Natural Looking Bartop Finish

This article was inspired by a question from Doug. He writes:

“I am building a bar top from 8/4 Walnut for my son’s new home, and he wants to have a very natural finish on it – no film finish allowed. My first thought was to use BLO, but some research has led me to think that Pure Tung Oil might provide better protection. Is Pure Tung Oil a better option than BLO for an open grained wood like Walnut?”

Tung Oil and BLO

When it comes to protection, boiled linseed oil (BLO) and pure tung oil are pretty similar. One important thing they have in common is that neither one offers a great deal of protection. If you have to choose between the two, I would say to go for the BLO since its cheaper. BLO does is said to “yellow” a little more over time when compared to tung oil, but that is a moot point with respect to walnut.

Now obviously your son is the boss here, right? But indulge me while I make a small suggestion. An pure oil finish will certainly be better than nothing at all, but for a bartop, your son might regret this decision after the first few spills. I can totally understand why he doesn’t want a film finish though. Personally, I hate the look of those super thick bartop finishes (epoxy). If someone wants that much protection, they should just put down a piece of glass or simply use something other than wood (can you smell the contempt? hehe). But keep in mind this isn’t an all or none proposition and you can achieve a compromise between the highly protective plastic look and the barely protected natural look.

The Oil/Varnish Compromise

So my suggestion would be to try to achieve the best of both worlds. Give the bar top a very natural-looking finish, while imparting a great deal more protection than what you would receive from an oil alone. There are a few products on the market today that contain oil and varnish together, like Watco Danish Oil. Because there is so much oil in the mix, you would have to put on about 4 or 5 coats before you really start to get an appreciable film. However, if you apply 2-3 coats, the wood will retain the natural look while protecting the surface with at least some varnish. If you go with a matte or satin formulas, I think your son will be even happier with the end result as it won’t have the eye-glaring reflective qualities of a typical gloss concoction.

One of the great advantages to using an oil/varnish blend is you can monitor the surface after each coat and simply stop when you have the look you want. Dilute the mix with mineral spirits if you want even more fine control. Also keep in mind that you can actually make your own oil/varnish blend by mixing 1/3 mineral spirits, 1/3 BLO (or tung oil), and 1/3 polyurethane.

Either way, make sure you sand lightly between coats to keep the finish nice and smooth. After the final coat, either sand with 1200 grit paper or buff with 0000 steel wool. The wood will not only look natural, but will easily repel the occasional spill.

Related Resources:

Oil Finish Basics (Video)
Make Your Own Oil/Varnish Blend

Category: Finishing

Comments

  1. Mike December 13, 2006

    Now that is some great advise. I think your spot on suggesting Watco or Waterlox. I have one further suggestion for Doug. Get three pieces of scrap and go through the entire finishing process with BLO, Watco(or Waterlox) as reccomended, and Poly(which will be rejected). Have your son pick the finish he wants after a few tests of glass rings, scratches and beer spills. It might change his mind.

  2. Tim November 26, 2007

    I am working on a similar project, so it’s really great that I found this discussion. In my case, I am working with 8/4 Sapele and the finished product is destined for the butler’s pantry. I plan to make the occasional sandwich on it and am wondering if the finish suggestions are the same. I still don’t want a plastic film finish, but require a food-safe surface and don’t know if tung oil or BLO is food safe. Someone had recommended mineral oil over a couple coats of shellac. Any thoughts?

    • giles July 17, 2014

      once the oil is dry it is perfectly safe as a food surface.

  3.  

    Hey Tim. I probably wouldn’t use BLO or tung oil alone on a food surface. I prefer film finishes or simply mineral oil. Now there is no reason at all to apply mineral oil over a shellac surface. The oil will never absorb and the surface will just be oily all the time. So if you are looking for a decent finish that doesnt look to plasticy, then the above recommendation would be perfectly find for your project.

  4. beth February 9, 2008

    I am having my Contractor build a bar out of reclaimed bar walls form an English Pub. I am not sure and he has admitted that he has never build a bar so him and my husband are experimenting. However, I want a wood top for both the prep area (lower) and service area (upper). Any suggestions on how to build the bar top? Please help!

  5.  

    Hi Beth. There are so many ways a bartop can be built and the materials are just as varied. I would start by doing a Google search for bartop construction. If you are looking to build a lamination of solid wood, it is really all the same principals behind building a cutting board. Just bigger. :)

    I just did a little Googling myself and there are a number of resources that show the construction of a bar, so you should have no trouble getting good ideas.

    If you have any specific questions going forward, please feel free to email me.

    • Tom Ackerman June 2, 2012

      Wood Whisperer: I have a 2 inch slab of pine I am using for an outdoor, summer only bar. It will be covered with a Tiki canopy. I have decided to go with a two part epoxy for durability. I have read that the UV could be a problem, but with the canopy, think that’s my best option. Would you put a conditioner on first, to maybe bring out the grain a little more? If I stained it, you think the color would hold up better under the sun? Any other suggestions for an outdoor wood bar top.

      Looking forward to my first Tiki party.
      Tom.

      •  

        I think you’re probably going in a good direction here. If you stain, there will certainly be some fading over time. So I would avoid staining if you can just for the sake of simplicity. You could always go with an outdoor varnish with UV protection as an alternative to the epoxy.

        I don’t think you necessarily need any wood conditioners either. It really do anything for you unless you plan on staining.

  6. Steve August 28, 2008

    I’m building a breakfast bar in my kitchen and am using a piece of 3 inch sawn oak that I’ve finished on one side. Based on what I’d read here I used danish oil as a finish, and could not be more pleased with the results. However, since I’m using it on a breakfast bar which will undoubtedly have juice and the like spilled on it, I’m wondering if I need to do more to protect the surface? Polyurethane perhaps???

    Any advice would be greatly appreciated. I’ve spent a good deal of time, and take great care with this piece of wood and would hate to have it ruined when my 3 yr old daughter spills orange juice on it the first time.

