Typically, polyurethane is used to seal wood, but I don't like it's harsh toxic chemicals. It's pretty much like pouring plastic over wood. For outdoor use, I haven't really found anything better. But, for inside, where the world is not so rough, I have found two other alternatives.
One is a special blend of beeswax, carnauba wax, and orange oil. It enhances the natural beauty and depth of grain in finished and unfinished wood. It's much easier to apply than straight beeswax, which requires the use of a heat gun.
The other option, I've most recently started using, is food-grade mineral oil. It's the oil you buy to maintain butcher blocks and food-prep surfaces. I actually like it a lot, and use it for all my smaller pieces, as the oil soaks into the wood quite nicely. It does penetrate stain, too, although it takes longer.
First thing is first, I always sign the back of the piece, with my company name, and that it was made in Texas. A custom item will be dated, and a non-custom item receives a little love.
I've thrown around the idea of stamping them, or burning my logo into the back, but I honestly think there's something about hand-writing. It's all part of it being handmade.
When I have a piece that's been engraved, like The Lorax, I normally start with a paint brush to get the mineral oil into all of the details.
The fun part is seeing the grain come to life before your eyes. All of the finer details really come to life.
After all the details have been done, I use a lint-free (this is important) cloth and dip it into the mineral oil. I then take the cloth and rub the mineral oil, gently, into the wood.
Is it important to go with the grain? Yes, and no. I tend to go in circles a lot, making sure all nooks and crannies get good coverage, and then the final pass, I always make in the direction of the grain lines.
Once it's dried, it'll take a trip to our front porch, which is where I take my product shots. I really like the brick and siding background.
This little piece will be off to a listing on Etsy.
Any custom items will ship two days after a coat of the beeswax/orange oil finish is applied. I like to make good and sure it's cured before I wrap it up and send it off. That way, I know what my client is receiving is the best quality possible.