Best Finish for Handrails – 5 Top Picks of 2023

If you’re embarking on a handrail installation or renovation project, you’ve come to the right place.

Handrails are an integral part of any staircase, balcony, or deck, providing safety and support. However, choosing the right finish for your handrails is equally important.

A well-selected finish enhances the material’s natural beauty and protects it from environmental factors such as moisture, UV rays, and everyday wear. By choosing the best finish, you can ensure that your handrails provide the necessary safety and become a standout feature in your space.

In this article, we’ll explore the top five handrail finishes for 2023, helping you pick the best finish for handrails and achieve a stunning and long-lasting result.

5 Best Finishes for Handrails – Buyer’s Guide

Choosing the right finish for your handrails is essential for both aesthetics and durability. In this section, I will provide you with detailed product reviews of the most picked handrail finishes in 2023!

FeatureOdie’s Dark Finish and StabilizerTried & True Danish OilSamaN Interior One Step Wood SealTried & True Stain + FinishMinwax Wipe-On Polyurethane Finish
Designed for wood handrailsYesNoYesYesYes
Darkens with ageYesYesNoNoNo
Food-safe and solvent-freeYesYesYesYesNo
One-coat applicationYesNoYesNoNo
Lustrous sheenYesNoYesNoNo
Compatible with various wood speciesYesYesYesYesYes
Works effectively on oily woodsYesNoNoNoNo
Contains natural UV inhibitorsYesNoYesNoNo
Driers or toxic chemicalsNoNoNoNoNo
Non-toxic and safe for families, kids, and petsYesYesYesYesNo
Coverage per ounce21 square feet10-12 square feet16-18 square feet10-12 square feet12 square feet
Suitable for interior useYesYesYesYesYes
Preserves wood quality over timeYesYesYesYesYes

Odie’s Dark Finish and Stabilizer


  • Odie’s Dark is a finish and stabilizer designed specifically for wood handrails.
  • Darkens with age, enhancing the natural beauty of the wood.
  • Comes in a 9-ounce glass jar for easy storage and application.
  • Food-safe and solvent-free, ensuring it is non-toxic and safe for use.
  • Provides an amazing one-coat application, saving time and effort.
  • Leaves a lustrous sheen on the handrails, enhancing their appearance.
  • Compatible with various wood species, including exotic and domestic types.
  • Works effectively even on oily woods.
  • Contains natural UV inhibitors, acting as a sunscreen for the wood.
  • Does not contain driers or toxic chemicals.
  • Safe for everyone, including families, kids, and pets.
  • Economical usage with a little going a long way.
  • On average, it covers 21 square feet per ounce on most domestic woods.
  • Offers more coverage than 1 gallon of other leading brand finishes.
  • Coverage may vary depending on wood density and porosity.
  • Hand-made in small batches in the USA to ensure quality.
  • Surfaces can be used within 24 hours and exposed to liquids within 3-5 days.
  • Suitable for interior use on doors, floors, fine furniture, bowls, toys, and more.
  • Provides a protective layer for the wood, preserving its quality over time.
  • Restores the luster and sheen of old furniture pieces.
  • Non-toxic, solvent-free, and food-safe, making it ideal for wood cutting boards, bowls, and platters.
  • Simple and easy to use: Buff Odie’s Dark on, wait, and then buff it off for a deep, penetrating sheen.
  • Suitable for various indoor surfaces such as kitchen countertops, dining room tables, and handrails.
  • A 9-ounce jar of Odie’s Dark covers approximately 189 square feet, depending on surface type, porosity, and density.


  • Users have reported that Odie’s Dark Finish imparts a rich golden hue to the wood, enhancing its visual appeal.
  • The finish leaves the wood with a phenomenal tactile depth that is hard to describe but highly satisfying to touch.
  • Users have found it easy to apply and buff off Odie’s Dark Finish. It does not require a sterile shop environment for setting up.
  • Odie’s Dark Finish can be used on various wood projects, including countertops, charcuterie boards, furniture, and wood-burning images.
  • The finish dries quickly, allowing for efficient application and reduced waiting time.
  • Odie’s Dark Finish is considered a safe and environmentally friendly option. It is free from harsh chemicals, and users have appreciated this aspect.
  • If blemishes or wear occur over time, Odie’s Dark Finish can be easily repaired by sanding and reapplying the wax.
  • The finish offers good protection for wood surfaces, ensuring durability and longevity.


