Best Finishes for Wood Kitchen Table 2019 – Reviews and Buyer’s Guide

Best Finishes for Wood Kitchen Table 2019 – Reviews and Buyer’s Guide

Top pick

Don’t tell me you don’t know of General Finishes. It’s one of the most trusted brands on the market of wood finishes. Arm-R-Seal Urethane Topcoat is a long-lasting durable finish which will keep the beauty of your table for years.

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Choosing the best finish for your wooden kitchen table is an important decision. After all, you probably use the table every day, which means that the finish needs to be durable.

What’s more, since the table comes into contact with food — especially if you have little ones — it needs to be safe for a kitchen when it cures.

Whether you’re refinishing an antique kitchen table or transforming a thrift-store find, the right finish makes a big difference.

Best Finishes for Wood Kitchen Table in October, 2019

 FinishCoverage (quart)Recoat dry (hours)Sheen 
1General Finishes Topcoat
Editor's Choice
100-125 sq ft12-24gloss, satin, semi-gloss Check Price
2Minwax Fast Drying Poly125 sq ft4-6gloss, satin, semi-gloss Check Price
3Varathane Oil Polyup to 140 sq ft8-10gloss, satin, semi-gloss Check Price
4General Finishes Enduro-Var125 -150 sq ft4gloss, satin, semi-gloss, flat Check Price
5Waterlox Satin Finish 125 sq ft24semi-gloss Check Price
6 Rust-Oleum Polyurethaneup to 50 sq ft2gloss, satin, semi-gloss Check Price
7Old Masters Gel Poly175 sq ft6satin Check Price
8Wood Shield Varnish150 sq ft4semi-gloss Check Price
9Valspar Cabot Polyurethane125 sq ft4semi-gloss Check Price
10Behlen Rockhard Urethane Varnishup to 140 sq ft14satin Check Price

1. General Finishes SGQT Arm-R-Seal Urethane Topcoat — Great Finish for Kitchen Table Top

Arm-R-Seal Oil Based Topcoat is a tough, long-lasting wood finish that comes in a can with a pry-off lid. You can buy it in a variety of sizes, which can help reduce waste if you’re refinishing a very small or very large kitchen table.

This finish is made with urethane resin, which means that it’s extremely durable. If you apply it according to the directions, it can last for many years before it needs to be reapplied. For a kitchen table, this might be ideal. Once it’s dry, it tolerates cleaning with Clorox wipes, so you can disinfect your table easily.

You can apply Arm-R-Seal with a cloth or a foam brush. It’s relatively easy to remove the drips, though you need to do it right away to prevent drying. It’s also a good idea to apply this product in a well-ventilated area.

Since this Arm-R-Seal product is oil-based, it has a few drawbacks. It tends to dry in a rich amber color — it looks nice, but if you’re not expecting it, or if it doesn’t go with your final look, it can be an issue. The oil content also means that the finish takes a long time to cure. In fact, the company recommends that you don’t clean the table for 30 days after you apply the last coat.

Overall, this oil-based finish is recommended for more advanced woodworkers. It might take a bit of time to get the hang of the application process, but once you do, the end result looks near-professional.

Pros
  • Extremely durable
  • Easy wipe-on application
  • Natural look
Cons
  • Yellow hue
  • Long curing time
  • Can damage wax coats underneath

2. Minwax Fast Drying Polyurethane Clear Finish — Worthy Versatile Finish

Minwax Fast Drying Finish can be used on both finished and unfinished wood, making it a convenient option when you’re not sure if you’ll apply a primary finish. It can be applied with a natural bristle brush, a lambswool applicator, or a foam brush.

One of the big benefits of Minwax Wipe-On Poly is its drying time. As long as you apply thin coats, the finish dries quickly. This is an advantage if you’re working in a dusty workshop or an outdoor area — the faster your finish dries, the less likely it is that dirt, dust, or debris will get trapped in it. Each thin layer takes just a couple of hours to dry completely. Then, you can use sandpaper to scuff it gently and apply the next coat. This product is extremely forgiving, so it’s easy to achieve a beautiful end result.

It’s important to note that although this Minwax finish is clear, it’s probably going to change the color of your wooden table slightly. This is because of the oil in the product. The color change is small but visible. If you like a warmer look to your wood, this could be a great choice for you.

