How to Get a High Gloss Finish on Woodworking

Woodworking projects can be truly stunning, showcasing the natural beauty of wood and the craftsmanship that goes into creating them. However, to truly elevate the overall appearance and make a woodworking project stand out, achieving a high gloss finish is essential.

A high gloss finish adds depth, richness, and an undeniable level of sophistication to any piece of woodwork. Whether it’s a table, a cabinet, or even smaller decorative items, a high gloss finish can take your woodworking projects to the next level.

The importance of achieving a high gloss finish cannot be overstated. Not only does it enhance the visual appeal of the woodwork, but it also offers protection against moisture and wear-and-tear. A well-executed high gloss finish creates a barrier on the surface of the wood that guards against staining and other damages that can occur over time, allowing your woodworking projects to maintain their pristine appearance for years to come.

In order to achieve this desired look and level of protection, understanding the basics of gloss is crucial. Gloss refers to the shine or luster displayed by a finished surface. It is determined by how light interacts with the surface texture. The smoother and more reflective the surface, the higher the gloss will appear. By grasping this concept and exploring different techniques and finishes aimed at maximizing glossiness, you can transform your woodworking projects into works of art.

From selecting the right type of wood for optimal results to prepping surfaces properly and applying finishes correctly, this article will guide you through every step necessary for achieving that captivating high gloss finish on your woodworking projects.

Whether you are a beginner looking to learn new techniques or an experienced craftsman searching for ways to further refine your workmanship, mastering the art of achieving a high gloss finish will undoubtedly enhance your woodworking skills and leave you with strikingly beautiful results.

Understanding the Basics

Gloss is a key factor in achieving a professional and visually appealing finish on woodworking projects. Understanding the basics of gloss and how it enhances the overall appearance of woodwork is essential for anyone looking to achieve a high gloss finish. This section will explore the concept of gloss and its importance in woodworking.

Firstly, it’s important to understand what gloss actually means in the context of woodworking. Gloss refers to the level of shine or reflective quality on the surface of woodwork. A high gloss finish has a mirror-like shine that reflects light, making the surface appear smooth and flawless. This glossy look adds depth and richness to the wood, enhancing its natural beauty and highlighting its grain pattern.

Achieving a high gloss finish not only enhances the visual appeal of woodworking projects but also provides added protection for the wood itself. The glossy topcoat creates a barrier against moisture, dirt, and other elements that could damage or deteriorate the wood over time. It also makes cleaning and maintenance easier by providing a smooth surface that can be wiped down easily.

To achieve a high gloss finish, there are several factors to consider, including selecting the right wood types, prepping the surface properly, choosing the appropriate finish products, and using proper application techniques. Each step plays a crucial role in achieving an optimal gloss effect.

Evaluating Wood Types

Factors to Consider when Evaluating Wood Types

When it comes to achieving a high gloss finish on woodworking projects, the choice of wood plays a crucial role. Different wood types have varying characteristics that can significantly impact the final result. Here are some factors to consider when evaluating wood types for achieving a high gloss finish:

Density and Grain

The density of the wood is an important consideration as it affects how well the finish will adhere and showcase its shine. Hardwoods, such as mahogany, cherry, and maple, tend to have tighter grain patterns and higher densities, making them ideal for achieving a glossy look. Softer woods, like pine or cedar, may require more effort to achieve a high gloss finish due to their more open grain structure.

Natural Color and Figure

Another factor to consider is the natural color and figure of the wood. Woods with rich colors or distinctive figures, such as burls or tiger stripe patterns, can enhance the overall appearance of the high gloss finish. However, it’s worth noting that lighter woods may require additional steps in preparation and finishing to avoid discoloration or blotchiness.

Aesthetic Preferences

Ultimately, choosing the best wood type for a high gloss finish also depends on personal aesthetic preferences. Some popular choices include walnut for its deep chocolate tones and warmth, while others prefer maple for its light color that provides an elegant backdrop for glossy finishes. Experimenting with different wood types can help you discover your preferred combination of color and glossiness.

By carefully considering these factors when evaluating wood types for achieving a high gloss finish, you can ensure that you select the most suitable materials for your project and achieve stunning results in the end.