  • While the initial sweet scent of the product is enjoyable, some users noted that it took a couple of days for the scent to largely dissipate.
  • One user mentioned that Odie’s Dark Finish did not significantly darken the wood, which may be disappointing for those seeking a more pronounced darkening effect. However, others have found it sufficient for their needs.
  • Some users mentioned that Odie’s Dark Finish is relatively expensive compared to other finishes on the market. However, they also noted that the value and quality of the product justify the cost.
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Tried & True Danish Oil


  • Tried & True Danish Oil is a pint-sized, all-natural, and all-purpose finish for wood.
  • The oil is raw and formulated with pure high-grade, fast-drying linseed oil without any drying aids or heavy metal salts.
  • The proprietary heat-treating process converts raw flax oil into Danish Oil, making it 100% renewable and safe for skin and food contact.
  • No need for personal protective equipment (PPE) or ventilation while using the oil.
  • Petrochemical-free and heavy metal-free, ensuring a non-toxic and safe wood finish.
  • Develops a beautiful patina as it ages, adding character to the wood.
  • Authentic Danish Oil formula reminiscent of traditional methods used 125 years ago.
  • Ideal for beginners or those seeking a classic, simple hand-rubbed finish.
  • Suitable for various projects, including raw iron, earthen floors, and other applications that traditionally use pure linseed oil.
  • A perfect finish for live edges and works as an excellent primer for other Tried & True products.
  • Can be applied over other natural oil finishes and penetrating stains.
  • Acts as a base coat grain enhancer before pouring epoxy.
  • Tried & True products are highly repairable and can last longer than a lifetime with proper maintenance.
  • Does not produce yellow plastic flakes as it ages.
  • 100% solids with no fillers or solvents, making a little go a long way.
  • Tried & True was developed in response to the concern over daily exposure to toxins in woodworking.
  • Inspired by Shaker and early American woodworking and finishing techniques.
  • Made from 100% renewable ingredients such as linseed oil, beeswax, and pine resin.
  • Free from solvents, VOCs, synthetic compounds, and toxic heavy metal drying agents.
  • Safe for humans, pets, and the planet.
  • The color of the finish is wood, allowing the natural beauty of the wood to shine through.


  • Users have found the polymerized linseed oil easy to apply with a shop towel, allowing for a thin and even coat on wood surfaces.
  • The product is deemed food safe, making it suitable for use on cutting boards and other food-related surfaces.
  • The finish brings out the natural beauty of hardwoods, enhancing the appearance of the wood and bringing out rich colors and patterns.
  • Users appreciate that the linseed oil is free from toxic chemicals, making it a safer option for both the user and the environment.
  • The oil dries quickly, reducing the waiting time and allowing for efficient application.
  • Users have reported successful restoration of sunburned or worn-out wood surfaces, making them look brand new.
  • The product does not contain heavy metals, which some users prefer to avoid for health and environmental reasons.
  • Users have noted that the linseed oil has a minimal odor, allowing for safe indoor use without strong fumes.
  • The finish can be used on various wood surfaces, including floors, outdoor furniture, and cutting boards, providing a natural look and protection.
  • Users have found that a little of the product goes a long way, offering value for the price.