    Thank you in advance for any assistance.

    Steve

  7.  

    Hey Steve. While most Danish oils contain a varnish component, it may not be quite enough for something that will be as abused as a breakfast bar. I would probably go with a straight varnish at this point. General Finishes Arm-R-Seal or Behlen’s Rock Hard would both be good options. Now you don’t need to drop down several thick layers. But a good coat or two will make a huge difference in the moisture/abrasion resistance of the top.

    One thing you mentioned that does concern me a bit is that you finished one side. Not sure if you have plans on finishing the other side, but I would definitely recommend it. Its a good idea to treat both sides the same in order to keep things in balance. Otherwise, you increase your chances of warping. Good luck!

  8. Bill Grimes September 19, 2008

    I have bought a Black Walnut slab its from the tree its about 2 in thick … 10 ft long an langes from 24 in to 21 in wide. It has been dryed and sanded .. it has some of the natural bark .. I’m going to use this in a log home. I want to keep the rustic look . How should I prepare it for use as a bar top for eating or drinking off of.

  9.  

    Hey Bill. Much of my advice for the original question above applies to you as well. In fact, I would offer the exact same advice. The natural bark might be a little tricky as it will tend to want to fall off. So you might do something like reinforce it with some CA glue. But other than that, I would give you the exact same advice as above.

  10. bob January 4, 2009

    what about a hardwood floor that has gaps between the slats and i would like to fill them? looking for a good clear finish. was thinking about bar top finish.

    •  

      Hey Bob. Although a bartop finish would not be all that bad for a floor (both need a lot of protection), I wouldn’t necessarily try to fill all those gaps. Many floors develop gaps because of expansion and contraction of the wood itself. Do you find that the gaps sometimes close up during the more humid parts of the year? If so, I would say they are better left alone. If you close up that gap with a filler, it will most likely just crack and pop out when the wood decides to move again. That’s really my best guess without seeing it myself.

  11. bob January 4, 2009

    thank you for your prompt reply. when the floor was put down the boards could have been tighter i have gaps from 1/16″ to 1/8″ not to bad but would like to seal. gaps not caused by weather. good call i would have thought the same thing. just thought a clear finish that could fill the small gaps and give me a smooth satin finish.

  12. bob January 4, 2009

    cool, you are the man! you made this real easy. the response time was great. thank you.

  13. derek June 17, 2009

    i want to resurface my club bar, at the moment it is wood stained and varnished but the varnis is beginning to peel and bubble, any suggestions to the best way to deal with this

    •  
      thewoodwhisperer June 17, 2009

      Once a varnished surface starts to peel and bubble, the best solution is a strip and refinish. Its going to be quite a bit of work, but varnish isn’t really “repairable”. You might be tempted to simply sand and recoat it. That could work, but many times you are just putting a bandaid on the problem instead of fixing it completely.

      • derek June 17, 2009

        what are the best products to strip it and then refinish it thanks again derek

        •  
          thewoodwhisperer June 17, 2009

          That’s actually a matter of opinion, since what’s “best” for me may not be ideal for others. The stuff that works the best happens to be very nasty to deal with. Its an incredibly dangerous chemical but it sure does dissolve finish fast. The safer and more environmentally friendly solutions still work pretty well, but they take a long time to do their job. I have been using Jasco Green Strip lately.

          And for the new topcoat, that again is a matter of opinion and what you are looking for. I would probably use a marine varnish like Epifanes for a thick durable finish.

        • Chris L. December 14, 2009

          I recently finished a bar top with many coates of helmsman spar urethane (purchased before seeing this site). I put that last coat (about a film finish’s worth) on about a week ago and the finish still seems quite soft (can leave fingernail marks without effort). Will it eventually get hard or should I think about putting a polyurethane over the top to make a harder shell? Thanks so much for your insight!

        •  
          thewoodwhisperer December 15, 2009

          Hey Chris. I would give it a few weeks to come up to its full hardness. But it will probably never be as hard as a standard poly. Part of what makes spar urethane so useful on outdoor projects is its ability to flex. So there will be a little more flexibility to the finish. But give it a few weeks before making that judgment call.

        • Jimmy September 3, 2012

          I am going to try to finish two cherry bar tops for my basement. They both have live edges with bark , just wondering how long they need to dry out and what kind of finish for duriability and to bring out the look of the grain. I would also like it to have a good shine. Thank You

        •  

          You might want to check with a moisture meter, but air-dried wood is usually given about a year per inch of thickness for dry time. As for the finish, there are lots of finishes that work. Epoxy and poly being most common for bars.

  14. Dave KLein February 20, 2010

    I just picked up a slab of 2″ Poplar about 12″ long that i am going to use for a breakfast bar that has such incredible grain and beautiful inclusions and splits from the drying process. I would like to fill and stabilize the cracks and inclusions before i finish the top as described above. any suggestions

    •  
      thewoodwhisperer February 20, 2010

      Epoxy with a little dye added makes a great filler for knots and inclusions. It will stabilize the area and tends to look like natural resin.

      • Dave Klein February 22, 2010

        Thank you Any recommendations on the epoxy? I was thinking of leaving it clear to enhance the depth of the inclusions and cracks…any thoughts on that?

        •  
          thewoodwhisperer February 22, 2010

          Really any epoxy will do the trick. I use West System. And you can definitely go clear. I just prefer the look when there is dye added. Looks more “natural” to me.

  15. Susan March 17, 2010

    I currently have an oak breakfast table with a bar top finish. I’ve had this table for about 20 years and love it, but am changing styles and need a new table. I would love to find another table with a bar top finish, but not having much luck, so I thought I could purchase a dining table and just coat it with a bar top finish myself. Any suggestions? Thanks!

