How to Apply Wood Finish Without Runs or Drips

Applying Wood Finish

Once you have prepared and stained wood, the final step is to apply finish to protect the timber. While the preparation stage gets the material ready and the stain brings out wood’s natural beauty, applying a clear finish ensures the wood is protected and its beauty should actually be enhanced.

Runs and drips are a frustrating side effect of adding too much finish to your brush and can really spoil the aesthetics of the wood. You’ll doubtless read plenty of material about removing them but the best method is preventing them from occurring in the first place!

Use a Glass Jar

The first step is to pour the finish into a glass container; a mason jar is ideal for this purpose. It is far too easy to overload your brush when taking the finish directly from its container. In contrast, a jar with a lipped edge is perfect because you can drain the brush before applying the finish.

Dip the brush in about 1/3 of the way as you only want the bristles to be covered. When applying wood finish, remember that you’re laying it on the surface as opposed to forcing it!

Parquet Finishing

Stay Away From the Edge

A lot of people make the mistake of beginning from the edge; don’t do it! This significantly increases the chances of drips occurring. Remember, your brush leaves a deposit the second it touches the surface of the wood. Begin away from the edge and brush the deposit towards it.

Use careful and delicate strokes and brush up and down in a smooth motion. Always ensure the largest amount of finish is located towards the centre of the wood as you can then brush the excess towards the edges.

If you’re careful (and a little fortunate), you won’t experience bubbling or other issues with the finish. If there is some bubbling, simply use the tip of the brush to smooth out the bubbles and allow the finish to do the rest.

Don’t Go Back Over Your Work

If you have ‘perfectionist’ tendencies, this next bit of advice may be hard to follow! Resist the urge to continually brush back and forth. Once you have spread the finish over the wood, leave it alone! If you go back over previously applied parts of the wood you’ll create too many brush strokes and it will be more difficult for the finish to level out.

Remove Excess Finish

If, at any point, you find that there is too much finish on the wood’s surface or your brush, simply rub your brush on a rag to drain the excess. This should dry out the brush enough to spread the extra finish to areas where it is needed.

We have to emphasise this point again; at no point during the process should you begin at the edge. This makes drips more likely and they can be a real pain to remove.

Make Sure You See The Light!

Always look to apply the wood finish under reflective light as it creates a glare on the surface which helps you see if there are runs or if you’ve missed a spot. You’ll be shocked at how much you miss if you rely on ambient light only! If you spot runs before the finish dries, you can drain the excess off your brush and use the tips of the bristles to make the surface smooth.


There will be occasions when drips and runs will creep up on you but if you’re careful, patient and follow the above tips, you’ll increase your chances of applying the perfect finish to your wood.


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