My oak kitchen table (about 15 years old) has a finish that is almost
worn off, and has become very stickey and hard to clean. So, I sanded
the top with an orbital sander.
What finish should I put on it, assuming it will get a lot of use,
spills, and kids abuse? I want to use a clear, easy to apply finish
with good wear resistance...any ideas?
My red oak dining room table has just poly on it. I use a floor-grade
poly from Sherwin Williams, figuring anything designed to be *walked*
on is strong enough for a table. It's held up fine for the last, um
10-15 years (I forget exactly when I built it) with two kids beating
on it every day.
I'm pretty ignorant when it comes to finishing anything other than a
military gun stockset!
This poly you speak of...where and what should I get? Also, does it
spray on, brush on, etc? Does it show brushmarks, do I have to put many
coats on? And, is it safe for my 2 year old to eat off of?
You can get it anywhere that sells paint. The big box stores like Home
Depot and Lowes will certainly have it, as will many smaller places.
You're looking for polyurethane finish, and it can be oil or water
based. There are many different brands, such as Varathane, Minwax, etx.
For home use it is commonly brushed or wiped. It can also be sprayed.
The oil based stuff shows fewer brush marks than the water-based (but
you have to use mineral spirits to clean your brushes). You would
generally do at least three coats, four might be better for the top surface.
Pretty much any common wood finish is safe to eat off once it is fully dry.
...and remember, it's best to use a polyurethane varnish that has a gloss
finish because gloss is harder and more durable than finishes that contain
a flattening agent (e.g., semigloss, satin, flat). If you decide you want a
semigloss or satin final coat, at least use gloss for the undercoats. You
can also rub a gloss out to a semigloss or satin if you wish.
I have never noticed a different in hardness between a gloss and less glossy
finish. As far as durability the gloss is going to scratch easily compared
to a simi-gloss. I would like to know where you go your information
concerning the hardness comparison.
I used the Minwax version of the wipe on poly (gloss) this spring on my
oak table top and it turned out great. Three coats with steel wool and
tac cloth in between each coat.
So far it's held up with no problems, no water rings, and no
scratches... and it's me SWMBO and three munchkins abusing it on a
A nice bonus with the wipe on that I found was the limited odor. I did
the project right in the dining room in the evenings after the wee ones
were in bed and it didn't fill the house with any fumes.
I get mine at the local Sherwin Williams store. Don't get the fast
drying stuff! For this, it's better to take your time and let it do
its thing without the chemicals needed to fast-dry.
I use a good bristle brush. Poly is common; look for brushes that say
"for polyurethane". If this is the only project you're working on, it
might be easier to buy a couple inexpensive brushes (not cheap, just
inexpensive) rather than dealing with the chemicals needed to clean
them properly. You can probably get away with the 2" or 3" wide foam
brushes if you don't move the brush too quickly.
Alternatively, you can sometimes just wrap the brush in plastic wrap
between coats, if you're using an oil based poly. I wouldn't rely on
The first coat or two might have bubbles or some minor brush strokes,
but you're going to sand those anyway. The last coat should be fine,
but stick with thin coats - it's not paint ;-)
The trick is to stick with thin coats, and slow-drying.
One of the easiest finishes would be a wipe-on poly. MinWax and others
offer it in most big-box, hardware or paint stores. You prepare a very
smooth surface (thorough sanding to 220 grit) and wipe on several coats. It
will add a slight amber tone to your oak so you might want to experiment on
the side. If you need to stain to match remaining table use an oil based
stain which will also seal. Sanding is important because the wipe on finish
will not hide any sanding marks.
The wipe on poly builds slow so a table top might require four our more
coats with a lint free rag (T-shirt scraps are great). Good news is that in
reasonable humidity it drys to recoat in a few hours. Sand out dust and
imperfections between coats. You won't have to worry about brush marks.
It is close to being an idiot-proof fininsh. That is why I use it.
If I were you I wouldn't use the water-based poly. When it gets wet it
shows up water marks horribly, not mention it feels tacky as well. I'm
a store mgr. for Sherwin Williams and have used these types of products
on several occasions, not to mention recommend them everyday. If you
have the ability to spray and want the most durable finish possible, we
have a water white conversion varnish that will provide the most
resistance to common household chemicals and provide a furniture grade
water white finish. If not spraying, brushing on 2-3 coats of oil based
poly. By the way, the poly for floors is not any different than the
regular Minwax poly, it just dries a lot faster. If your wanting to
wipe it on, don't use the "for floors" version. It dries too quickly to
be wiped on. Hope this helps.
I recommend General Finishes Arm-R-Seal varnish. Available form
www.woodcraft.com and www.rockler.com .
Apply with a GOOD quality foam small cell brush. I use Wooster brand foam
brushes sold at Lowe's. These brushes will yield a great finish with little
to no brush marks and can be cleaned and used over and over. Do NOT buy
the typical foam brush.
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