Prepping the Surface

Gather the necessary tools and materials

Before you begin prepping the surface for a high gloss finish, it’s important to ensure that you have all the necessary tools and materials. The exact requirements may vary depending on the specific woodworking project and the condition of the wood surface, but here are some common items you’ll need:

  • Sandpaper: Choose a variety of grits for different stages of sanding. Start with a coarse grit (around 80 or 100) to remove any existing finish or imperfections, then progressively move to finer grits (such as 120, 180, and 220) for smoothing.
  • Sanding blocks or power sanders: These tools help provide consistent pressure and ensure even sanding.
  • Wood filler: Use wood filler to fill any holes, cracks, or gaps in the wood surface. Make sure to choose a color that matches your wood type for seamless blending.
  • Putty knife or scraper: Use these tools to apply and smooth out the wood filler.
  • Dust mask and safety goggles: Protect yourself from inhaling dust particles during sanding.

Sanding the surface

Sanding is a crucial step in prepping the wood surface for a high gloss finish. It helps remove any existing finish, smooth out imperfections, and create a clean, uniform base for optimal adhesion of the gloss. Follow these steps for effective sanding:

  1. Start with coarse-grit sandpaper: Use a piece of coarse-grit sandpaper (around 80 or 100) to remove any paint, stain, or varnish from the wood surface. Sand along the grain in long strokes until all previous finish is removed.
  2. Progressively move to finer grits: Switch to a medium-grit sandpaper (such as 120) and repeat the same process as before. Then move on to even finer grits (such as 180 and 220) for final smoothing. This process will gradually refine the surface, eliminating scratches and creating a smooth finish.
  3. Sand in the direction of the grain: Always sand in the direction of the wood grain to avoid creating visible scratches or marks that might show through the gloss finish.
  4. Remove dust: After each sanding step, use a clean cloth or vacuum to remove any dust particles from the surface. This will ensure a clean, debris-free base for applying the gloss.

Filling imperfections

Once you have achieved a smooth surface through sanding, it’s time to fill any remaining imperfections such as holes, cracks, or gaps. Follow these steps for effective filling:

  1. Choose the right wood filler: Select a wood filler that matches your wood type in terms of color and composition. There are various types available including water-based and solvent-based options.
  2. Apply the filler: Using a putty knife or scraper, scoop some wood filler onto the tool and press it into the imperfection. Ensure that it is well-packed and slightly overfilled to account for shrinkage during drying.
  3. Smooth out excess filler: Once you’ve filled all imperfections, use a putty knife or scraper to skim off any excess filler and level it with the surrounding wood surface. This will create a seamless transition between the filled area and natural wood grain.
  4. Allow drying and sanding: Follow the manufacturer’s instructions regarding drying time for the wood filler before proceeding. Once dry, use fine-grit sandpaper (around 220) to carefully sand over the filled areas until they are flush with the surrounding wood.
The Woodworkers Garage LLC

By following this step-by-step guide on prepping your wood surface, you’ll create an optimal base for achieving a high gloss finish on your woodworking project. Taking the time to properly prepare your surface will result in better adhesion and a more professional-looking end result.

Selecting the Right Finish


Varnish is a popular choice for achieving a high gloss finish on woodworking projects. It offers a durable and protective coating that enhances the natural beauty of wood. Made from resins mixed with solvents, varnish creates a thick, glossy layer that can withstand wear and tear.

When selecting varnish for your project, consider the sheen level you desire. Varnish comes in different levels of glossiness, ranging from matte to high gloss. Additionally, choose between oil-based or water-based varnishes. Oil-based varnishes have a longer drying time but provide a richer color and are generally more durable. Water-based varnishes dry faster and have less odor, making them easier to work with.


Lacquer is another popular choice for achieving a high gloss finish on woodworking projects due to its quick-drying properties and excellent clarity. It is a clear coating made from nitrocellulose dissolved in solvents that create a hard and glossy surface.

When using lacquer as your finish, it’s important to note that it requires specific equipment for application due to its volatile nature. Spray guns or aerosol cans are commonly used for applying lacquer evenly onto the wood surface. Additionally, be aware of the flammability hazards associated with lacquer and take proper safety precautions during application.


Shellac is a traditional yet versatile finish option for achieving a high gloss look on woodworking projects. Made from the secretion of lac bugs combined with alcohol, shellac creates a beautiful amber tone that enhances the wood’s grain patterns.

