Have you ever seen a shiny and smooth tabletop and wondered how it got to be that way? Well, you might not be the first person to have pondered on that. Many people would like to bring their wooden projects to a glossy mirror-like finish. But they might be confused about how to achieve such results. If you want to know how to gloss wood to make it shiny and smooth, then you are at the right place.
There are a few ways you can go about making wood shiny and smooth. One of them is by using high gloss and shine varieties of polyurethane or lacquer when choosing a finish. You can then sand it with a higher grit abrasive over your coats of finish to achieve smoothness. Lastly, buff your finish or rub out your already applied finish using abrasive rubbing pads.
With that said, woodworkers often don’t bring their wood surfaces to a high gloss. Partially because it is more work than they would like to do. Usually, a satin smooth finish with some shine is enough for their needs.
If you’re planning to do that then first, let’s understand what makes a wood shiny, to begin with.
Understanding What Makes Wood Shiny
When you first cut wood there are cut marks, scratches, and pores on its surface. Some finishes have the ability to create a shiny surface, like glossy polyurethane varieties. But it is not smooth to the touch because the grain is not even and there are pores all over it. Also while you wait for these finishes to cure, dust settles on them thus creating further bumps on the surface.
You need to remove all these flaws from the wood, to make it smooth, even, and shiny throughout. A great example of this is when you sand the wood and progress to high grit sandpaper like 12000 grit, the wood will start to shine and become smooth.
But if you go that high grit with sandpaper your wood does not accept finish very well. Because the surface is now so smooth, the finish does not have anything to cling to. Most finishes are either absorbed by the wood or sit atop it. But with the pores completely filled, there is no hope for that.
So how can you achieve a gloss so shiny and smooth without sanding that fine? Let us find out in our next section.
7 Steps to Make Wood Glossy
The most common method to achieve a shiny and smooth wood surface is by rubbing it out. This method is tried and tested by woodworkers worldwide. The only issue with it is that it takes a lot of time, but the results are well worth it.
Let us go through the steps of this process to understand how it works.
Step 1 – Prepping the Wood for Applying Finish
So the first step to applying a finish is prepping the wood. You have to sand the wood from 60 grit to 180 or at most 220. The reason to sand the wood is to even the grain and to remove any scratches or cuts. Oftentimes when you are carving or creating a project, your tools leave scratches and cut marks on the wood. You need to remove those to ensure a smooth surface.
Step 2 – Applying your Finish
Once you decide on your finish, first you need to coat your wood 3-4 times. 3 is good but 4 is the optimal number for the job. Apply the first coat, wait for it to cure, then repeat the process.
Keep in mind that you will need to apply at least 10-15 coats of finish by the end of the project. The reason this matters is that each coat will take its time to cure. So depending on the finish, the time it takes to cure will vary. Lacquer cures extremely fast compared to polyurethane and other similar finishes. But polyurethane is way more durable than a lacquer finish.
Step 3 – Filling the Pores (Optional)
If you choose a wood that has bigger pores, you might need to fill it up to make the surface of the wood even. Mostly hardwoods are porous while softwood is considered non-porous. If you have chosen a hardwood, then this step is compulsory for the glossiest finish.
Choose a pore filler that is closest to the color of your wood. This way it does not look weird or different when you are done with it.
Step 4 – Sanding the Filler
Using high grit sandpaper like 600 or 800, clean the pore filler. Use an orbit sander to make the job easier for you. Sand it thoroughly and afterwards just clean it using a wet rag. This technique comes into one of the best techniques to clean the wood after sanding. Once you are finished, you can see that the surface of the wood is even and that the pores have been filled.
Step 5 – Applying Additional Coats of Finish
Now comes the real tedious task of applying the additional coats. The least number of layers is 10, while the optimal is 15. This can take up to 7-10 days depending on how long each coat takes to cure.
