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How To Finish Cornhole Boards [Detailed Guide For Beginners]

You have finally finished building your cornhole board and cannot wait to play a round! However, before you take out the bags, you must finish your boards. This post combines professional experience and up-to-date research to answer your question thoroughly.

Disclosure: We may get commissions for purchases made through links in this post.

To finish a cornhole board, follow these general steps:

  1. Choose Finish
  2. Sand Initially
  3. Prepare Area
  4. Add Decals Paint and/or Stain (Optional)
  5. Sand Between Each Coat
  6. Apply Several Layers of Clear-coat Finish
  7. Allow Finish to Cure
  8. Refinish As Needed

Keep reading the rest of this post for details on the above steps. This guide includes all you need to know and is perfect for the absolute woodwork finishing beginners.

playing cornhole in backyard throwing bag in air. - How To Finish Cornhole Boards [Detailed Guide For Beginners]

How and Why to Finish Cornhole Boards

According to the official rules of cornhole from the American Cornhole Organization, it is essential to properly finish your cornhole board. This is because the character and smoothness of the finish impact gameplay. Further, if you do not finish the raw wood, the board will deteriorate and fall apart, especially if left outside. 

Cornhole bean bag toss wood game board outside on grass

In these directions, we cover common finish materials and methods so that you can easily finish your board up the the standards American Cornhole Organization.

1. Choose Finish

The first step is to choose your finish. This includes the decals, paint/stain, which are just for decoration, and the clear coat layer that makes the outside finish.

Decorative Finish

For decals, paint, and stain, you can choose anything you want in terms of colors and patterns. Sports logos and simple geometric designs are both popular. A good idea is to peruse boards online to find a pattern you like. These finishes are optional, and a plain wood board is also very popular. 

Bean bags on cornhole board

For the best final product, choose paints, stains, and decals designed to be applied to raw wood. If using paint, be sure also to purchase the proper primer at the store.

Clear Coat Finish

Three main products are commonly applied to cornhole boards for the clear coat. These are all applied last, over any decorative finish you may have chosen. You can choose between gloss and satin finish for all of these clear coats.

For any of these products, you will probably want to apply two to three coats on the side wall, bottom, and legs of the cornhole board and thee to six coats on the face of the cornhole board.

Generally, the more coats you apply, the longer the finish will last, and the better the final product will look.

These finishes are oil-based polyurethane, water-based polyurethane, and polycrylic. We introduce these options in the following subsections.

Oil-Based Polyurethane

Oil-based polyurethane is the longest-lasting and most expensive product listed here. While still characterized as a 'clear coat,' it leaves an amberish color on the surface. Thus, this may not be the best option if you have detailed color or decal that you are finishing over.

Click here for oil-based polyurethane from Amazon.

Also, since this product is oil-based, it takes longer to dry between coats. Make sure to read the directions on whichever product you choose, but generally, oil-based polyurethane takes around 8 hours to cure between coats. This long wait time may also be a deterrent when considering this finish type.

Water-Based Polyurethane

high angle view of Bean Bag Toss Corn Hole Game red bags and wood platform yard and park game

Water-based polyurethane dries much quicker and much clearer than its oil-based counterpart. Water-based polyurethane does not boast a finish that lasts quite as long.

Click here for water-based polyurethane from Amazon.

Therefore, water-based polyurethane is a good choice in areas without as much wet and extreme weather, if you have less time to apply your coats, or if you want the colors and details of the decorative paint or decals to show through.

Polycrylic

Click here for polycrylic from Amazon.

Polycrylic is always water-based and very similar in appearance and application to water-based polyurethane. This product does dry even faster than water-based polyurethane.

Also, polycrylic is a bit slicker than polyurethane when dry. This will make your cornhole bags slide better on the finished boards.

2. Sand Initially and Between Each Coat

Sanding your cornhole board will clear away any imperfections in the wood and help your finish, paints, and clear coats stick better to the wood.

First sand using 100-grit or so sandpaper or sanding block to accomplish the initial sanding. This will smooth the wood surface but leave marks from the sandpaper.

Click here for a sandpaper set from Amazon.