    •  
      thewoodwhisperer March 17, 2010

      Hi Susan. You should be able to do this if you want. Just about any finish will bind to just about any other finish, assuming it is fully cured. So if you give the new piece a light sanding with 220 grit to roughen up the surface, you should be able to proceed with whatever topcoat you desire.

  16. William May 4, 2010

    I’ve turned several bar utensils on the lathe such as a set of walnut shot glasses and a few goblets. What would make the most durable finish and protect against swelling? Although I won’t use them every week they could get used 15-20 times a year. Thanks!

    •  
      thewoodwhisperer May 4, 2010

      Since these things are going to hold liquids, you really have an uphill battle on your hands. With enough use, just about any finish will eventually give in. I might be tempted to use a salad bowl finish for these items. Its essentially a varnish that should block liquids from absorbing into the wood. Just be sure to let those items cure for a month or two before using. And keep an eye on them as you might need to sand and recoat them once in a while.

  17. doug November 22, 2010

    I am making a hickory table with several routed designs in the top. Will the Watco danish oil fill those routes for a smooth surface?

    •  

      Hey Doug. If you are looking to fill the pores, the Watco alone really won’t do the trick. You can always try sanding the Watco into the surface, creating a slurry of wood dust and finish. That can at least partially fill the pores but its really not the most effective method. Now if you really just want a smooth surface but you’re not worried about the pores, then yes, Watco can produce a smooth finish.

  18. Mike January 6, 2011

    I cut yellow pine on a sawmill for a bar top. I don’t want the thick look what do you recommend for a natural look and also alcohol spill proof?

  19. My husband build a fireplace surround (gas fireplace, tiled around opening) from black walnut that grew on our property. Wood was rough-sawn into lumber and left to season indoors for years. He designed, planed, jointed, and built a beautiful mantle and surround.

    I finished each piece as it was made with 100% tung oil before it was installed. Rubbed on by hand, wiped off, left for 24 hours before next coat, less oil applied each subsequent time. Four coats in all.

    It’s a month later and some areas where the grain is especially dense (where a branch originally grew for example) have a white frosting. I tried some mineral spirits and it helped but didn’t make it go away.

    Help! What do I do? Can you suggest another solvent? If yes, apply it with a rag? Would a thin film of Danish oil make the frosting disappear or would it make things worse?

    Sanding it back to bare wood would be a major undertaking. I’m so discouraged – here we thought we were doing “the best” with 100% tung oil and now I think it was the wrong thing to do.

    Thanks in advance for your advice.

    •  

      Hi Judy. Sorry to hear about the trouble you are experiencing. But all is not lost. Its hard for me to know for sure what’s going on without inspecting the piece myself, but I have seen oiled furniture with slightly hazy areas where the grain does something interesting or where there’s a knot. Now I do think a light coat of Danish oil would probably take care of it. Give the piece a light sanding, then wipe off the dust with a rag lightly dampened with mineral spirits. Then apply a light coat of Danish oil and remove the excess. One coat could very well make the difference. The reason is because Danish oil actually contains some varnish, which will leave a thin protective film on the surface.

      Now just to be clear, “the best” is a very relative term. Tung oil is indeed one of the best oils out there. But is it the best finish? Not even close (in my opinion). It doesn’t offer a great deal of protection but it does offer a very close to the wood look. A very natural look, if you will. But Danish oil is a nice compromise because it gives you more protection, without completely sacrificing the natural look you like. And frankly, I think your mantle will be FAR better off in the long run with a high quality Danish oil finish, than with simply oil alone.

  20. Amber February 1, 2011

    My husband and I just had a custom bar built out of Alder. Not being experienced with wood at all we didn’t realize how soft this is. We had asked the contractor to put a special coating on the top to ensure it would be protected however I am not sure that what was done is really what is needed. Overall the finish is very natural looking and really just looks like a professional cabinet job. Problem is the top is showing every little scratch, ding, etc. Can you provide a good recommendation for what we can apply to the top to provide a strong protection without having that thick glossy finish? Thanks!

    •  

      Hi Amber. You can always apply a varnish to the surface and finish it off with a couple coats of satin. That will give you good protection without being super glossy. One question I have for you though is are these scratches in the wood or in the existing finish. Its hard to say for sure whether you can simply topcoat with a new finish, without knowing more about what’s on there right now.

      • Amber February 4, 2011

        The scratches are not in the finish they are actually grooves in the wood itself. The wood is so soft that running anything over the surface top creates a little indentation. The contractor previously stated they put several coats of finish on the top surface that was geared toward protecting the finish from alcohol. It was a two part mix. The surface looks no different than the sides and trim work so whatever the coating is it isn’t thick. I would like to put something on the surface that will keep that wood from denting in just from everyday use. I appreciate your response and look forward to the next installment. Thank you for taking the time.

        •  

          Hmm…the 2-part mix leads me to believe its epoxy. But epoxy is very thick, which doesn’t gel with what you’ve already told me. Well, one thing you can do is lightly sand the surface with 320 grit paper, and start applying a few coats of a varnish. Even something as simple as Minwax Wipe-on poly will do the trick. Sounds like you definitely need more of a film to protect the wood. I have worked with Alder extensively in the past and it is awfully soft.

        • Jonathan January 29, 2012

          For some reason I couldn’t reply to Mark’s reply, but the “two part” business mixed with the cabinet shop comment makes me think they just put a catalyzed lacquer on it.

  21. Tim March 11, 2011

    I just bought a 1908 general store that I will be using as a home. The front room has the the original general store counter, cabinets, and shelves. I would like to use the counter area as a bar. The counter is wood and appears to have very little finish to it. Would you recommend the oil/varnish mix mentioned here for my situation?

