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 July, 2021
|Finish||Coverage (quart)||Recoat dry (hours)||Sheen|
|1||General Finishes Topcoat |
|100-125 sq ft||12-24||gloss, satin, semi-gloss|
|2||Minwax Fast Drying Poly||125 sq ft||4-6||gloss, satin, semi-gloss|
|3||Varathane Oil Poly||up to 140 sq ft||8-10||gloss, satin, semi-gloss|
|4||General Finishes Enduro-Var||125 -150 sq ft||4||gloss, satin, semi-gloss, flat|
|5||Waterlox Satin Finish||125 sq ft||24||semi-gloss|
|6||Rust-Oleum Polyurethane||up to 50 sq ft||2||gloss, satin, semi-gloss|
|7||Old Masters Gel Poly||175 sq ft||6||satin|
|8||Wood Shield Varnish||150 sq ft||4||semi-gloss|
|9||Valspar Cabot Polyurethane||125 sq ft||4||semi-gloss|
|10||Rust-Oleum Oil-Based||up to 100 sq ft||4||satin, gloss|
|11||Behlen Rockhard Urethane Varnish||up to 140 sq ft||14||satin|
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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 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.
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 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 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.
The Best Of Both Worlds
Like an oil finish, this product gives a rich and dark shine that instantly makes a piece of wood look classy. For antique furniture, this look is often preferred, and it isn’t hard to see why. All trees will naturally contain certain oils that work to keep it healthy. After the tree has been cut down, those oils have to be supplied by you.
Unlike some finishes, this one doesn’t hide the grain of the wood. It remains very visible and dries very hard like a water-based poly product. In fact, some people have complained that this product is too hard to remove, but I think that is a good thing.
This one is kind of thick and tacky, so you won’t have a lot of working time when you start brushing it in place. This ultra-tackiness also seems to negate the self-leveling feature that is advertised, as brush strokes can easily be left on its surface. Dry time is at least two hours, so plan on taking a little bit longer with this one.
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.
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 add a bit of depth and color to unfinished wood. They also protect the wood, making them ideal for kitchen use.
These finishes dry clear, which gives your table a slick, glossy look
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.
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.
Frequently Asked Questions
There are plenty of good oil and wax-based products on the market, and you can certainly use these products to finish a wooden table. Oil and wax-based products offer a way to bring out the natural beauty of the wood without any kind of plastic. They also add a lot of moisture resistance to a wooden table, since oil and wax are hydrophobic.
The application of polyurethane to wood is quite easy, and there are multiple methods. The most common method is to brush it on with a paintbrush. If you go this route, I would recommend a soft foam brush, as it is less likely to leave streaks and other unsightly marks. I would also urge you to make sure that you wait for the recommended amount of time between coats. Otherwise, your bottom coats will never fully dry and may remain cloudy.
If you want to make things easier, you can just get a can of spray-on polyurethane. This tends to be a little more expensive, but its an ideal choice for small tasks. You can just hang the item from a wire and give the whole thing a nice, even spray. Of course, you do have to make sure that you spray evenly to avoid leaving unsightly globs and drips of excess plastic.
Whatever method you choose, the application of a polyurethane layer should always be the last thing you do to the table. This polyurethane top-coat provides the first line of defense against damage, so you don’t have much choice there.
If you want to get the strongest protection for your outdoor table, a wood sealer will need to be applied. The whole purpose of a wood sealer is to penetrate the wood and provide deep protection. This will turn the first inch or so of your wood into a moisture-resistant layer. As good luck would have it, these products are very easy to use.
The first step is to clean the surface of the table. Any little bit of dirt could prevent proper adhesion, so be meticulous here. If the table has any traces of a previous finish, those will also have to go. Depending on the condition of the surface, light sanding might also be in order. In short, you need a smooth, clean surface. If you are going to use a stain, you should use it before applying the sealer.
The next step is to get out your sealer. There are all kinds of wood sealer products on the market, but they all do more or less the same thing. Using a paintbrush, transfer the sealer to the cleaned surface with nice, long strokes. Make sure that you don’t leave any drip marks or streaks as you go, as you don’t want those mistakes to harden in place.
From there, you just have to wait until the sealer dries. Drying time will vary by brand, so consult the label. Sealers do not usually require a second coat, but you can go ahead and do one if you want to be extra thorough.
In most cases, you should definitely put some kind of finish on your wooden table. There are many reasons to do this, but most of it comes down to durability. Uncoated wood won’t last as long as wood that has been treated with a good surface finish. Not only that, but there are obvious advantages when it comes to the beauty of the wood.
In general, wood finishes can be classified as either clear-coats or stains. The main difference is that a clear-coat does not alter the color of the wood while a stain does. If desired, these two options can be combined for a mix of beauty and durability.
A good finish, whether a clear-coat or a stain, gives you a chance to lock out moisture and remove the risk of rot, mold, or mildew. Without water, none of these things can occur, and most finishes will block it very well. For a table, a good top-coating is even more essential because this surface will need to hold up against spills and other accidents.
This is not a case in which one choice will be perfect for everyone. We all have different preferences when it comes to appearance, so the key is to go with whatever pleases you. Overall, smooth and glossy finishes are more popular for tables. Most tasks for which a table is used can be done better with a perfectly smooth surface.
As a first step, decide if you want to alter the natural look of the wood. If so, you will want to use a stain of some sort, and you might also choose an oil-based finish to darken the wood while giving it a rich shine. If not, your wood sealer and/or polyurethane top-coat should bring out the grain very nicely without changing the natural appearance in any major way.
If we had to pick one option as the best, I would recommend an oil-based polyurethane product. This will provide the desired level of smoothness while also giving the most long-lasting finish. A table will normally see a lot of hard use, and many different things might be spilled on its surface. Thus, you need to go with the heavy-duty stuff here.
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.
Got a question on a finishing project – feel free to ask us, we’re here for you!