One advantage of shellac is its relatively fast drying time compared to other finishes like varnish or lacquer. However, because shellac is alcohol-based, it may not be as durable as other finishes and could be susceptible to damage from heat or chemicals. It’s important to assess the intended use of the woodworking project before deciding on shellac as your finish.

When selecting shellac for your project, you may find it available in different shades and grades. Consider the natural color of your wood and choose a shellac shade that complements it well. Additionally, higher-grade shellac usually contains fewer impurities, resulting in a smoother and more even gloss finish.

Applying the Finish

Once you have selected the perfect finish for achieving a high gloss look on your woodworking project, it’s time to apply it. The technique and method of application play a crucial role in achieving a smooth and flawless glossy surface. Here are some detailed instructions for applying the chosen finish:

  1. Prepare your workspace: Before you begin, make sure you have a clean and well-ventilated workspace. Ensure that there is no dust or debris that can settle onto the surface while applying the finish.
  2. Use thin coats: It’s important to remember that when applying a high gloss finish, thin coats are key. Thick coats can lead to drips and uneven surfaces. Start by pouring a small amount of finish into a clean container or tray.
  3. Apply with brush strokes: Using a high-quality natural bristle brush or foam brush, apply the finish in long, even strokes along the grain of the wood. This helps to ensure an even distribution of the finish and minimizes visible brush marks.
  4. Avoid overworking: While applying the finish, try to avoid overworking it by going back over areas that have already been coated. This can disturb the surface and create streaks or bubbles.
  5. Allow drying time between coats: After each thin coat is applied, allow ample drying time according to the manufacturer’s instructions before applying subsequent coats. This helps prevent smudging or lifting of previous layers.
  6. Sand between coats (optional): For an even smoother final result, you can choose to lightly sand between each coat using fine-grit sandpaper (such as 400-600 grit). This helps to remove any imperfections and promote adhesion between layers.

Remember, patience is key when applying a high gloss finish. It may require multiple layers to achieve the desired level of shine, but the end result will be well worth the effort. Take your time and follow these instructions for a professional-looking glossy surface.

Use thin coatsThick coats can lead to drips and uneven surfaces. Pour a small amount of finish into a clean container or tray.
Apply with brush strokesUse a high-quality natural bristle brush or foam brush. Apply in long, even strokes along the grain of the wood to ensure an even distribution.
Avoid overworkingAvoid going back over areas that have already been coated. This can disrupt the surface and create streaks or bubbles.

Achieving a Smooth Surface

Achieving a smooth surface is crucial for obtaining a flawless, mirror-like gloss on woodworking projects. Even with the right finish and application technique, imperfections can still be visible if the surface is not properly sanded and polished. This section will provide tips and tricks for sanding and polishing the finish to ensure a professional-looking high gloss result.

Firstly, it is important to start with a clean surface before sanding. Any dust or debris can create scratches or unevenness in the finish. Use a soft cloth or a tack cloth to remove any particles from the surface.

When sanding, it is recommended to use fine-grit sandpaper such as 320 or higher. Begin by sanding with the grain of the wood in smooth, even strokes. Avoid applying excessive pressure as this can result in unevenness. Continuously check the surface with your hand to ensure it feels smooth and consistent.

After sanding, it is essential to remove all dust before proceeding to polishing. Wipe down the surface with a clean, slightly damp cloth or use compressed air to blow away any remaining particles.

To polish the finish and achieve a mirror-like gloss, you can use rubbing compound or polishing compound specifically designed for wood surfaces. Apply the compound onto a soft cloth and rub gently in circular motions across the entire surface. The compound helps remove any small scratches and enhances the shine of the finish.

Finally, after polishing, inspect the surface closely for any remaining imperfections or dull areas. If necessary, repeat the process of sanding and polishing until you achieve the desired level of smoothness and glossiness.

By following these tips and tricks for sanding and polishing, you can effectively obtain a flawless, mirror-like gloss on your woodworking projects. The time and effort put into achieving a smooth surface will greatly enhance the overall appearance of your finished piece.