  22. Nancy Piasecki April 13, 2011

    I have a slab of white pine (3″ thick,8′ long,17″wide) that I’m going to use for a breakfast bar/bar top. It will be in our lake home that I rent out part of the year so I need it to have a durable finish but like others, don’t want the thick glossy look.I was going to use the Watco Danish Oil (3 coats) satin finish topped with Arm-R-Seal – oil&urethane topcoat- (2 coats) satin per your recommendations to others but here’s my concern. I don’t want it to have the amber color that certain finish products can have. Do I need to be concerned with a yellow cast being left by theses products? If so can you recommend something that’s durable but doesn’t leave a yellow cast? How about Sikkens: Cetol Interior? I know it’s discontinued but I can still get a gal.I’d like the bar top to blend in with the natural maple floor which is finished with Basic Coating’s Emulsion which just slightly toned down the whiteness of the maple. Your advice will be greatly appreciated since we’re in a bit of a time crunch.

    •  

      Hey Nancy. Generally speaking, any oil-based finish is going to amber the wood to some extent and it will become more prominent over time. There are some finishes that do not yellow over time and they are typically referred to as “water white”. There are various lacquers and water-based finishes that fit into this class. But all of these finishes are film-forming. So by the time you build up a substantial finish, you will certainly have a “unnatural-looking” finish.

      I haven’t ever really used Sikkens but this yellowing issues is usually consistent across the board. A good rule of thumb is oil-based yellows and water-based doesn’t.

  23. Tina April 28, 2011

    We are putting in a Lyptus bar between our living room & kitchen. It is going to get a lot of food & beverage use. We want enough protection so we don’t have to be worried about glass rings or spills, but don’t want to use anything too toxic either. Any suggestions?

    •  

      Hey Tina. If toxicity is a concern, keep in mind its only a temporary thing. Once the finish is cured, its perfectly safe. So you can use the finish recommended in this article. Other than that, you can use a water-based poly instead. It will develop a film quickly, dries fast, and is less toxic. But not everyone likes the way water-based finishes look.

  24. Neil May 4, 2011

    Check out this bar top finish, about 10 months ago I did a commercial mahogany bar top in NYC and it still looks new. Sutherland Wells has many excellent tung oil finishes and is a small company run out of Vermont. I have used many of their products and they seem to have the highest solids contents of any Tung oil I have used. It’s not cheap but give it a try, you won’t be disapointed.

    http://www.sutherlandwelles.co.....table-top/

  25. john May 10, 2011

    i am building a bar that will be outside in warm dry climate lots of exotic woods on countertop it will be under roof but exposed to some sun particulkarly afternoon
    what finish would you recommend

  26. john May 10, 2011

    just to add to my last question the woods i am using are a mixture of bocote rosewood chechum leopardwood bloodwood wenge and walnut i know that sounds a little crazy but it is what it is

    •  

      There are many finishes that will work for that situation. I can’t really recommend just one. I would suggest first deciding what king of look you want, then seeing how you might be able to get a protective finish that provides that particular look. When it comes to finishing, there is never really one right answer.

  27. john May 11, 2011

    the wood is beautiful so i kind of want to keep a natural look showing the grains and patterns, but yet protect the wood i am thinking of a marine varnish type material would that do any harm to any of the woods i am using? and what brand would you suggest?
    is it possible to use a oil type finish, let dry completely then protecitve finish with slight sheen over that?
    thanks

    •  

      Well you have some naturally oily woods there. So any oil-based finish is going to have trouble drying. So I would recommend giving the wood a nice coat of dewaxed shellac first to seal off the oils. Then add a couple coats of a marine varnish. Epifanes is my preferred brand. This will protect the wood nicely and will help accent the grain. But its far from what I would call a “natural” looking finish. You’ll have a nice protective film on the wood.

  28. john May 12, 2011

    thanks so much for the info is there any particular brand of dewzxed shellac you recomment also should i get the flakes or pre-mixed liquid

  29. Ken May 17, 2011

    I’m making a bar top to match other wood in the room. The wood is hickory and is stained. The finish on the other wood is stained, a coat of varnish and sanded, then a coat of brown glaze, and lastly a coat of varnish. I want to use the glaze on the top so it matches. What finish should I use that will fill the wood pores, provide a good protective surface, and work with the glaze.

  30.  

    Any oil-based varnish should work. Although I wouldn’t coun’t on it filling the pores. You should use a wood filler for that if you can work that into your regimen. Timbermate is a personal favorite of mine.

  31. kathy June 25, 2011

    I have an old table and chairs that I would like to refinish. The wood is oak and has water stains on the top. I would like to sand down the finish and then put on a light stain and finish. Any suggestion on how to achieve a finish that will withstand teenagers and water rings from glasses left on the table. I am looking for a finish that will not yellow and be durable. Any suggestions of brands of products would be appreciated.

    •  

      Hi Kathy. One of the most durable finishes we have access to is a simple oil-based polyurethane. And although all oil finishes will yellow to some extent over time, you may never even notice it on a wood like oak. And unless you put the finish on real thick, the only color effect you’ll see is the beautiful warm ambering that oil-based finishes bring. If you want what they call a “water white” finish, which has no color at all, you will probably be best off using a water-based finish like EnduroVar. Keep in mind these water-based finishes are a little more difficult to apply by hand, although it can certainly be done. My personal preference is to spray them since they dry so quickly. But EnduroVar is pretty durable stuff.

  32. Alfa July 24, 2011

    Marc, I really like your You Tube videos – very informative and very well produced. I’m trying to build a kitchen slab using reclaimed douglas fir timbers. Splinter management, crevice control and mainly maintaining the original gray look are issues I’m dealing with. Not sure what finish to use because we want to keep the original look but also need major water resistance for the toddlers. The glossy bar top finish is not a look we want.
    Here is a pic of the timbers I’m using:
    http://www.trestlewood.com/photo/1938/
    Thanks!

    •  

      Hi Alfa. Generally speaking, the most durable finishes (oils/epoxies) are going to cause a natural ambering of the wood.That may or may not be what you’re looking for. From what you describe though, my guess is no. So what I might recommend is looking into an exterior-grade water-based finish. Something like General Finishes Exterior 450: http://www.rockler.com/product.....;sid=AFN86

      Water-based finishes don’t really yellow over time and don’t add much in the way of amber color at all.

