Oil wax finish with carnauba wax

Craft + Process: Living, Breathing Materials

A primer on protecting materials — naturally.

Applying finish to a piece of furniture may be the last step, but the choice of whether and how to finish is something we consider from the very beginning. Wood is a living, breathing material. It responds to its environment and, like all living things, it ages. Finishing changes more than just the look of the wood, it changes how the wood interacts with the environment. And, different finishes have very different impacts.

When we design, materials are at the forefront. The materials we use are a very intentional part of the design. We want their unique qualities to be fully expressed and experienced. We also want to use them to their fullest potential. When we finish, we use finishes that will preserve and enhance these qualities. We choose live finishes that allow the materials to breathe. They protect the material, slow the aging process, and enhance natural tones and grain without creating a barrier between the material and its environment.

Each material we select is chosen for its ability to age well. For us, the marks of time and place our pieces collect enhance their beauty and value. This heirloom quality means that materials need to wear in rather than out. Ahead, a primer on which type of natural finish to use for specific concerns.

Why Finish?

Customers often ask us why some pieces are available raw while others are finished. The answer is both aesthetic and practical. Some pieces we intentionally leave unfinished. For our Stumps and Trunks, using green wood that splits as it ages is an intentional part of the design. For our Caravan Crib and Divan Twin, we use raw maple because we love the light tone and soft touch of freshly sanded maple. Offering those pieces unfinished also allows our customers the choice to choose their own finish.

But in most cases we choose to finish, which helps strengthen the wood against damage and protects the surface from stains. For some pieces, particularly our case goods, finishing is important to their structural integrity. Treating the wood insulates the piece from temperature and humidity fluctuations that can cause it to warp. And some woods simply look better finished. Black walnut, for example, transforms from an ashen gray to a rich, warm brown with the application of the right finish.

Natural vs. Synthetic Finishes

Solid wood is a living, breathing material that responds to its environment. This is also true for the solid brass used in the custom drawer pulls and feet. We coat these materials with natural, live finishes as opposed to synthetic, poly finishes because of the way they reveal the natural beauty of the materials and allow them to continue to breathe and patina. Polyurethane may preserve the look of raw wood, but it encases it in a plastic coating that freezes the piece in time. It allows for less frequent maintenance, but damage means that the piece must be completely stripped and refinished. A natural oil and wax finish requires more regular care, but any damage can be spot repaired with light sanding and oiling.

Hemp Oil Finish
Oil-Wax Finish

Oil-Wax Finish

Our standard oil-wax finish is comprised mainly of linseed oil and carnauba wax. Linseed is a drying oil, which penetrates the wood and cures to a hard resin that protects the piece from the inside out. The wax creates a breathable coating that shields the surface from water and stains. When applied to our walnut, maple, white oak, and bamboo furniture, this caramel-hued finish brings out the warm, honeyed tones in the wood.


Hemp Oil Finish

For our ash furniture and our maple Divan Twin, we use a water-based hemp oil finish, which preserves the light, clear color of the wood. This rich, milky oil soaks in deep, strengthening the surface and resisting the UV rays that yellow the wood with age.


Wax Finish for Brass

The brass drawer pulls and feet on our ash Simple Collection are coated in a carnauba wax finish, which resists fingerprints and tarnishing, while still allowing it to develop an even patina over time.


Wood finished naturally needs periodic gentle cleaning and oiling to keep it protected and looking vibrant. For more details about how to clean and maintain the finish on your Kalon Studios furniture, check out our Care + Maintenance page.