The drawback to this Minwax finish is the number of coats you need. Minwax recommends two or three coats. However, since your kitchen table is a heavy-use piece of furniture, you’ll probably actually need four or five coats for durability. Between applying, sanding, and drying, that means that the refinishing process is going to take a considerable amount of time.

If you have the patience, however, this Minwax product creates a beautiful finished result. We recommend it for more advanced woodworkers.

Pros
  • Flexible application options
  • Prevents food stains
  • Durable and long-lasting
Cons
  • Requires multiple coats
  • Needs sanding between coats
  • Can cause yellowing over paint

3. Rust-Oleum Oil Polyurethane Satin Finish — Ideal for Highlighting Wood Grain

If you’re looking to finish a kitchen table that gets regular use, this Rust-Oleum product can be a great choice. It’s designed specifically for heavy-use areas, so it’s extra durable.

If your kitchen table has a beautiful wood grain, this finish is one way to highlight it; it’s designed to allow the grain to show through. The warm tone of the finish shows off the intricacies of each piece of wood in your table.

As you’re using this, be prepared — it has an extremely strong smell. This is completely normal, but it’s a good idea to work in a well-ventilated area. The finish dries very quickly, so it’s a good idea to wipe up any drips immediately.

Although this product is billed as clear, it actually adds a golden glow to the wood.

I recommend this Rust-Oleum finish, particularly if you’re finishing a table with a prominent grain. It’s not recommended for use over paint because of the tendency to yellow upon drying.

Pros
  • Goes on smoothly
  • Easy to use
  • Dries into a very hard surface
Cons
  • Can create a yellowish look if used over paint
  • Takes 4+ coats
  • Some spots dry white

4. General Finishes Enduro-Var – The Workhorse

This is a high-end clear coat that is intended for durability rather than beauty so it would be a good choice for high traffic surface of kitchen table. I say that because even the company admits that this coating will turn yellow with age. They say that it will “amber slightly,” so at least they are honest about this flaw.

This Coating Seems To Cause Very Few Complaints

This product gets very good reviews overall. Only one out of ten reviewers seem to be unhappy. Most of the positive reviews focus on the fact that this is a water-based finish that functions somewhat like an oil-based finish. This means that it produces a slicker, shinier look, and also preserves the grain of wood surfaces by soaking in (to a certain extent).

Durability Over Beauty

Another good quality of this paint is its longevity and durability. It doesn’t produce a soft layer that feels like plastic. Instead, it produces a hardened surface that can withstand most conditions for a long period. This means that the GF coating is almost certainly suitable for outdoor use, even if the label does not specify as much.

Biggest Downside: Cost

On the negative side, this is a very expensive finish. In fact, it is tied for the title of most expensive paint (with the ECOS paint, to be exact). However, the cost goes down significantly if you buy this paint by the gallon instead of the quart.

Pros
  • Combines the qualities of a water-based paint with some of the qualities of an oil-based paint.
  • Creates a durable and water-resistant coating.
  • Available in flat, gloss, semi-gloss, and satin.
  • Although this coating is expensive, the price goes down significantly if you buy it in the gallon size.
Cons
  • One of the most expensive finishes on this list.
  • Advertising admits that the paint will “amber” slightly, which is a nice way of saying that it will turn yellow with age.
  • Cannot entirely replace an oil paint for most purposes. It has the sheen, but that’s about all.

5. Waterlox Original Satin Finish — Nice Soft Gloss

If your kitchen table has a great deal of detail, this Waterlox finish can show it off. The finish has a gentle, pleasing gloss that highlights carvings and beautiful joinery, but it’s not so glossy that it shows fingerprints.

Waterlox Original is made from tung oil. The oil penetrates the surface of your wood, creating a water-resistant finish. That means that it stands up well to spilled milk, heavy use, and other liquids. If your kitchen table gets a medium level of activity, this could be a good option. It’s also relatively easy to maintain.

Keep in mind that this Waterlox option can’t be used alone — you’ll also need to apply the Waterlox sealer, or a sealer from another brand.

Waterlox is recommended for your kitchen table if you want a gentle gloss. It stands up to low-use and medium-use households nicely.