  33. Clark July 29, 2011

    My husband and I are attempting to build a bar but neither of us know much about wood. We bought 3/4″ blondewood from Lowes, it looks good to both of us, but as I said before, what do we know. We planned on using this for the bar top, but now I’m worried that it won’t finish nicely. Any ideas?

    •  

      Ideas on what specifically? What exactly are your concerns? Just remember that you should always try a finish out on scrap so you don’t have to play a guessing game when it comes to the finishes you choose.

  34. Mike August 9, 2011

    Hello. I just finished building my first bar, and to save money i used a large sheet of half inch plywood for my top and applied laminate to give the look of stained wood, while using 2″ stained dowel surrounding the outside edges. The overhang is not very much, only about 5 inches or so. Should i be worried about the top bring made out of such a thin peice of wood? It seems stable when resting my arms on the edges but i have yet to start using it heavily

    •  

      Well I think its a matter of opinion. With only a 5″ overhang I’m sure it will be stable, as long as its secured to the base. But would I design a bar using something for my top? Probably not. I prefer to have a more substantial top for not just stability but also appearance. So that’s where the whole personal taste factor comes into play.

  35. Donna Owen August 10, 2011

    Hi, We are updating and repairing the kitchen at our church. It has a wide and very long solid wood table in the middle. We use it to prepare meals on but we do not use it as a butcher block. No food comes in contact with it. But, since it is so old, no one can remember what finish was put on it. But it must be redone. The finish is missing is some areas and is gummie feeling, very sticky, but thick in other areas, if that makes sense.
    How should we go about getting the thick sticky finish off and what would be a good product to put a clear and protective finish on it? Thank you in advance.

    •  

      Hi Donna. It sounds like you need a hard-wearing surface that can withstand some chemical cleaning as well. So I might recommend a pourable epoxy (if you want to get that deep into it). As perhaps an easier compromise, a standard polyurethane would give you a nice protective clear coat.

      As for the current finish, I might try scraping the old finish off just to remove as much as possible. I like to avoid chemical strippers when possible. But if the finish is really thick and gummy, you might have no choice. There are several chemical strippers available at the home centers and frankly they all work. The more environmentally friendly ones take longer but they are a lot less caustic. Regardless, be sure to read the instructions and safety warnings and prepare to make a mess. It creates a sludge of waste that you’ll need to dispose of. Once the finish is completely removed, you can sand the surface to make it look nice and consistent and remove any remaining traces of the old finish. From that point, you can simply add your topcoat of choice.

  36. neal August 25, 2011

    hi,i am in a dilemma and happened across your sight.i thought you might could help.i recently aquired an old woodworkers bench from my deceased father in law’s old shop.im using the top to make an island for our kitchen.its very old and heavy.about 3 inches thick 10 feet long heart pine.it was painted and full of nail holes,dents,and cracks some of which are deep.its very rustic looking and i would like to keep it that way.i had it sandblasted to get it back to natural wood.i have experimented with various finishes,poliurethane,2 part epoxy,and bar top epoxy.the bar top epoxy works best for filling the holes and cracks but i hate the thick shiny look.i even thought about just buying thick glass but my wife didnt like that idea.since its gonna be an island there will be food around so i want it to be as smooth as possible although we use cutting boards for food prep we dont want crumbs falling in cracks.thats why i liked the bar top epoxy for filling holes.there are a lot of tiny nail holes and i didnt really want to use a wood filler unless it could be poured.also everything i have used has really darkened the wood so i would like to use something that is as clear as possible but a natural look.thanks for all your help,neal.

  37. Neal August 27, 2011

    Thanks for getting back so soon but I still have a couple of questions. I noticed in one of the above comments you talked about filling cracks with epoxy but you put die in it and that made it look more natural. What type of die and where can I get it.you also mentioned that I should fill the crack and nail holes with the bartop epoxy then I could sand it smooth and put the other finish u had mentioned above and not have the shiny look.my question is would you be able to see the sandmarks from the sander or do they disappear with the applicationof the poly oil finish.

    •  

      Hey Neal. I like to use Transtint for tinting epoxy: http://www.rockler.com/product.....;sid=AFN86
      Anything in the brown family will do the trick. And as long as you sand evenly and up to either 180 or 220 grit, sanding marks will not be visible. So be careful with your sanding technique and you should be fine.

      • Derek August 28, 2011

        Hello, WW! This thread has been extremely useful as I’ve been fashioning my first bartop. For several reasons, I have made it out of a solid piece of redwood, even knowing how soft that species is. After shaping, I applied several coats of Watco – I love Watco, the way is applies and the way it looks. However, I knew I needed more durability, so I’ve now added 5 coats of 75%/25% polyu/spirits. I’ve been wet sanding with 400 between coats. It’s very smooth, and basically looks good (a little on the plastic side, but acceptable). Now I need to really get the final finish. After the 400, the surface, while smooth, looks dull. I tried rubbing some Watco on, but it didn’t seem to “stick.” Should I just start wet sanding with progressively finer grits? How high? 1500? Should I apply some sort of wax? I don’t want the wet look, but I do want some luster and I want the grain to pop from all angles, not just straight on. Thanks very, very much. Great website.

        •  

          Hey Derek. The ideal thing would have been for you to use maybe 1500 or 2000 grit right after the final coat. The finish naturally starts out as gloss and all you need to do is take it down to the proper sheen in one shot. But now that you’re down to 400, you will need to work your way back up to maybe 1000 or 2000. Hard to say for sure. The easiest thing to do though would be to add one more final coat of your poly. But obviously if its already looking too thick, that’s not going to be a very good option.