Step 6 – Using Super-fine Grit Abrasive Paper
Attach super fine-grit sandpaper to your orbital sander and apply some water on the coated surface of the wood. Now slowly but steadily sand the surface which will create a slurry of water and finish. This is completely normal, just take a clean rag and wipe it off. Repeat the process with higher grits up to at least 3000-4000 grits.
This will remove some finish off your piece, which is why we suggested at least 10 layers. This way there are still some layers of protection on the wood even if some of it has been sanded off.
Step 7 – Rubbing Off a Glossy Finish
Once you are done sanding with super-fine grit sandpaper, it is time to buff it and rub off a glossy finish. Take a fine cotton buff pad or rubbing pad and attach it to your orbital sander. You can find ones with velcro on them to easily attach to any orbital sander brand.
Take the polish of your choice, you can use a wax polish if you want, and put it on the pad. First spread the polish throughout the wood surface without turning the sander on. Then turn the sander on and start to buff the surface slowly.
At first, it will start to dull the whole piece, but as you keep buffing, you will notice the sheen. The more you buff, the better the gloss and sheen on the wood. Now, if you want an almost reflective surface, you need to take it a step further and use a superfine rubbing pad. Keep buffing the wood using that and you will find a reflective smooth and shiny surface.
Alternative Ways of Achieving Shiny Wood
While the above method is the surefire way to achieve the shiniest wood surface, there are other ways as well. You can use an epoxy-based finish that fills in the gaps and creates a smooth even layer. The smooth even layer provides a shiny wooden surface. Use a very fine rubbing pad on the epoxy to make it shine even more.
You can just buff wax on your previous finish to obtain a shiny surface too. Most people use polishing compounds with a rubbing pad and orbital sander to gain a shiny surface. This gets the job done and creates a shiny and smooth surface.
Lastly, you can achieve shiny wood with very high grit sandpaper. If you can get super-fine grit sandpaper such as the 12000 grit sandpaper from Amazon, your wood will shine and feel smooth to the touch. Though it will not be as glossy and will not reflect objects on its surface other than lights.
Note that this method is not recommended as we mentioned before, your wood will not accept a finish if you sand it too fine. And you need a finish to protect the wood from moisture, heat, and scratches.
How To Get a Thicker Glossy Finish on Wood
A thick glossy finish looks alluring, but it’s hard to achieve. It takes a huge amount of time since it requires layering your finish one coat after the other. It will take people around half a month or so to achieve a thick glossy finish.
The best way to get a thicker glossy finish on your wood is to apply additional layers of coat and sanding these with very fine abrasive sandpaper. Rinse and repeat till you achieve your desired thickness. The more layers of finish you apply the thicker the gloss on the wood.
Though time-consuming, the results will be very satisfactory. Just rub out the surface in the end with a rubbing pad for a reflective surface. You can use a polishing compound with the rubbing pad too, but that is up to you entirely.
Maintaining The Shine
As time passes, the smoothest of finishes will start to fade and become dull. There is no helping that out unless you keep that wooden piece in a glass case.
The shine fades away because we leave fingerprints, dirt, and scratches on the wooden surface. Then elements like moisture and UV rays start to deteriorate the finish slowly. Overall, there are many reasons why the finish will start to fade and the shine will become lost with time.
But you can prolong that and maintain the shine on the wood for years if you just give it some care. By care, we mean to polish the wood again after it starts to lose the sheen. With this simple touch-up, you can ensure that your wood surface shines again.
Also when cleaning your shiny wood surface, use a microfiber cloth that does not scratch the surface. Additionally, keep your wooden surface clean, because dirt can also scratch the wood when being used.
There are a few safety precautions and measures you must take to ensure no harm befalls you while you are following the above steps. First of all, use a mask, wear safety glasses and earmuffs when using an orbit sander.
When you are sanding using a random orbit sander, sawdust tends to blow off from the workpiece. This can enter your eyes and nose, which can cause irritation and in the worst-case scenario, bleeding. If you have breathing problems, then you definitely need a mask no questions asked.