  • Some users have experienced issues with the lid not staying shut securely, especially after hammering it back on. This could potentially lead to leaking if not properly secured.
  • While the basic instructions on the can are helpful, users have found more detailed guidance from experienced YouTubers to be more informative.
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SamaN Interior One Step Wood Seal


  • SamaN Interior One Step Wood Seal, Stain, and Varnish is a versatile product designed for furniture and handrails.
  • Trusted for over 20 years by professional woodworkers and DIY enthusiasts in North America.
  • Promotes greener products and prioritizes environmental sustainability.
  • Odorless and low VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds), ensuring it is safe to use for both users and the environment.
  • Provides a quick and convenient solution as it seals, stains, and varnishes in a single step.
  • No sanding or stripping is required, making it easy to use and saving time.
  • One-coat application for a fast makeover of furniture and fine wood.
  • Offers a wide range of colors, with over 20 options available for a unique and personalized finish.
  • Water-based formula, making it safe for use and environmentally friendly.
  • Meets high standards of quality and constantly evolving to provide superior performance.
  • Suitable for first-timers and does not require professional tools for application.
  • Provides a durable, crystal-clear finish that protects wood surfaces from scratches.
  • Self-leveling and non-yellowing formula ensures a clean and flawless appearance.
  • Dries quickly, saving time and allowing for efficient cleaning after use.
  • SamaN Interior Water-Based Varnish is more than twice as durable as traditional water-based finishes.
  • Can be used on furniture, moldings, wood paneling, handrails, and cabinets.
  • Rinse-free, phosphate-free, and has no harmful side effects.
  • Ensures a problem-free experience for the health of users, pets, and the environment.
  • The finish type of SamaN Interior One Step Wood Seal, Stain, and Varnish is oil-based.


  • Users find the Saman Stain/Seal/Varnish easy to use, whether applied with a brush or a rag, making the staining process more convenient.
  • The product dries quickly, allowing for efficient application and reducing the waiting time between coats.
  • Users appreciate the lack of strong smells associated with the product, making it more pleasant to work with, especially for indoor projects.
  • The stain/seal/varnish provides an even and streak-free finish when applied properly, resulting in a smooth appearance on the wood surface.
  • Users have reported that the product offers a beautiful color range, and the resulting shades match the descriptions and expectations, providing satisfactory results.
  • The stain/seal/varnish is suitable for use on various wood surfaces, including Brazilian cherry, pine, maple, and even unfinished doors, offering versatility in its application.
  • Users have found that the product provides good coverage, with one can being sufficient for multiple doors or a significant area, saving on cost and ensuring value for money.
  • The stain blends well with different types of wood, allowing for uniform color and a cohesive appearance.
  • While the final finish has a slight satin-like sheen, users have found that applying an additional top coat enhances its durability, ensuring a longer-lasting and more resilient surface.
  • Users have appreciated the product’s affordability, especially considering its all-in-one stain/seal/varnish functionality.


  • Some users have noted that when applying the stain/seal/varnish on softer woods like maple and pine, the initial color may appear lighter than expected with just one coat. However, subsequent coats provide better color richness.
  • While the product provides a decent finish on its own, users have found that applying an extra top coat is necessary for increased durability and protection.
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Tried & True Stain + Finish


  • Oil-based natural stain and oil finish for wood.
  • Suitable for wood and handrails.
  • Available in colors: Cherry cerise, Dark walnut, Golden oak, Java, and Mahogany.
  • Cherry stain imparts the color of aged cherry wood to your project.
  • Dark Walnut is a rich medium-brown toned stain that can mask lighter wood tones.
  • Golden Oak replicates classic oak trim with light warm pigments.
  • Java is the darkest color stain, designed to resemble a concentrated coffee stain.
  • Mahogany is a rich brown tone that replicates the color of aged mahogany wood.
  • 100% renewable and safe for food and skin contact.
  • No need for personal protective equipment (PPE) or ventilation while using.
  • Does not contain petrochemicals or heavy metals.
  • Blends the benefits and quality of Tried & True’s Danish Oil Finish with natural pigment powders.
  • No dyes or synthetic compounds are used in the product.
  • Can be used as a standalone product or as a color enhancer before finishing with other Tried & True products.
  • Can be top-coated with epoxy or oil-based polyurethane.
  • Provides infinite repairability and long-lasting durability.
  • No yellow plastic flakes as the product ages.
  • 100% solids with no fillers or solvents, ensuring a small amount goes a long way.
  • Founded based on research inspired by early American woodworking and finishing techniques.
  • Made from 100% renewable ingredients, free from solvents and toxic agents, and safe for food and skin contact.
  • Suitable for interior use.