          So I’d say wet sand with 1000 and see how it looks. If its still too dull, wet sand with 1500 and see what you think. Keep moving up until you have the look you want. Beyond 2000, you’ll need to get into polishing compounds.

  38. Derek August 28, 2011

    Got it. Thank you very, very much.

  39. Aubrey September 1, 2011

    I have a large oak farmhouse style dinning table, it has grooves between planks that collect TONS of stuff from normal use. The finish is sticky now and anything set on it that is soft (hot pads, paper plates, magazines) stick to it horribly. I would like to fill the grooves so that nothing gets in them anymore. and put a finish on that will be protective. It gets a lot of heavy use with my large family. I had purchased bar top epoxy to do this but am concerned that it says “high gloss” I would rather have a matte look. Should I use the bar top and then sand it or use steel wool? Could I fill the grooves sand them and then and then refinish? I dont want to put in a wood filler because it would alter the look of the table a great deal… it would probably look striped. Thanks!

    •  

      Hi Aubrey. If you fill the grooves and then use a regular finish, you will probably not like the way it looks. That is unless you put on enough coats to build a really thick film. Even then it might look a little odd. So the epoxy is probably your best bet. Now I can’t say I have ever tried to scuff up epoxy enough to give it a matte appearance but I can’t see why it wouldn’t work. Give it a good week to cure and then hit it with some 0000 steel wool. Use a lubricant like mineral oil and you should be able to get a clean and consistent matte look. You also might try this on a small test board just so you can see what you’re up against ahead of time.

  40. Jeff October 11, 2011

    I put four coats of General Finishes Arm-R-Seal (ARS) Oil & Urethane Topcoat on the underside of a large, 2.5″ thick spalted maple table. For the table’s top I plan on applying several coats of Watco Danish Oil (natural) followed by the aforesaid ARS. My two questions are:

    1. Will there be a noticeable difference in the appearance of the grain if I use the Watco before the ARS? The ARS alone seems to bring out the wood’s figure and detail quite nicely already and I wonder if applying Watco is an unnecessary step.

    2. If I apply only ARS to the bottom and a Watco/ARS application to the top, will the different application methods increase the chances for the table to warp?

    •  

      Hey Jeff.
      1. Not in my opinion. Both are oil-based products and will add a similar amber hue. So adding the Danish Oil only slows you down and acts as a redundancy.
      2. Probably not, as long as you end up with a similar film thickness on both sides. Even if they aren’t the same, that certainly isn’t a guarantee of warpage. But as we discussed above, skip the Danish Oil and you won’t have to even think about it. :)

      Good luck with the project!

  41. Jeff October 12, 2011

    Thank you for the quick response! I will take your advice.

    A couple more questions…what’s your opinion on ARS? Should I have initially applied something other than this product to enhance the wood’s grain & figure? I’ve seen more techniques and opinions offered on woodworking sites/blogs than I can count and am wondering your take on the subject. Thanks again.

    Jeff

    •  

      I don’t really see a need to do anything else if you’re looking for a natural clear coat. Arm-R-Seal does it all. Adding anything else to the mix just slows you down and further complicates things.

  42. Scott October 16, 2011

    Great discussions, very helpful. I just picked up a 3″ thick slab of redwood for a bar top and could use some suggestions. I’m not a fan of thick epoxy, but I need something extremely durable since it is a softer wood and I’d like it to be low maintenance in the long run. The slab is rough cut now, but reasonably flat. Should I find a shop that can run it through a planer first or just have at it with a hand sander? I’m more of a wood butcher than a wood whisperer, what are some pitfalls of doing this myself? Also, should I have the slab mounted in place before finishing or can I do it beforehand? In one of the other discussions you mentioned finishing both sides to balance things out and help avoid warping. I guess it would be hard to finish the underside when it’s mounted. Cheers!

    •  

      I would finish before-hand if possible. Should be much easier. As for milling the slab….that’s something I can’t really answer for you. The downside is simply making a mistake or damaging the slab. So i can’t really tell you if you can do it yourself or not. But if you have doubts and you feel like you won’t be able to safely do the operation, then I’d say definitely take it to someone for milling.

      As for the finish, you can always go with a straight varnish. You can apply it so it doesn’t get quite as thick as an epoxy surface, but still offers a great deal of protection. You will have a film though. That just comes with the territory. Take a look at Behlens Rock Hard Table Top Varnish.

      • Scott October 16, 2011

        Thanks! I went at it with my sander on an underside area and it doesn’t look like I’ll need mill work, it’s pretty flat. What can you tell me about the product you’ve recommended? Of course, I want the best of both worlds, durability and longevity.
        Cheers, Scott

  43. chris October 19, 2011

    Having my contractor finish our bar in my basement and am looking for the “pub” effect (and something unique), but without using prebuilt cabinets … I’m relying on the creativity and carpentry skills of my contractor. Do you have any ideas on best types of wood to use, especially that finish, trim, and stain out well. Also, ideas on style (how to) finish would be appreciated. We’re leaning towards a traditional wainscott and paneled finish, but aren’t confident in what teh finish will look like. Thanks for the help.

    •  

      Hey Chris. This kind of thing is a little out of my jurisdiction. Things like wood choice, stains, and overall style are very personal choices based on your house’s architecture and your tastes. Its very hard to make a recommendation without knowing a LOT more about your situation. Kind of like me deciding what you should eat for dinner tonight. Pad Thai sounds good if you are looking for a recommendation. :)

  44. bryan November 1, 2011

    i want to do an inexpensive wood countertop for my kitchen remodel. i’m new to woodworking and fairly ignorant, but enjoy trying new projects and learning, so please bear with me. i found a bunch of old 3/4″ thick boards in my grandparent’s barn. some are real clean and some are kind of distressed looking, but i like the variety. they seem to be pretty straight an dry. i have laminate in place now. my idea is to remove the top layer, leaving the wood core of the laminate in place as my base. then attach the boards with screws(or nails?), stain it, and finish with a bar top resin. i won’t be setting hot pots or cutting on the surface, but i have a 6 yr old and i need a fairly durable surface. i prefer the look to be more natural but i don’t necessarily mind the smooth bar-type finish if it’s more practical for everyday living(spills, doing homework on, ect.). is this a bad idea or will my plan work? is resin the best choice for a smooth durable finish? and do you have any suggestions? thank you so much for your time!