Pros
  • Water-resistant
  • Partly made from renewable natural resources
  • Soft gloss
Cons
  • Very strong smell
  • Requires a separate sealer
  • Tends to streak

6. Rust-Oleum Triple Thick Polyurethane – The Efficient Option

With this coating, we can see that the people at Rust-Oleum did their best to create a unique (and uniquely useful) product. The whole idea behind this coating is to offer a clear coat that is meant to be applied thickly. This is meant to not only increase coverage, but also to save time finishing your table.

This Product Is Meant To Be A Time-Saver

Saving time seems to be one of the main priorities in the design of this coating. As I already mentioned, this finish is meant to be applied in thick coats. This means fewer coats per project, and thus less time spent. Also, I can say that this is a fast-drying product, which also saves time.

One Relatively Serious Flaw

This Varathane is also advertised as being made with a self-leveling formula. This feature is very important for a coating that is meant to be applied three times thicker than most other coatings of this type. In my experience, the product falls short in this regard.

Although there are many good reviews for this product, the negative reviews are pretty consistent. Most of them say that they had a difficult time creating a level coating. In other words, the self-leveling feature probably doesn’t work as well as advertised. Some have even reported ruining entire pieces of furniture with this coating.

A Good Option For Those With A Tight Budget

On the upside, this is one of the most inexpensive finishes on the list, which makes it the ideal choice for those on a budget. The leveling problems can probably be dealt with by using a slightly thinner coat. When the label on the can tells you to apply a coating three times thicker than you normally would, it is easy for people to go too far.

Pros
  • Meant to be applied thickly, which saves time and reduces the number of coats needed.
  • Very inexpensive. In fact, this is one of the most inexpensive coatings on our list if you are buying by the quart.
  • Self-leveling formula means that you don’t have to worry about sanding. Another time-saving feature.
  • Superior coverage, according to the advertising.
  • Quick-drying
  • Forms a hard layer, like most water-based finishes.
Cons
  • Some customers say that the paint is too thick, making it hard to apply smoothly.
  • Self-leveling feature does not seem to work. This coating might only be good for small projects as a result.
  • Produces some yellowing over time.

7. Old Masters Gel Polyurethane – The Choice For The Finest Surfaces

As the name of this product implies, it is meant for the finer projects. You wouldn’t want to use this kind of finish on your outdoor cabinet, or the surface of your back porch. In fact, the manufacturer specifically states that you should not use this product for floors.

Beauty Over Durability

Like all oil-based finishes, this coating produces a soft surface that is relatively easy to dent or chip. For some projects, this isn’t a big deal. Antique furniture and other fine-quality wood surfaces are the main areas in which this product will be useful. Old Masters does seem to be very effective for its admittedly niche purpose.

Very Effective For Its Intended Purpose

One of the things that stands out about this product is the fact that it gets universally good reviews. Of the product reviews that we observed, not a single one had anything bad to say. Part of this is due to the fact that Old Masters is a special-use coating that focuses on one particular market and does everything right.

Pros
  • Oil-based formula provides superior shine.
  • Gel-like consistency allows this coating to be applied with a cloth, or with a paper towel.
  • Produces a soft finish with a hand-rubbed look.
  • Meant for fine-quality wood such as you might find in an antique table.
  • Not particularly expensive.
  • Universally good reviews. I was unable to find a single negative review.
Cons
  • Oil-based finishes are softer by nature, and this one is meant to be even softer than usual. As such, it would not be suitable for projects that require a lot of impact resistance.
  • Wiping the coating onto the surface by hand is problematic because of the nasty and toxic odors that come from this product. Still, a mask will remedy this problem.

8. Wood Shield Interior Varnish – The Eco-Option

The ECOS semi-gloss varnish is another water-based coating, and this one is meant for the environmental purist. It is made with no volatile compounds at all, which means that it will not give off any harmful odors and it’s great for the kitchen.

A Great Idea For Those With Sensitive Lungs

For those with breathing problems and similar health conditions, finish like this would be very handy. It would allow a person who suffers from asthma (for instance) to complete their project without having to risk their life by using something that gives off harsh fumes. However, this kind of thing isn’t a big concern for normal and healthy individuals.

