I've had very good luck with an epoxy product called Klear Koat from US
http://www.shopmaninc.com/epoxy.html You want to scroll about 3/4 of
the way down the page to the 'Table Top' epoxy.
I buy it in 1 gal containers with a pump & mix up small amounts for
filling voids & finishing 'found' wood turned bowls. I've also put it
on an old picnic table. It costs about $45 for 1 gal of hardner & 1
gal of epoxy, a set of 1:1 ratio pumps & shipping. They make various
thicknesses of the epoxy.
There's a pdf with instructions - read very closely. All you need to
know is there & you should follow the instructions to the letter. Thin
first coat, warm working conditions etc... they also specifically
cover how to embed items & what to watch out for. The company has been
great to deal with.
Depends a lot on what country you're in. Generally it was "elbow
grease" - the origin of this term is the patina that develops when
countless grimy elbows rest on the same bannister or bartop, day after
day. Because there were no finishes up to the wear of this task, the
approach was often to leave the wood unfinished - maybe just some wax,
then let nature take its course.
In some countries, notably France, the approach was to cover the bar
or table with metal, chiefly zinc. The price of zinc dropped
considerably around the end of the 19th century, as new smelting
techniques for it came into use. England and Ireland favoured brass,
usually as narrow edge strips though, not whole counters. Copper
sheet was also used. Because copper patinates so readily it's
impossible to keep it clean and so "hammered" finishes were applied.
The copper was worn smooth and shiny on the ridges and the patina was
left undisturbed in the hollows. Although this was just as uneven a
finish as a flat sheet would have developed, it looked much better.
As to older varnish recipes, then there are some spirit varnish
recipes (plant resins in alcohol) based on amber that are harder
surfaced than the usual spirit varnishes from copal, gum benzoin etc.
These were expensive though and hard to apply, so they might still
just be used on panelling around a bar, leaving the counter itself
It's rarely either of those. Polyurethane has quite a deep colour to
it. Although you can paint it on, trying to apply it thick enough to
set things into it (even paper) will start to look very dark. Epoxy is
too expensive to use like this.
If it's a poured top with coins in, chances are that it's polyester
resin. This is the same stuff as fibreglass resin, but it's a
water-clear grade for this embedding purpose.
If you use polyester, lay a sheet of mylar across the top when wet.
This will peel off to leave a reasonable surface behind. If you let
it air dry then it won't cure fully and you have to do some polishing
to remove the tacky surface layer.
A simpler material for hard-weearing bartops is a urea formaldehyde
resin (Rustin's "Bar Top"). This is mixed with an acid catalyst before
use, then painted or poured. It won't go as thick as polyester, but
it's very tough. A similar material is used on flooring.
The times I've seen it done, it was a product called "fifty coat" and
was a polyurethane that is poured over the surface of the table and
allowed to dry. Levels itself, you just need to grind or sand the
bottom edge where the stuff drips off.
I can guarantee there's a classier product somewhere, but this stuff
works just fine if you're making a bar for your basement or something.
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