Best Finish For Southern Yellow Pine (Mystery Debunked)

Southern Yellow Pine is an affordable and aesthetic wood to pick for woodworking projects. It also adds a weathered and rustic feel to your house effortlessly. However, with the varieties of finishes available, it can be confusing to pick.

So, what’s the best finish for southern yellow pine?

Varnish, polyurethane, and shellac make the best finish for southern yellow pine. Varnish is a multitasker and can make your southern yellow pine more durable. However, polyurethane has the advantage of different finishes. And shellac resists pine resins well. 

If you want to know more about these finishes, please continue reading. Our article covers these details just for your convenience. 

Let’s begin this journey of finishes!

What Is The Best Finish For Southern Yellow Pine?

best finish for southern yellow pine

If you ask us, there are three best finishes for southern yellow pine. These are varnish, polyurethane, and shellac. 

To understand their differences, we have a table for you below.

Type of finishAdvantagesDisadvantages
Varnish1. Very durable
2. Can handle environmental extremes
3. Easy to use
1. Has a dark amber hue that may not serve your purpose
2. Lack of variety of finishes
Polyurethane1. Water-based:
- Non-toxic
- Odorless

2. Oil-based:
- More durable than water-based

Different types of finishes available
1. Less durable than varnish
2. More prone to heat damage
3. Oil-based requires respirator which can add to costs
Shellac1. Safe to use
2. Non-toxic
3. Resists pine resins well
1. Not very durable
2. Only limited use to fine furniture and decor items
3. Doesn’t respond well to heat

1. Varnish- The Good Ol’ Classic Finish

When we think of finishes and topcoats, the varnish is the first to come to mind. This oil-based finish adds a faint hue and a durable outer layer for southern yellow pine. 

Made of oils, resins, and solvents, it can sustain environmental factors like sunlight and rain. 

 Varnish is also very easy to use on southern yellow pine. You need a brush, rags, and some water. Simply use the brush to lather on the varnish on the southern yellow pine. 

Use gentle strokes to get an even layer. If the hue gets too strong, wet the rag and wipe it away. 

All in all, varnish makes for a great multitasker for southern yellow pine. Make sure to use this in a well-ventilated room or do it outdoors. 

However, varnish can be one-dimensional. It doesn’t have much flexibility in terms of finishes and colors. So if you want a glossy finish or a clear finish for the woodwork, opt for polyurethane.      

Where To Use Varnish?

Use it on walls, furniture, and floors that have high heat exposure. So kitchen wall panels, dining tables, and rooms with heavy traffic. This way, heat, and friction won’t wash out the finish quickly. 

As the finish slowly fades, it’ll add a rustic charm to your house. If you don’t like that, add a layer of varnish for easy restoration. 

If you’re making outdoor furniture, decks, or boats, use varnish. It’ll protect them effortlessly from rain or sunlight.

If the varnish looks faded, sand down using a sander or sandpaper. Then apply one or two layers of varnish. Yes, you can even paint over the varnish easily.  

2. Polyurethane- The Modern And Popular Finish

This is a very mighty contender to varnish. Polyurethane is essentially a type of fortified plastic in a can. 

Polyurethane comes in both oil and water-based varieties. It’s also popular because it comes in a variety of glossy, satin, or matte finishes.     

The water-based polyurethane finish doesn’t hold heat well. However, it’s non-toxic and odorless. It’s clear when applied and remains that way. You simply need a well-ventilated room and some brushes to apply this.

If you’re unsure about which brushes to use, take a look at our picks below:

Once you get these brushes, let’s talk about the other finish. 

Oil-based polyurethane finish is similar to varnish. It’s more durable than water-based, however, this requires some conditions before use. You’ll need a respirator, a ventilated room, preferably with fans and rags.  

Where To Use Polyurethane?

For shelves, photo frames, chopping boards, and miscellaneous items, go for polyurethane. You can choose the type of finish, like matte or satin. There is no risk of heat damage. 

3. Shellac- The Natural Option

Shellac, once dried, provides a barrier that can resist the resins pinewoods make. 

However, shellac doesn’t respond well to heat. In contact with high heat, from the kitchen or fireplace, white rings will form. 

This is why it needs to be reinforced with other finishes for durability. So use it with varnish or polyurethane. 

Where To Use Shellac?

If you’re doing small indoor projects, like shelves and small tables, use shellac on its own. For bigger projects both indoors and outdoors, stick with a combination of finishes. 

Final Decision: Which Finish To Pick For Southern Yellow Pine?

Have you made up your mind about which one to choose? We can put your mind at ease.

For both indoor and outdoor purposes, varnish is the best multitasker. It’ll also protect your southern yellow pine in the long run.

However, if you want a specific finish, like satin or gloss, go for polyurethane. Just ensure that the project is not being exposed to heat or harsh weather. Use shellac with either varnish or polyurethane for the best result. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: How do you neutralize yellow pine?

Answer: Firstly sand the wood. Use 150 grit sandpaper for this job. Then, add a thin layer of white wood dye to the wood. This will bring that classic bleached yellow tone to the pine. 

Question: What stain looks best on yellow pine?

Answer: Yellow pine tends to be resistant to heavy-duty pigments and stains. This is why the ideal stains for yellow pine are clear and low pigment ones. 

Question: Can Yellow Pine be used for flooring? 

Answer: Go for yellow pine for floors only if you have less foot traffic in the house. This is because, over time, the wear will become visible. Unless you’re ok with that rustic look, opt for other pinewoods.  


With all that said, now you know the best finish for southern yellow pine. We wish you all the very best for your project and hope for a smooth finish.

If our advice helped you out, leave us a comment below. 

Kevin Smith

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