No Worries About Pollution

The ECOS coatings are so-named because they are designed to be environmentally friendly to an extreme degree. They are certified as being totally safe for the environment. Since this is a water-based coating that does not use polyurethane, that claim is not particularly hard to believe.

The makers have also refrained from adding any pesticides or antimicrobial substances to the paint, just to make sure that none of these poisonous chemicals are leached into the soil. However, this product does have its practical side as well.

The Practical Benefits

This product is very time-efficient because it dries very quickly when compared to most other clear coats. ECOS varnish will dry to the touch within 30-45 minutes and can be sanded or painted in 2 hours. This is very good when compared to most of the competition. The all-natural formula also means that you can easily clean up any spills with soap and water.

Pros
  • This coating has no harsh toxic odors, making it much more pleasant to use.
  • This varnish does not yellow with age.
  • Full disclosure of all ingredients. This is very reassuring.
  • This product is made to be environmentally friendly so that you don’t have to worry about polluting when doing an outdoor project.
  • Dries to the touch within 30 minutes, and can be sanded within 2 hours.
Cons
  • One of the most expensive coatings on the list
  • Emphasis on environmentalism might be a little bit excessive. The advertising seems to focus mostly upon this factor.
  • Not really necessary for healthy individuals.

9. Valspar Cabot Interior Oil-Based Polyurethane – An Expensive Wonder

This is another product that aims to combine the qualities of a water-based finish and an oil-based finish. Unlike the first choice on my list, this one is meant to provide the gloss and beauty of an oil-based finish while while also maintaining the hard and durable finish that is normally associated with water-based coatings.

Another Hybrid Clear Coat

I can say that this hybrid actually achieves its purpose. It looks far better than a water-based finish, being completely free from the dull and plasticized appearance that polyurethane can sometimes have (especially when it gets old). At the same time, it does a very good job of resisting scuffs and impact. I had to wonder how they achieved this effect, but now I can tell one thing right away: this quality comes at a high price.

Fast-Drying (For An Oil-Based Coating)

Although these types of coatings do not usually dry quicker than water-based paints, this one almost achieves that goal. It dries to the touch within 30-60 minutes and can be sanded or painted within 2-3 hours. Not particularly bad for oil paint, though nowhere near as fast as most others on our list.

Only Sold In Half-Pints

This is actually the most expensive type of finish on our list for those who are buying in bulk.

This is definitely not the choice for a big project unless you have very deep pockets and are willing to shell out some serious bucks. This ridiculously low cost-to-amount ratio is the only major downside to this product, but it is a pretty big problem for those who can’t afford to break the bank on a weekend project.

Pros
  • Successfully combines the qualities of water-based paint and oil-based paint.
  • Fast-drying, at least when compared to most other products of its type.
  • Produces a very durable finish.
  • Much higher shine than a water-based alternative.
Cons
  • Very expensive.
  • Only sold in half-pint cans.

10. Behlen Rockhard Table Top Urethane Varnish Satin — Great for Busy Kitchens

Does your kitchen table see a lot of activity? If so, this Behlen Rockhard product could be the right choice. The formula dries hard, so it can help resist scratches and nicks.

The best thing about this Behlen finish is its durability. Once it’s cured, the finish prevents abrasions; it also resists water and detergents, which is helpful if your kitchen table doubles as a homework station or play area.

After you’re finished applying this finish, it needs at least 48 hours to dry completely, assuming the temperature in your workshop is at least 72 degrees. If you live in a cold or damp area, you can expect the drying time to be longer.

The long dry time of this option can be an issue if you’re planning to apply multiple coats. In fact, you need to wait at least 14 hours between coats. While this isn’t a deal-breaker, it’s important to work the timeline into your planning.

Overall, I recommend this product, but only if you have a well-ventilated shop and plenty of time for drying. However, if you have the patience, you can achieve a long-lasting finish.

Pros
  • Extremely hard finish
  • Resists water and chemicals
  • Prevents scratches
Cons
  • Strong smell
  • Long dry time
  • Complicated application

Buyer’s Guide

Finishing your wooden kitchen table takes time and effort. When you choose the right option for your skills and lifestyle, you can get the job done right on the first try. As you look at different options, here are some factors that can influence your decision.