Sanding TipsPolishing Tips
Start with a clean surface before sanding.Use rubbing compound or polishing compound designed for wood surfaces.
Use fine-grit sandpaper (320 or higher).Apply the compound onto a soft cloth and rub gently in circular motions.
Sand with the grain of the wood in smooth, even strokes.Inspect the surface closely for any remaining imperfections or dull areas.

Troubleshooting Common Issues

Achieving a high gloss finish on woodworking projects can be a rewarding experience, but it is not without its challenges. During the gloss application process, you may encounter some common issues that can affect the final result. Understanding how to troubleshoot these problems will help you achieve a flawless, mirror-like gloss.

One of the most common issues when applying a gloss finish is the formation of bubbles. Bubbles can occur when air becomes trapped in the finish during application. To minimize this problem, it is essential to properly prepare your work area and tools before starting.

Make sure your workspace is free from dust or debris that could get caught in the finish and create bubbles. Additionally, ensuring that your brush or applicator is clean and free from any dried or hardened finish will help prevent bubble formation.

Streaks are another common issue that can mar the appearance of your high gloss finish. Streaks occur when there is an uneven distribution of the finish on the surface. One way to avoid streaks is by using long smooth strokes when applying the finish. Avoid overworking the finish by going back over areas that have already been coated as this can lead to streaking as well.

Unevenness in your gloss finish can also be a frustrating problem to encounter. This occurs when certain areas of your project appear shinier or duller than others. One possible cause of unevenness could be inconsistent thinning or mixing of your chosen finish. To prevent this problem, carefully follow the manufacturer’s instructions for proper mixing ratios and ensure thorough blending before applying.

What Is a Quirk in Woodworking

Maintaining the Finish

Woodworking projects with a high gloss finish require regular maintenance to preserve their sleek and polished appearance over time. Here are some essential tips and techniques for maintaining the finish and ensuring that your woodworking projects continue to impress:

  1. Regular Cleaning: Dust and dirt can dull the shine of a high gloss finish, so it’s important to keep the surfaces clean. Use a soft cloth or microfiber duster to gently remove any dust or debris from the surface. Avoid using harsh chemicals or abrasive cleaners, as they can damage the finish.
  2. Avoiding Direct Sunlight: Prolonged exposure to sunlight can cause the finish to fade or discolor over time. To prevent this, place your woodworking projects in areas away from direct sunlight or use window coverings to block out UV rays. If possible, apply UV protectant products onto the finish for added protection.
  3. Preventing Scratches: High gloss finishes are prone to surface scratches, so it’s crucial to take precautions to avoid them. Place felt pads under objects that may be moved across the surface, such as vases or decorative items. Use coasters for beverages and avoid dragging items across the finish.

In addition to these maintenance tips, there are also some techniques you can utilize to restore and revive the high gloss look of your woodworking projects if they start showing signs of wear:

  1. Buffing: Over time, small scratches or dullness may appear on a high gloss finish. To restore its shine, use a soft cloth with a buffing compound specifically designed for glossy finishes. Apply gentle pressure in circular motions until the scratches are minimized and the gloss is revived.
  2. Polishing: Using a high-quality polish suitable for your specific type of finish can help maintain its luster and provide an added layer of protection against wear and tear. Apply the polish using a clean cloth following the manufacturer’s instructions.

By following these maintenance tips and utilizing restoration techniques when necessary, you can keep your woodworking projects looking as good as new for years to come. With proper care and attention, the high gloss finish will continue to impress and showcase the true beauty of your craftsmanship.

Showcasing Success

Woodworking projects with a high gloss finish can truly be a sight to behold. The glossy sheen adds a touch of elegance and sophistication to the final result, making it stand out among other woodworking projects. In this section, we will showcase some inspiring examples of woodworking projects that have achieved a stunning high gloss finish.

  1. Coffee Table: Imagine a beautifully crafted coffee table with sleek lines and flawless surfaces, reflecting light like a mirror. A high gloss finish on a coffee table can elevate its appearance from ordinary to extraordinary. The smooth, reflective surface enhances the wood’s natural beauty and creates an eye-catching centerpiece for any living room.
  2. Kitchen Cabinets: Updating kitchen cabinets is a popular way to give your kitchen a fresh new look. Applying a high gloss finish to cabinets can transform them into modern, sophisticated focal points in your kitchen. The glossy surface not only adds visual appeal but also makes the cabinets easier to clean and maintain.
  3. Jewelry Box: A jewelry box with a high gloss finish is not only functional but also serves as an exquisite piece of decor on your vanity or dresser. The glossy surface highlights the intricate details of the woodwork while providing protection against scratches and wear.

