How To Get a Mirror Finish on Wood? (6 Steps)

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Reviewed by
Eral Kadrija

Tony Adams

A mirrored finish will protect the wood from stains and moisture and beautify it. So, how to get it?

To get a mirror finish, sand the wood with 220-grit sandpaper and apply multiple coats of clear topcoats, such as lacquer. Once the clear topcoat is dry, wet sand it with 400-grit and polish it. The polish will give you a mirror finish.

If the wood is damaged or has holes, use water-based wood filler to make its surface even. You can also use medium or coarse-grit sandpaper to remove imperfections or the existing finish on the wood.

Which Types of Finish Can You Use?

Use a high-gloss sheen and a transparent finish to get a mirrored finish. The best choices for this are lacquer, water-based polyurethane, or varnish.

Polyurethane, varnish, and lacquer are transparent finishes that dry on wood to give a mirror finish. Polyurethane also has plasticizing additives, such as urethane, that give it a stronger and plastic-like finish.

Avoid using flat, eggshell, or semi-gloss sheen because they don’t have enough sheen (or gloss) in their formula to create a glossy clear coat finish. Instead, these sheens will provide a dry, textured finish with no gloss.

Varnish vs Lacquer (For A Mirror Finish)?

Finish Clarity

The clearer the finish is, the better the mirrored finish will be. Varnish and lacquer are both clear finishes, but varnish tends to turn yellow while lacquer doesn’t. The oily deposits on the varnish cause the finish to turn yellow.

Number of Coats

Varnish has a thick flow, so you don’t need too many coats. If you apply too many coats, the varnish finish will turn blurry. On the other hand, lacquer is a thin flow and needs up to 5 coats to properly cover a surface.

Dry Time

Lacquer is solvent-based, so it dries faster than oil-based varnish. Lacquer dries in about 20 minutes, while varnish will take over an hour.

Applicator Method

To apply varnish, you can only use a bristled paintbrush. This is because it has a thick flow and can’t be applied with a sprayer (unless thinned). On the other hand, you can apply lacquer with a brush or sprayer.

How To Get a Mirror Finish on Wood?

Here are the tools you need:

  • Mineral spirits
  • Dish soap and a bucket of water
  • Sandpaper
  • Lint-free rags
  • A power sander (optional)
  • A power buffer
  • A transparent top coat – Lacquer or polyurethane varnish
  • Bristled paint brushes
  • A vacuum
  • 4F pumice powder

1. Clean The Wood

Clean The Wood

First, clean the wood, especially if you are working on old furniture. Cleaning will remove dust, debris, and filth from the surface that can prevent the clear coat from sticking. If you don’t clean it, the dirt and dust will show once the finish dries.

To clean wood, mix soap with water and pour the mixture over the surface. For stubborn stains, use a soft brush.

2. Sand Down The Wood

Sand Down The Wood

The purpose of sanding is to remove pimples, splinters, and imperfections on the wood surface. If you don’t sand, you can’t get a good mirror finish because the imperfections and bumps in the wood will affect and stain the finish.

To sand the wood, start with 180-grit and finish with 220-grit sandpaper. For large surfaces, use a power sander. Sand in the direction of the wood grain, not against it to prevent imperfections from showing. After sanding, vacuum and remove the dust.

3. Mix and Apply The Wood Filler

Mix and Apply The Wood Filler

If the wood is cracked, has holes, or is uneven, you apply wood filler. Wood filler will cover imperfections and fill cracks.

To do so:

  1. Mix wood filler with water.
  2. Use a turning stick to stir the mixture.
  3. Use a paintbrush to apply the mixture to the wood.
  4. Cover the entire surface.
  5. Remove excess wood filler.
  6. Let it dry for a few hours.
  7. Once it dries, use an abrasive pad to smoothen it.

4. Apply The Transparent Top Coat

Apply The Transparent Top Coat

Once the wood is clean, sanded, has no imperfections, and is even (flat), apply the clear coat. You can use lacquer, varnish, or polyurethane as a clear coat.

If you are using lacquer, apply 4 coats. For polyurethane or varnish, apply 3 coats only. You can use a paintbrush or sprayer to apply the clear coat. If you use a sprayer, you must thin the clear coat, especially varnish.

Wait until one coat dries before applying the next one. Optionally, sand between coats with fine-grit sandpaper (320-grit). This helps you get a better mirror finish. After applying the clear coat, wait 24 hours before using the surface.

5. Wet-Sand The Lacquer or Varnish

Wet-Sand The Lacquer or Varnish

After the clear coat dries fully (cures), wet-sand the finish using 400-grit waterproof sandpaper. To do so, dip the sandpaper into a water bowl, let it soak, and then use it to sand the wood. Wet-sand repeatedly while increasing the sandpaper grit from 400 to 600-grit.

6. Buff The Finish

Buff The Finish

Buff the finish to get a perfect mirror finish on the wood.

To do so:

  1. Sprinkle 4F pumice powder on the wood.
  2. Douse it with rubbing oil.
  3. Rub the mixture into the wood fibers using a cotton cloth.
  4. Leave it to dry.

How To Maintain a Mirror Finish on Wood?

A mirror finish is easier to maintain than a normal finish. This finish repels stains and moisture and prevents them from sticking. That’s because the clear coat forms a glossy moisture-resistant layer over the wood.

Even if the stains or dirt stick over the finish, it’s easier to wipe them off because the finish is slick. You can also use liquid cleaning products without damaging the finish or wood. That’s because the moisture-resistant topcoat prevents liquid from penetrating its coating.

However, if the wood has imperfections or gouges, the mirror finish will show and highlight them. That’s because clear coats have a transparent finish (no color) and will reveal the surface underneath. You can prevent this if you remove the imperfections or paint the wood before sealing it.

Final Words

In summary, mirror finishes are great because they offer durability, waterproofing, wood protection, and beautify the wood. The reflective finish also highlights the natural grain, leaving you with a perfect finish.

To get the mirror finish, prep the wood by cleaning and sanding. Then apply multiple coats of clear lacquer paint and buff the finish.

Tony Adams

Tony Adams

Woodworker, Interior and Exterior Painter, Flooring Specialist

Tony is a professional painter and an author of DIY Geeks. Tony has completed over 1,000 painting projects for his clients. It's safe to say he knows what he Is talking about.

Eral Kadrija

Eral Kadrija

Lead Editor, Home Renovator

Eral has a passion for home renovation and repair. Over the years, he has bought, renovated, and sold 7 old homes. Using his experience from different DIY projects he created DIY Geeks.

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