You need to wear earmuffs to protect your eardrums from the constant loud noise of the sander. Otherwise, that can potentially lead to issues with your hearing later on in life. Loud noises also cause the constant ringing in your ear called tinnitus which can be really annoying.
Similarly, when using a finish that might release toxic fumes, do it outside or in a properly ventilated space. If you do it in a closed-off space, the toxic fumes linger and you might end up inhaling it once you take off your mask.
Lastly, when changing the sandpaper and pads from the orbital sander, make sure it is powered off properly. You can avoid accidents this way that might cause injuries to your hands.
To achieve the kind of finish that reflects your face off the surface, you need some top-quality products to work with. Here are some of our recommendations:
First of, is this simple White Super Polish Pad by 3M that can buff your wood surfaces with any polish compound and bring it to an amazing sheen. Using this alone can shine any wood surface if buffed with the pad enough. It is made of polyester fibers, which are open-textured.
Next up is the Festool Random Orbit Sander that you can use to sand or buff your wood pieces with ease. While sanding by hand is possible, it takes an incredible amount of effort and time on your end. To make things easier and faster for you, you can use an orbit sander like this one from Festool.
If you need abrasives, TigerShark Film Sanding Discs are an affordable and reliable choice. They have an assortment of discs for use with orbit sanders, with super-fine grit ones reaching up to 2000 grit.
Lastly, Menzerna has several cut polish compounds that remove scratches of 1000, 2000 and 3500 grit sandpapers. By using these on your wooden surface, you can achieve a mirror-like glossy finish.
General Tips on Making Wood Look Aesthetically Pleasing
Creating a glossy finish can be aesthetically pleasing, but you can do more to make it look even better. First of all, you can stain the wood to darken its color and deepen the grain before applying another finish on top of it. These can be found in various colors and different shades. If the stain is too dark, use a mineral spirit to dilute it.
You can also use oils as well if you don’t want to darken the color of the wood. Oils bring out the color of the grain without altering the natural look of the wood too much. They also replenish the natural oils that wood might have lost when it dries. This way as the wood absorbs the oils, it becomes more reinforced from the inside.
Then there is the process of ammonia fuming your wooden piece. Ammonia fuming is a chemical process that darkens the color of the wood. The process can be a bit tricky if you are new compared to staining or applying oil to the wood. But when done right, it beautifully darkens the wood color. The color of the grain just pops up and the whole thing has a darker tone.
FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions
Can you make painted wood shiny?
Yes, you can. By using a glossy variant of polyurethane and coating the painted wood with it, you can make it shine. You can also use clear epoxy-based finishes for the same purpose.
What is the highest I need to sand before the wood stops absorbing finishes?
Usually, you start off with 80 grit and end with 220 grit on your face grain and edge grain. You don’t want to go too high because otherwise, the wood becomes too smooth for the finish to adhere properly. For end grain, you need a step above what you use on the face grain. If you used 220 on the face grain then you should use 330 on the end grain.
The reason behind it is that end grain absorbs more liquid than face grain does. So it will absorb more finish than the face grain and turn up darker. To help avoid that, you can sand it a bit finer than the face grain.
Is polyurethane better for a shiny finish or lacquer?
Both are equally good for a shiny finish. The drying times for lacquer are less than polyurethane, though polyurethane is a more durable finish than lacquer.
What is the difference between polishing compounds and wax?
Some polishing compounds usually contain traces of wax, but they are mostly used for cleaning the surface rather than coating it with wax. Wax on the other hand fills in the scratches and any imperfections that might be on the wood to create a smooth and even finish.
How much should I buff the polishing compound?
It depends on the sheen you require on your wooden piece. The longer you buff with the compound the more sheen you will get.
Getting wood to gloss for that shine and smooth feel is more about patience than hard work. If you follow the steps provided above, you can achieve the desired sheen and smoothness without issues. The more you work the wood in the end the more shine you can achieve. The type of finish will also affect the end result so choose your finish wisely.