By showcasing these successful examples, we hope to inspire readers to try achieving their own high gloss finishes on their woodworking projects. While it may seem intimidating at first, with proper preparation and technique, anyone can achieve professional-looking results. Experimenting with different types of wood, finishes, and techniques will allow you to discover your own unique style and create pieces that truly stand out.

Remember that patience and attention to detail are important when working towards achieving a high gloss finish. Take your time during each step of the process, from prepping the surface to applying thin coats of finish and sanding/polishing for that flawless shine. With practice and perseverance, you’ll be able to create woodworking projects that rival professional craftsmanship in their stunning high gloss finish.

So why not give it a try? Start with a small project, like a jewelry box or picture frame, and gradually work your way up to larger pieces. The satisfaction of achieving that beautiful, professional-looking high gloss finish is worth the effort. Happy woodworking.


In conclusion, achieving a high gloss finish on woodworking projects is not only important for enhancing the overall appearance but also adds a touch of professionalism to the final result. Throughout this article, we have explored the basics of gloss and how it can bring out the beauty of woodwork. We have identified the best wood types for obtaining optimal gloss and discussed the necessary steps to prep the surface for application.

Additionally, we have delved into the world of finishes and highlighted various options such as varnish, lacquer, and shellac. By selecting the right finish and applying it correctly using proper techniques like brush strokes and thin coats, one can create a flawless, mirror-like gloss on their woodworking projects.

While troubleshooting common issues like bubbles, streaks, or unevenness may arise during the process, sanding and polishing techniques can be employed to ensure a smooth surface. Furthermore, maintenance tips shared in this article will help readers preserve their high gloss look over time.

By showcasing examples of success stories with stunning high gloss finishes and encouraging readers to try it themselves, this article provides both inspiration and guidance. The satisfaction gained from achieving a professional-looking high gloss finish cannot be understated – it is a testament to craftsmanship and dedication to one’s woodworking projects. So go ahead, embrace the challenge, follow these steps meticulously, and see your woodworking projects shine with pride-inducing glossy excellence.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you get the perfect gloss finish?

Achieving the perfect gloss finish requires proper preparation and technique. Start by ensuring the surface is clean and smooth, free from any dust or imperfections. Sanding the surface with fine-grit sandpaper will help to create a smooth base. Next, apply a primer to seal the surface, allowing for better adhesion of the gloss paint or varnish.

When applying the gloss coat, use a high-quality brush or roller and work in long, even strokes to prevent streaks or brush marks. Applying multiple thin coats rather than one thick layer will also help in achieving a flawless gloss finish. Lastly, allow each coat to dry completely before applying the next one and make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for drying times.

How do you make something high gloss?

To make something have a high gloss appearance, there are several options you can consider depending on the material being worked with. For surfaces like wood or furniture, applying a high-gloss lacquer or varnish can provide a shiny finish. This involves proper surface preparation, such as sanding and cleaning as mentioned before, followed by applying multiple thin coats of high-gloss lacquer or varnish using a brush or sprayer.

Another option is using a high-gloss paint specifically formulated for achieving that shiny look on various surfaces including metal or plastic objects. These paints typically require careful application using brushes or rollers while paying attention to even coverage and avoiding drips.

What is the best high gloss varnish for wood?

When it comes to choosing the best high-gloss varnish for wood, there are several reputable brands that offer quality options. One popular choice among professionals and DIY enthusiasts is Minwax Helmsman Spar Urethane Varnish in High Gloss finish. This varnish is known for its durability and ability to withstand outdoor conditions while providing an attractive glossy appearance on wood surfaces such as doors, cabinets, or furniture.

Another reliable option is General Finishes High-Performance Water Based Topcoat in Gloss finish which offers a water-based formula that dries quickly, is easy to apply, and provides excellent protection and shine on wood projects. It’s essential to consider the specific requirements of your project and consult with professionals or review user reviews and ratings for varnishes that best suit your needs.

Send this to a friend