Really Virgile, it depends on what kind of use you will get from your
new piece, and what it is intended to do for you.
As a TV stand, you may or may not want to worry about a water
resistant finish. If you need something that can be cleaned, you
might want a finish that could stand mild detergents. If you want a
finish that will look more like sealed wood than a traditional oiled
finish, you will need to look at that aspect as well. Should the
piece be exposed to hard wear and need to be touched up, that would
introduce another aspect to the equation. If you simply want to
finish the piece and let it go until it is time to refinish, that's
Since finishing is part of my business, that's the questions I ask my
If it is to hold a TV, you probably won't have much need for constant
or deep cleaning since the TV will be the focus of the top compared to
a dining room table.
I used to have a lot of problems with polyurethane as I thought it
looked ugly when it cured. Many of the older polys were an ugly shade
of yellow that made the woods look bizarre and strangely colored.
They were hard to apply (for me) and back then I like a good varnish
much better, although varnish and poly are kissin' cousins by today's
Now I like some of the polyurethanes and my clients really like them.
I like them because they are easy to spray, but as in your case, they
are also quite easy to pad. When I do tabletops with urethane, I
ALWAYS pad now. I spray out legs and rails, etc., but always hit the
pad for a perfect finish on the tops. Most oil based urethanes have
about a 4-5 hour layout, so they are very forgiving.
Recoat in 8 hours. Urethanes/varnishes give an immediate warm glow to
your project, but when using it with walnut I have found it darkens it
too much on some pieces.
Personally I prefer lacquer for finishing, particularly these "long
chain polyurethane" conversion lacquers. However, this is just a
comment as I know you don't have spray equipment, and all the hybrid
stuff must be sprayed.
Shellac is a very good traditional finish, and the good news is that
if you don't wax the piece you can put another finish over it if you
don't like it. It is also easy to repair as long as it isn't a
colored shellac. Since the wood reacts to the shellac differently on
every piece and contrary to popular belief ambers as well, matching an
older shellac finish isn't easy. It is easy to apply, very forgiving,
and give a really pretty finish. I am sure you know, but remember
that shellac has very poor water resistance and a sweaty glass sitting
on it for just a short while can damage the finished product.
Water borne finishes are great if you buy a quality coating. <<SEE
LEON'S POST ABOVE>>. If you buy a cheap one, you will be punished
with poor abrasion resistance, chromatic coloring, and an ugly
texture. A good one will look like you sealed the wood, almost with
water. No ambering, so no appearance of an oil finish, although some
of them are no doing a pretty good job in mimicking an oil finish.
If you are good with a brush, you might want to find old reliable on
the shelf, DEFT brand lacquer. It dries slower than a commercial
grade lacquer, gives little ambering, and is easy to apply.
If you think your brushwork might be lacking, try poly, oil or water
based. Brush out the parts you can't pad and pad everything else. I
have brushed out many a cove and other details on a raised panel and
padded the panel and door frame afterwards to give it that smooth
BTW - when I say "pad", don't make your own. Resist the temptation to
save .69 cents. Buy a professional, disposable pad. Use it once, and
toss it. If you pad a clear coat finish of any type, make sure you
pad in such a way that the fibers go along with the application
stroke, and not against it.