Ease of Application

As you’re looking at different types of finishes, application matters. Are you new to wood finishing? If so, you might want to go for a finish that wipes on — that way, you don’t need to worry about making mistakes.

If you’re a more advanced woodworker, you can opt for spray-on finishes or brush-on finishes. Both of those options require more skill, so they’re not ideal for beginners. If you prefer to spray-finish your wooden table, check the manufacturer’s instructions; not all wood finishes are compatible with a spray gun.

Understanding Types of Wood Finishes

You can choose from a wide range of finish options, each one with different advantages and disadvantages. Some common types are:

Oil finishes

Oil finishes add a bit of depth and color to unfinished wood. They also protect the wood, making them ideal for kitchen use.

Water-based finishes

These finishes dry clear, which gives your table a slick, glossy look

Varnish

Varnish is a clear finish that dries extremely slowly, and may be difficult to apply. Usually, they’re best when paired with another finish, such as dye.

Shellac

This material is made from wax and solvents. It’s easy to apply, but it’s not durable enough for a heavy-use kitchen table.

Durability of Wood Finishes

Since you’re refinishing a kitchen table that gets heavy daily use, durability matters. After all, you’re probably going to eat on the table every day, you’ll need to wipe it down every day. You might also drop your keys and bags on the table, use it to prepare food, or use it as an arts and crafts section.

All of these activities take a toll on the finish — so, to get the most bang for your buck, it’s a good idea to pick the most durable finish. Varnish and oil-based poly finishes are the most durable. Tung oil and linseed oil are relatively durable. In general, it’s best to stay away from shellac. Lacquer can be tough, but it tends to take on a yellow color as time goes by.

Location of Your Finishing Area

Many wood finishes are made with strong chemicals. This means that they have intense smells. If you’re working in an area with minimal ventilation, or if the weather won’t allow you to keep doors and windows open, it can affect your choice.

In general, water-based finishes tend to be less potent; they might be the right choice when you have limited air circulation. Ventilation is especially important if you’re using a spray-on finish.

Conclusion

When you’re refinishing a wood kitchen table, the finish you choose matters. By doing your research and choosing the product that’s right for your skill level and project, you can achieve a beautiful finish.

4 thoughts on “Best Finishes for Wood Kitchen Table 2019 – Reviews and Buyer’s Guide”

  1. Hi William,
    I am a novice when it comes to woodworking. I need your advice.
    I have an oldish oak table (10 bucks at a garage sale!), and I want to use it in my kitchen. Kind of “farm house” style. I have sanded, primered and painted. The table is divided into 15 separate squares and each square is painted differently.
    Now, I need to seal it before putting it to use. Imagine lots of heavy use!
    Since I have no experience, I’m hoping you can recommend the best sealer for me. I want a high shine/gloss and excellent durability. I’m ok with some color changing over time.
    Some background about this table and why it’s so important for me to finish it correctly. My Mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s 2 years ago. Before her diagnosis, she painted. Mostly watercolor. She thoroughly enjoyed it and was quite gifted with a brush.
    I bought the table with the hope of helping her paint again. Small squares would allow for her keep focus.
    Sadly, her disease has progressed so rapidly that she can no longer paint (even with my help)and was only able to finish one square. I cherish that square! I have since painted the remaining squares. Only the sides of the table and the legs remain.
    Any guidance you can provide would be appreciated.
    Thank you for your time,
    Kathy

    • Hi, Kathy.

      Sorry for my late reply. I feel sorry for your mom.

      What about sealer, Waterlox is just great for your table but it’s expensive (but it’s worth it). There is Rust-Oleum Shellac which is also suitable for you and much cheaper. Hope this helps.

  2. We just did Dutch pour painting on our heavily used kitchen table. Now what do we put over the art work? It needs to be hard as rock for our kids and not yellow with time. Something to level the surface and fill in highs and lows, then a hard sealer. What do you suggest?

    • Hi there.

      We have a problem here. Most of the finishes on the list are oil-based which means they are extra durable but tend to yellow slightly over time. Yellowing may not happen actually, but it’s hard to predict that. But even if you pick a water-based finish that doesn’t yellow it isn’t so durable as oil-based ones. If you want durable finish just pick General Finishes or Minwax. To get rid of highs and lows sand the surface of the table thoroughly.

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