  • Users have successfully used the product on various wood types, including mahogany, pine, Rubberwood butcher block, basswood, and untreated southern yellow pine, achieving satisfactory results.
  • Some users have appreciated that the stain helps counteract the yellowing effect that can occur when applying mineral oil to wood surfaces, providing a desired oak color instead.
  • Users have reported that the stain enhances the appearance of their wood projects, resulting in a beautiful and improved finish.
  • Users specifically mention that the stain works well on basswood, providing even coverage and an amazing result, which they had difficulty achieving with other stains.
  • Users appreciate the reduced use of chemicals in the stain, making it a safer option for wood surfaces surrounding vegetables in raised gardening beds.
  • The product is generally described as easy to apply, with users finding it user-friendly and straightforward in terms of application and cleanup.
  • Users have praised the stain for matching well with their existing woodwork, providing consistency and visual harmony.
  • The stain is reported to have a minimal smell, with the odor dissipating quickly, making it more pleasant to work with.
  • Users have found the stain to hold up well over time, with the finished wood surfaces maintaining their appearance and durability.
  • Cleaning up after using the stain is described as easy, adding to the overall convenience of the product.


  • Some users have mentioned that achieving the desired color may require multiple coats, and the final result may not match the color depicted on the can.
  • Users have found that it may take some effort to rub the stain into the wood surface properly, but the finished product justifies the extra work.
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Minwax Wipe-On Polyurethane Finish


  • Excellent durability for long-lasting protection of wooden surfaces.
  • Ultra fast-drying formula for quick and efficient application.
  • Low odor for a more pleasant user experience.
  • Easy water clean-up, making the cleanup process hassle-free.
  • Minwax Preparation products ensure optimal wood preparation for the best results.
  • Wide range of oil or water-based stains available to add color and beauty to wood surfaces.
  • Provides rich color and durable protection in a single step for convenient application.
  • Enhances and protects furniture, railings, trim, and other woodwork.
  • Offers a soft luster finish for a subtle and elegant look.
  • Helps clean and repair chipped, cracked, scratched, or decayed wood surfaces.
  • Hand-rubbed beauty combined with polyurethane protection.
  • Applied with a cloth, eliminating concerns about drips and brush marks.
  • Fast-drying formula reduces the waiting time between coats.
  • Suitable for interior wood surfaces such as furniture, cabinets, woodwork, trim, doors, and small floor touch-ups.
  • Recoat after 2-3 hours, with a dry time of 24 hours before normal use.
  • Easy clean up with mineral spirits or paint thinner.
  • Requires 2-3 coats for optimal results.
  • Maximum VOC content of 275 g/L, meeting environmental standards.
  • Compatible with Minwax Wood Finish or other stains for added protection.
  • Light sanding between coats with fine sandpaper or steel wool for a smooth finish.
  • Satin finish available in oil and water-based formulas for a durable and clear topcoat.
  • Provides protection and beauty to furniture, cabinets, woodwork, trim, doors, handrails, and more.


  • Users have found the polyurethane finish easy to apply, whether using a brush or a lint-free cloth, resulting in a smooth and even finish.
  • The finish dries relatively quickly, with some users reporting touch-dry surfaces within a few hours, making the application process more efficient.
  • Users have noted that the product has a low odor, making it more pleasant to work with, and some even found that using a respirator was unnecessary.
  • The finish can be used on various wood projects, such as slab desks, wood food bowl holders, oak cabinets, and woodburning projects, producing satisfactory results.
  • Cleaning up after applying the finish is described as easy, with the product being easily removed from surfaces and floors.
  • The finish yields a hand-rubbed effect with a soft glow, enhancing the overall appearance of the wood.
  • Users with limited woodwork experience found the finish user-friendly, allowing them to achieve professional-looking results.