  45.  

    Hey Bryan. As long as you allow for wood movement, this can certainly work. And as for the finish, the smooth bar top finish would indeed be the most durable in terms of abrasion and spills. You can also probably get away with using a varnish like General Finishes Arm R Seal or Behlens Tabletop Varnish.

    • bryan November 16, 2011

      thanks! so do i just need a gap at the edges of the countertop to allow for expansion or do i need to leave a little room between boards also? if so will the resin still level out the gaps or do i fill them with something? and earlier in the article you wrote to someone that they should finish both sides to reduce the chance of warping… does that apply to my situation too? should i just throw a coat of stain on the underside of the boards before i screw them down?
      thank you so much for all your help!!

      •  

        You definitely need to allow for expansion. I wouldn’t necessarily make gaps between the boards though. Just make sure the top can move a little at the front and back and it will move as one unit. So no need to worry about filling gaps. As for finishing the underside, conventional wisdom says great both sides equally. I think as long as you seal the underside with a couple coats of a polyurethane, you should be fine.

  46. Christina November 8, 2011

    We recently built a pine bar finished with stain and varathane at our restaurant. Within a couple of months we found that there was a sticky residue left on the surface. Have we put on the wrong finish? Is there something that can be done to correct it. We need the surface to hold up to clean ups from spills with detergents/sanitizers.

    •  

      Hi Christina. Most bar tops I have seen in restaurants use a poured epoxy finish. I think the epoxy is going to be a little more durable over time especially with routine cleanings. There aren’t many finishes that will withstand constant cleaning like that but epoxy seems to be able to take the punishment. That said, I have yet to fine a well-used wooden bar that wasn’t just a little “sticky”. So its hard to say how much of an improvement you would have with a different product.

  47. John November 29, 2011

    I decided to take a 100 year old pine tongue and groove plank door with a z brace and make it into a table (complete with restored hardware). Apparently, sanding the door down and not getting it finished right away was a bad idea, as it started to cup and gap slightly. I’ve stabilized it and intend to use a bar top coating on it. You suggested to others on this thread the possibility of using epoxy to fill the gaps between planks. Can I do this in this application, and is filling the gaps a separate step, or do I just flood them when I do the table top? I am a relative novice at this.

    •  

      Well if the gaps are there for expansion, you really don’t want to fill them. So I don’t want to recommend that without knowing for sure. If they are decorative, you can certainly fill them with epoxy all in one step. That is assuming the epoxy doesn’t run off in a crack or something. Kinda just like filling a swimming pool. ;)

  48. John November 30, 2011

    Thanks. Is it safe to say I would get less movement out of century old wood?

  49. Michael December 12, 2011

    So I am making a coffee table. More or less my first foray into furniture building. I am trying to covered the surface with bottle caps and then fill in and over the bottle caps with some sort of gloss/epoxy to make the surface of the table. I have a couple questions about that however. I have to fill somewhere between 3/8″ and 1/2″ to fully cover all of the bottle caps. What would be the best product for this? I have seen several epoxies and whatnot but as I said, this is my first attempt at anything like this. Please advise.

  50. Justin December 13, 2011

    hi woodwhisperer,

    I build Beverage carts and my current cart will have 3/4″ “cabinet grade plywood” as the prep area. I love the finish and to be quite honest it looks like the background on your web page here. I want to keep the light color of the wood but I need to make it last years of cup condensation and spills.
    I may be asking the impossible but I know you will be able to tell me either way . thanks

  51. I am the same way in wanting a VERY natural finish. No chemicals, no extra unnatural smells, nothing toxic at any stage. I really like using PURE Tung oil. It is not for everyone though. The method I have used is pretty simple. Saturate the wood with how ever many coats it takes, usually about 5. Just wipe each coat on with a rag. Next you have to let the oil sit on the surface for a week or so, so it can penetrate. Without all the additives it is slow to penetrate and slow to dry. Then for the next week or so you just wipe it with a clean rag now and then to remove the excess oil. The final result is beautiful and natural. No petroleum products like so called mineral oil. I would suggest testing it on scrap or a make a coaster to test on. If you are a spill and clean immediately person or spill and clean a week later person your results will vary. If you are a mid-century modern teak freak then pure tung oil is your friend also. If it works for half a century and looks great then it should be fine, right? Pure tung oil does not like heat so you need to use a hot pad for food or a coaster for hot tea. The great thing about the pure oil is you can bring your wood back to show room finish with a new coat simple to apply wipe on coat.

  52. Hey Marc, I’m jumping in here kind of late but here it goes anyway.

    I always hear you speak about Arm-R-Seal but I live in Winnipeg, Canada and can’t seem to find it. I can get Enduro-Var and General Finishes High Performance Varnish (water-based). Are these comparable?

    Also, I would feel much more comfortable with a wiping varnish as opposed to brushing it on. What could I use with the above mentioned water-based finishes if anything to make them suitable for wiping?

    Thank a lot Marc, and as always, Great Job!

    •  

      Hi Blair. Sorry for the delay. I have a new comment approval system that lets trusted commenters skip moderation. The downside is I occasionally miss a post.

      Arm-R-Seal is an oil-based product and the EndurVar line is water-based. They are as different as….well…oil and water. :) So the same rules do not apply. While you can certainly apply these water-based products with a brush, they really excel with HVLP. And generally speaking, very few if any water-based topcoats are fun to apply by wiping. To wipe, you need time to work and the coats are thin. Water-based finishes just tack up too quickly for this to be a routinely viable technique, especially on larger surfaces. So if you have to go water-based, I’d say invest in a small turbine HVLP system. You definitely won’t regret it.

