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DIY Guide: Achieving a Flawless Flat Black Finish on Wood

| February 15, 2024 | By

Some people would say black is simple, but it’s also elegant and dynamic, with a range of applications for all types of finished projects. Those who opt for black, either as a base color or an accent, must decide what type of finish texture they desire; most commonly these options are flat black, matte, or glossy.

Achieving a flawless black finish is certainly possible if you keep in mind just a few key pieces of information. The following will apply mostly to wood, but can be adapted to include other surfaces as well—including metal or other specialty surfaces. Read on for some advice, background info, and technical insights regarding flat black and similar finishes.


Black is the New Black

A black finish never goes out of style. Although glossy black is classically popular, satin finishes with less sheen are gaining popularity in home design as they offer a sophisticated and modern look. So what should you know before diving in with a deep and dramatic black top coat?


Flat Black vs. Matte Black

Although often used interchangeably, flat black and matte black have several noticeable differences. For one, matte paints are often considered “smoother” and carry a slight sheen, with a look that resembles the appearance of velvet. Flat black, on the other hand, is typically more “chalky,” with very little sheen to it (if any). Its uniform finish makes it ideal for hiding blemishes, as it reflects minimal light. However, it’s always best to use a good flat black touch-up paint or similar repair solution before finishing for optimal results.

Some coating experts would say that flat black is easier to maintain and slightly more durable. It doesn't usually require any special cleaners or tools to clean and is easily wiped down with a damp cloth. Matte finishes usually need a mild cleaner and a soft cloth or sponge when you’re wiping it down, as harsh cleaners can damage the finish.


Black Stain vs. Black Paint

Stain and paint are similar in that they’re both usually intended to alter the appearance of the wood. For the most part, the similarities stop there. Stain provides a good protective barrier while still allowing the wood to breathe. Moreover, stain usually enhances or accentuates the wood grain, while paint tends to mask the grain pattern. Lastly, stains are usually transparent or semi-transparent, while most paint is rather viscous and generally opaque.


General Tips for Applying Flat Black

There are a few steps you can take to achieve a classic sleek black finish. The following tips are mostly for wood surfaces (such as cabinetry, doors, flooring, and decks), but can apply to a number of other surfaces as well, depending on the project.


1. Don’t Neglect Proper Prep

Sand and prime the surface in accordance with the type and condition of the wood or other surface material. Be sure to repair nicks or other blemishes first, as many finishes can accentuate superficial flaws. For example, flat black automotive paint won’t hide dents, although it may mask minor scratches.


2. Assess Potential Exposure

What conditions will your project be facing, and how often? Is it used or located outdoors, indoors, or both? Consider the environmental conditions that may come into contact with the final product before settling on a stain choice or finish brand.


3. Test the Stain to Color Match

To color match most accurately, first test your desired color or finish on a small, preferably non-visible part of the wood. If possible, use a scrap of wood or test the finish on the back of the project where it won’t be seen.


4. Always Allow to Dry Completely

This includes allowing for adequate drying between coats, after finishing, and before using the finalized project (i.e., don’t sit on the stained black chair before the finish fully cures.) Keep in mind that oil-based stains usually take longer to fully dry, so give the stain plenty of time to set.


Common Uses for Flat Black

Flat black is incredibly versatile and can be employed for all types of wood projects and surfaces. Below are three common places in a home in which one might apply a flat black finish:

  • Trims and moldings: Because flat black is highly resistant to smudges and fingerprints.
  • High moisture areas: Because flat black finish doesn’t pick up water and streaks easily.
  • Areas with lots of light: Because flat black’s reflectivity is low and its durability is high.

Still weighing your color options for a project? The FinishWorks Design Corner offers the latest color trends, color collection demos, and sample kits to help pick your palette.


Don’t Let Your Design Fall Flat

Anyone can create a timeless appearance for high-traffic or high-light areas in their home with a flat black finish. Choosing flat black paint for wood surfaces offers a neutral, sleek feel that virtually anyone can appreciate. Even flat black paint for metal helps create a modern, chic look that stands the test of time. No matter what your surface material is, when it’s time to top off your project, keep the above information in mind to achieve that flawless flat black finish. For suggestions on adding the finishing touches to your specific project material, feel free to contact one of our experts.


And for all the latest tips and tricks on getting your coatings just right, be sure to subscribe to the FinishWorks blog to stay in the loop.