, steady hand, and a good deal of patience. Stain and finish will enhance the color, protect the surface, and ultimately show off your solid wood furniture.

Here are facts about what goes into a great finish with photos of the process at Schlabach Finishing, an Amish shop in Ohio that finishes many DutchCrafters pieces.

Unfinished solid wood furniture waiting for finish at Schlabach Finishing Shop. Unfinished furniture waiting for finish at Schlabach Finishing Shop.

  Unfinished solid wood furniture before the process begins at Schlabach Finishing Shop.


Vital to an exceptional finish is a thorough sanding of all surfaces, joints, and corners. This is a process that cannot be rushed. Prevalent in Amish woodshops are craftsmen bent over a piece of furniture sanding away.

There’s no end to the supply of sandpaper in an Amish woodshop. It is used for fine hand sanding and palm sanders. Sanding belts are used for larger surfaces.

Hand sanding at MillCraft Woodshop.

Hand sanding at MillCraft Woodshop.
A palm sander used for fine sanding. Sandpaper used for sanding belts.
A palm sander and sandpaper that’s used in sanding belts.

The Stain

After sanding, the stain is applied. Staining is a process that requires skill and precision. The workers set up prep areas to work in. The stain is sprayed on, and woodworkers take extra care to apply it evenly. Once the entire piece of furniture is covered, they will move in with cloths to rub the stain in by hand. The stain is absorbed by the wood and accentuates the wood grain. It is important for the workers to wipe off any excess stain that has not been absorbed. The stain is left to dry, often overnight.

Applying stain in the prep area at Schlabach Finishing Shop.

Applying stain in the prep area at Shlabach Finishing Shop.

Applying stain at Shclabach Finishing Shop. Applying stain at Schlabach Finishing Shop.

Applying stain at Shclabach Finishing Shop.

         Hand rubbing the stain and sanding any rough spots.

Hand rubbing the stain and refining with sanding at Schlabach Finishing Shop.

Some Amish woodshops use a towline method to move furniture through the finishing process. The furniture is placed on mobile carts and moved through the different stages of finishing.

Unfinished furniture on mobile carts.

Unfinished furniture on mobile carts at Schlabach Finishing Shop.

The Finish

After the stain dries, each piece of furniture is inspected, and additional sanding is done to smooth the wood if needed. Then it’s time to apply the finish that seals and contributes to protecting the wood from heat and moisture. Once the finish or varnish is applied, the furniture is left to dry and await final inspection.

Applying finish at MillCraft Woodshop.

Applying finish at MillCraft Woodshop.

A chair with fresh finish applied.

A chair with fresh finish applied.

The combination of sanding and careful application of stain and finish contribute to the beautiful sheen that adds to the beauty of solid wood furniture.

A DutchCrafters Windsor chair that's been stained, finished and dried.

A DutchCrafters Windsor chair that’s been stained, finished, and dried at Schlabach Finishing Shop.
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  • Joann Brunquell
    October 28, 2020 at 9:09 am

    I am looking to purchase a hope chest tone used for storage and a coffee table. I would like a farmhouse look in cream with a dark brown top

  • Beth Rice
    October 29, 2020 at 10:24 am

    Hi Joann,
    Thank you for visiting Timber to Table. I am passing your email address to a furniture specialist who will contact you about your request.

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