Then, get rid of these marks with a finer grain sanding material. Continue this until you are satisfied with the finish. Most professionals will stop somewhere around 220 to 320 grit.

Generally, you can do this in three or four steps. For example, consider first using 100-grit, then 180-grit, and finally 220-grit. 

Then, before you paint, stick on decals, or add a layer of clear coat, take a cloth and wipe away all the sawdust.

3. Prepare Area

According to the EPA, it is important to provide ventilation when working with the chemicals in most paints and finishes. Also, clean up is much easier if you lay down a tarp, painter's blanket, or old newspaper under your painting area.

However, you also want to add the finish in an area with calm air so that dust and dirt will not settle on the wet finish. Adding the finish in a open garage on a calm day is generally sufficient.

4. Add Decals, Paint, and Stain [Optional]

Once you have sanded and prepared the board, it is time to add any painted patterns or decals that you choose.

Paint

To paint your cornhole board, first apply a layer of stirred primer to the entire surface to be painted. Then, lay out your pattern using carefully pressed-down painter's tape. This will lead to crisp clear lines between colors.

Click here for painter's tape from Amazon.

Finally, apply stirred paint to each section as desired. Use a normal paintbrush and apply the paint using even strokes.

The goal is to put on enough paint that the coat covers the entire surface without making any globs or drips. You can smooth them out with the brush if you have globs or drips.

Generally, you will want to apply two coats of paint for the most consistent and professional final product.

Stain

Adding stain is an easy way to get a rich wood color without all the hassle of painting.

Stain comes in many colors and is designed to penetrate the wood rather than rest on top of it. Thus, stain changes the wood color but does not cover the wood grain like paint.

Click here for stain from Amazon.

To apply, use an old rag. First, stir the stain, dip the rag in the stain and wipe the rag over the board. This will work the stain into the board. Wipe away any drips or excess stain. Follow the drying directions on your chosen stain.

Decals

For decals, it is helpful to add a layer of clear coat, lacquer, or paint under the sticker. This will help it stick to the grainy wood.

Also, take the time to carefully measure out and even mark right under where the corners will be with a light pencil. Add decals after the paint or stain.

Here is a YouTube video on how to apply these decals:

5. Sand Between Each Coat

It may seem counterintuitive, but it is essential to sand a bit between each coat of paint, stain, and clear coat [do not sand decals]. This removes any dust or imperfections that may have stuck to the coat of finish material.

After the layer has thoroughly dried [according to the label], take a 320-grit or finer sandpaper and lightly sand the entire surface. Then, wipe away any dust before applying the next coat.

6. Apply Several Layers of Clear-coat Finish

Finally, it is time to apply the clear-coat finish. Always follow the label's directions for stirring and drying time between coats.

Click here for a foam brush from Amazon.

It is possible to use either a synthetic paint brush or a foam brush, but according to Wood Magazine foam brushes are preferred. For this job, a brush about 4-inches wide is appropriate. However, both wider and smaller brushes will also work.

First, stir the clear coat product. Then, dip the brush in the clear coat and paint it onto the board. Once again, the goal is to cover the entire surface without drips or globes. Repeat this for each coat.

For the legs, it is easier to take them off and then bolt them back on once the finish has dried.

7. Allow Finish to Cure

Before you play on your board, it is smart to let the finish cure. Generally, this means waiting about 24 hours after the last coat is applied.

This will give all the coats plenty of time to adhere together and will help your boards finish last for as long as possible.

8. Refinish As Needed

Now all you need to do is monitor your board's finish. Over time and with the weather, even oil-based polyurethane will start to deteriorate.

If you recoat with a few coats as soon as you notice any deterioration, your board will last much longer. If you do not recoat when the finish starts to fail, the wood underneath will begin to rot much more quickly.

Additional Reading

low angle view of corn hole board in grass in backyard

To learn more about painting and staining, read these Home Decor Bliss articles:

In Closing

playing cornhole in backyard throwing bag in air. - How To Finish Cornhole Boards [Detailed Guide For Beginners]

In this post, we cover how to finish a built cornhole board. We include directions on how to paint, stain, add decals, and add the very important clear coat. This guide contains everything you need and is beginner appropriate. Good luck!