How to Dull a Glossy Finish

At some point, every woodworker will encounter a paint finish that’s glossier than they’d like. Maybe you chose a spray that didn’t turn out how you hoped. Or perhaps you got a secondhand piece and want to update its look.

In any case, taking the excess shine out is possible. Usually, it does require some elbow grease. But, when done right, the result makes an effort completely worthwhile.

Plus, even if it’s a little labor-intensive, that doesn’t mean getting a different look is difficult. If you need to dull a glossy finish, here are some ways to ton it down a notch (or five).

How to Dull a Glossy Finish

Dull a Glossy Finish with Sandpaper

Step 1: Sanding It Down

When it comes to dulling a glossy paint finish, sanding it out may be the best option. Also called “rubbing out the finish“, this process allows you to manually remove some of the finish material. Plus, it roughs up the surface, getting rid of shine along the way.

Sanding gives you a lot of control, as well. The grit you choose can dictate how polished the surface ends up. The coarser the final grit, the duller the look of the finish.

It’s important to note that the sanding route isn’t risk-free. If you don’t know how deep the finish is, there’s always a chance you’ll go all of the ways through. That might not be your goal, so it’s best to proceed with caution.

Start by applying some mineral spirits to the wood piece or wetting the sandpaper. Next, give the surface a quick but consistent once over with 400 grit sandpaper. If you know that the finish is thicker, you may want to begin with 220 or 300 grit instead.

As you sand, keep your pressure steady and your motions smooth. Sanding can leave swirl marks if you aren’t careful.

In a worst-case scenario, you may get deeper into the finish than you’d like if you lean in too hard. Gouges are even possible, and they can take work to correct. Evenness and caution are the keys to success.

After you go over it with the first grit, you’ll start working your way down grit-wise. For example, from 220, go to 300. Once you’ve used 300, try 400.

Between each round, give the surface a quick wipe down and examine it for a moment. That way, if you spot swirl marks developing, you can work them out. If you think you are getting close to the right finish, you can clean off the wood and see if you’re right.

Once you reach 600 grit, regardless of whether you think the finish is where it needs to be, give the surface a good cleaning. Then, take a good, hard look at the finish and decide if you’re satisfied with the result. It’s possible that debris was altering the look of the finish, which is why it is wise to pause and check.

Step 2: Refining the Finish

If you like the new finish, you’re done. If not, then you have three choices.

At times, the finish may still need additional dulling. When this happens, you can go through the process above again.

However, if the finish is close, but barely not there, then you can try a different approach. Sometimes, a touch of wood wax can be enough to tone the finish down by a hair.

You’ll want to use the wipe-off method if you go the wax route. However, be aware that, if you do end up refinishing, you have to remove the wax completely. You can’t put new finishes over wax, as they won’t stick.

Otherwise, if the resulting finish is still too glossy, don’t panic. Just move on to the next method to see if you get a better result.

However, if, after looking at the finish, you decide that it’s too dull, you’ll use a different approach. Moving to sandpapers with higher grit levels can let you restore some sheen a bit at a time.

Wet 800 grit paper and give it a go. If you like that finish, stop. If it’s still too dull, go up further. Try a 1000 and then 1200 grit, pausing after each one to recheck the finish. Whenever you hit the ideal finish, quit sanding.

If you go through all of that and the finish still isn’t shiny enough, or you’re plagued with swirl marks, don’t give up yet. Now is the time to try polishing compound.

Get an orbital sander and a buffing pad, and start with courser polishing compound. Let the sander do the work and buff until you reach the right sheen.

You can use a finer polishing compound if you still want a bit more shine. Or, if you’re satisfied, clean it up and enjoy it.

Dull a Glossy Finish by Refinishing

If you aren’t sold on the finish you achieved using the approach above, don’t fret. You can still get to the ideal finish. Here’s how.

Step 1: Remove Any Polishing Compound

If you went the polishing compound route, your first step is to remove it. Usually, naphtha will do the trick, though you can use another solvent if you like.

After that, grab some 220 grit sandpaper and give the piece a once over. That will roughen up the existing finish, ensuring the upcoming new coat will stick.

Step 2: Clean and Dry

Since this approach is going to involve a new finish, you need to make sure the wooden surface is thoroughly cleaned and completely dry. Otherwise, you’re going to get subpar results.

Start by giving the surface a good wipe down. Ideally, you want to avoid chemical cleaners, as these may not combine well with the finish, creating a subpar result.

Step 3: Select Your Finish

Adding a new finish means you get to choose your final look based on a product. How you go about that may depend on your preferences as well as if you were the one who put on the last finish.

If you applied the last finish and it was glossier than you’d hoped, then you may want to stick with the same product line and choose an option that’s more matte. For example, shift from semigloss to satin or satin to matte.

If the last finish was much glossier than you expected, then consider dropping down more than one level. For instance, you might want to go from semigloss straight to matte. Just understand that the difference might be significant, so you may want to be more conservative and only go down one level if you aren’t sure exactly what you’d like to see.

By going with the same product line, there’s a decent chance the finishes will bond properly. Plus, you already have a gauge since you saw the last outcome, and that may make choosing the next finish easier than if you go with an unfamiliar product.

Step 4: Apply the New Finish

When you apply a new finish, you want to add a light coat. When the coat isn’t very thick, it dries faster. Within as little as 30 minutes, you may have a pretty good idea of how the finish will look once you’re done.

After that, if you like the finish, apply a second light coat. Give it a chance to dry a bit. Then, if needed, use a third (and usually final) light coat.

In some cases, two coats are enough. If you aren’t sure how many to use, refer to the product manufacturer’s directions.

Now, if you weren’t thrilled with the first coat, you have some choices to make. If the finish is a bit too glossy, you can apply the remaining coats. Then, you can use the sanding method to bring it down a notch.

If it’s way too glossy, you may want to choose a different finish. Then, you simply repeat the new finish process once you get the new product.

However, if the new finish is too matte, refinishing may be your only option. While you may be able to polish it up a bit, getting a substantially glossier finish usually means using a different product or adding a coat of varnish. In either case, you typically have to do some sanding and start from the beginning.

Conclusion

Ultimately, if you are trying to figure out how to dull a glossy finish, the methods above are your best options. Typically, starting with the first approach is the cheapest, and it isn’t much more labor-intensive than a refinishing.

However, if the finish is way off, you might want to start with refinishing right away. Getting from a high gloss finish to a matte one would otherwise require a ton of elbow grease, and it might be more work than you want to take on. If that’s the case, head straight to refinishing.

I hope you enjoyed the information in the article above. If you have any tips that can help someone dull a glossy finish, or want to share your own experience, head to the comments section below. If you know of anyone who may be refinishing their wood pieces, please feel free to share this article with them. I’m sure they’ll appreciate that you did.

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