This topic is highly debatable but throughout we are going look at the facts as well as some pros and cons. This will either help you get a better understanding of finishes or could help you make a decision when you are making your own furniture.
What is varnish for?
A stain or varnish finish for wood usually has two primary purposes.
To improve the aesthetics of the piece
The way that a finish can improve the look of the furniture is usually because you get more control over the colour that you are looking to achieve and also some finishes can bring out the natural grain of the wood which overall adds more character. The colour can be manipulated in many ways. For example, you could make your furniture with cheap timber and use a luxurious oak or walnut stain which may help it mimic the more desired wood.
To protect the piece from damage
If you have made a shelf, and are planning to put things on top of it, a wood stain could protect it from getting scratched, or scuffed. The same goes with just about any furniture but certain stains may help better protect again burns, or even water damage. When I say burns I mean; hot drinks on a coffee table or hot plates at a dinner table. The varnish also sometimes has the ability to completely seal the wood which prevents water-based damage which could cause the wood to swell.
Why you might not want to use a varnish?
Most finishes contain toxic carcinogenic ingredients that can be harmful to your health and the environment. The varnish may protect the actual material underneath but this is not to say that the varnish itself cannot get damaged.
In many cases scratches on top of the finished varnish show even more due to the colour difference being shown and this is usually enough to make the furniture look ruined. It’s important to realise that varnish or any finish is only a temporary measure and will not last forever. Not only that, wood that is untreated and left in its natural state can actually look nice and rustic.
There are many natural wood finishes that vary from types of oil such as tung oil, linseed oil, walnut oil, jojoba oil, sunflower oil and more. Not limited to just oil, you can also use soya or Beeswax. The great thing about using a natural finish is that the compounds are usually not toxic for you or your environment.
When considering what finish to apply, you should ensure that you do your research in regards to what works best for the material you are using and also think about what you are trying to achieve with your finish. For example, oils may bring out the natural grain enhancing the aesthetics but beeswax may add a subtle sheen, offering extra durability and protecting the inner timber. You could even create your own natural finish to help your DIY project look the best.