  • Some users mention that achieving the desired build-up and protection may require applying multiple coats of the finish, which can be time-consuming.
  • Users have found the instructions regarding sanding between coats unclear, leading to confusion about when to sand.
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How to Choose the Best Finish for Handrails?

Handrails serve a crucial dual purpose in any space: providing safety and adding aesthetic appeal.

Whether you’re installing handrails for a staircase, balcony, or deck, choosing the right finish is essential to ensure both durability and visual appeal.

Consider the Material

Handrails can be made from various materials such as wood, metal, or composite. Each material has unique characteristics that impact the choice of finish.

For wooden handrails, you can showcase the natural beauty of the wood or apply a protective finish to enhance its longevity.

Metal handrails may require finishes that prevent corrosion, while composite handrails offer durability and low-maintenance benefits.

Assess the Environment

The environment where your handrails will be installed plays a significant role in determining the suitable finish.

Outdoor handrails are exposed to harsh weather conditions, including UV rays, rain, and temperature fluctuations.

In such cases, choosing a finish with excellent weather resistance and UV protection is crucial to prevent fading, cracking, or warping.

For indoor handrails, focus on finishes that resist wear, stain, and frequent cleaning.

Consider Safety and Grip

Handrails should provide a secure grip to ensure the safety of those using them. When choosing a finish, consider its texture and slip resistance.

Some finishes may be smoother and provide a sleek appearance but can be slippery when hands are wet or during humid conditions.

Look for finishes that balance aesthetics and functionality, ensuring a comfortable and secure grip.

Evaluate Maintenance Requirements

Different finishes have varying maintenance needs. Some require periodic reapplication or touch-ups, while others provide long-lasting protection with minimal upkeep.

Assess your willingness to invest time and effort in maintaining the handrails and choose a finish that aligns with your maintenance preferences.

Remember that regular maintenance can significantly extend the lifespan and appearance of your handrails.

Visual Appeal

The finish you choose should complement your space’s overall style and decor. Consider the color, sheen level, and transparency of the finish.

Transparent finishes like varnishes or clear coats can enhance the natural grain of wooden handrails, while opaque finishes offer a wide range of color options to match your design scheme.

Consider the desired visual impact and choose a finish that adds beauty and harmony to your space.

Bottom Line

In conclusion, selecting the best finish for your handrails is crucial to enhance their appearance, protect them from daily wear and tear, and ensure their longevity.

With the comprehensive list of the top five finishes, you now better understand the options available to you.

Remember to consider factors such as durability, ease of application, maintenance requirements, and compatibility with your specific handrail material.

By choosing the right finish, you can transform your handrails into beautiful and resilient features that add style and functionality to your space for years to come.


Should handrails be painted or stained?

Painting handrails provides a layer of protection, making it easier to maintain, and offers a wide range of color choices.

On the other hand, staining allows the natural beauty of the wood to shine through, which is particularly desirable in older homes.

Ultimately, the choice between painting and staining depends on your preferences, budget, and the desired aesthetic for your handrails.

Should handrails be satin or semi gloss?

As a general guideline, satin finishes are typically recommended for interior walls and furniture, providing a smooth and subtle sheen.

On the other hand, semi-gloss finishes are more suitable for smaller areas that require highlighting, such as cabinets, mantels, handrails, doors, and window frames.

The semi-gloss finish adds a touch of shine and durability, drawing attention to these specific elements.

How do you maintain a wooden handrail?

You should polish your wooden handrail every three to four weeks to maintain its aesthetic appeal and integrity.

Start by dusting the handrail with a soft microfiber cloth to remove any loose dirt or dust. Then, prepare a solution by mixing two parts of olive oil with one part of lemon juice.

Dab a microfiber cloth into the solution, ensuring it is lightly dampened, and gently wipe the handrail along the direction of the wood grain.

This will help nourish and protect the wood, keeping it looking its best.