      • I was afraid you were going to say that. Unfortunately time and money is an issue and an HPVL system isn’t an option right now. Soon I hope.

        I think I’ll try straight Enduro Var on a test piece, if that doesn’t work I’ll track down an oil based poly and thin it. It’s all an experiment unfortunately I have a job to finish. I really would like to get a hold of Zinsser Seal Coat because of the success that I had with Zinsser Shellac but it’s impossible to get here. Oh well, that’s Winnipeg, MB for you.

        Thanks a lot Marc, it’s really great how easy it is to ask you questions.

      • I might do that. All of this experimenting sure adds though, $20 here…$15 there, before you know it could could’ve bought a spray system! I am looking forward to having a more rounded knowledge in finishing though.

        I found this link last week and might try it as well since I can get oil based Varathane here.
        http://www.woodsmith.com/files.....arnish.pdf

      • UPDATE: I tried the “Mix you own wiping varnish” technique from Woodsmith magazine (previous link). It was a bust, too thin to produce any kind of protection.

        I ended up trying 3 coats for straight oil based Varathane and it looks half decent and water resistant on the first test at least. I’m still going to try Enduro Var just out of curiosity.

        Thanks again for all of your help Marc, maybe I’ll submit the vanity as a viewer project if it turns out (fingers crossed).

  53. Jim January 30, 2012

    Use poplar, stain it walnut and use the bar top epoxy. No matter what you use (except the epoxy) you’ll regret it when those spills start happening and you can’t predict what future BS might come its way.

    From experience,
    Jim the Dill

  54. Jeff Yates January 30, 2012

    I am curious…

    This article shows a publish date of 2012…but the first comment is from 2006…

    Regardless, it is good information I will be filing away for that eventual day when I start working on the bar I want in the den.

    •  

      It’s an old article that was refreshed and brought back to the top of the list. I’ll be doing this periodically with some older content that could do with some elaboration and updating.

      • Jeff Yates January 30, 2012

        Thank you sir…

        You updated the info, have you changed your mind from any of your original choices or just revamping the information.

        If you changed your mind on some of the choices, would you mind taking a minute to explain what changed your mind?

        Thank you very much for all the work that goes into this site

  55. Chris January 31, 2012

    Ok don’t pop poo this… Try decking oil it’s very versatile indeed . I used it on my oak floor instead of osmo oil . Imo its better and also cheaper

  56. Sorry to keep bugging you. I was curious though, have you had any experience with Tried & True Varnish Finish? They say it’s a “durable water-resistant finish” and can be wiped on.

    http://www.leevalley.com/US/wo.....,190,42942

    •  

      I think it is a great finish….but….it isn’t the most durable stuff out there. These finishes need to be applied in super thin coats in order for them to cure properly. But they can certainly provide a more natural looking finish. I just don’t know if they are quite as durable as our standard varnish alternatives.

  57. Thanks a lot Marc, I’ll keep you posted on what I decide on and the outcome.

  58. David S. February 9, 2012

    I’m building quite the large bar in my basement. The bar top is constructed of 3 1/2″ joined walnut. The top is together and nearly completely sanded smooth to a 150 grit. I’m looking for a very durible and glassy top finish that will resist water rings, etc. Please give me your best recommendation as to what type of finish would be best for me. (How much finner do I need to sand?, do I need to fill or seal the wood and if so, with what?, how many coats of what material do I need to apply, etc) I’m not staining the wood as I like the natural color. Thanks and please reply

    •  

      Hi David. Sounds like you want to look into either a pourable epoxy finish or something like Behlens Rock Hard Table Top Varnish. Both products will give you the thick high gloss finish you’re looking for. And both products should provide you with specific surface preparation instructions catered specifically toward their product.

  59. chuck March 7, 2012

    I have built the main structure of my bar with alder and used transtint dye to bring it to a nice dark red mahogany. I wanted a more natural and antique finish that would be a bit repairable with wear and tear, so I applied a couple coats of shellac and then used english wax applied with 0000 steel wool. I love the look and it feels like wood when touched not plastic. The bar gets a lot of compliments.
    But now I am doing the bar top surface. I am using rock maple and plan to dye the wood to keep a consistent match with the rest of the bar.
    Can I achieve reasonable protection and durability with the shellac and wax again or would a coat of satin poly or the dutch oil be the way to go? I don’t think a thick glossy finish would fit it with the rest of the woodwork.

    •  

      Personally, I think shellac and wax would be inadequate for a typical bartop. Something with poly would be a good bet. Go with a wiping varnish in satin and you should be able to get some protection without that thick glossy look.

      • chuck March 9, 2012

        Thanks Marc,

        I will still seal the dye in with a couple coats of Shellac and then find a good poly product. Could I simply thin out a good floor poly so I get strong protection without the thickness?

        If I thinned a poly what would I use? The containers usually say “Do not thin” but I am not always the best at following warnings like these.

        •  

          Instead of thinning floor poly, I would just recommend using a high quality poly like General Finishes Arm-R-Seal or Behlen’s Rock Hard Table Top Varnish. Behlen’s is supposed to contain more solids so it might be just what you’re looking for. And in most cases you can just ignore the “do not thin” warning on oil-based products. Not sure whether it is a VOC issue or the fact that if you modify the product, it becomes more difficult for them to garauntee it’s performance. Either way, you should be able to thin with mineral spirits, naptha, or paint thinner.

  60. Randi March 16, 2012

    Awesome info! I’ve been having the hardest time figuring out how to finish my table. Maybe you have some ideas? I bought an antique wormy chesnut table. I thought had a finish but apparently not. I love the holes that are in the table and want to preserve the look of it but now that my kids are in school I”d like it to be an even surface. I don’t want it to be super shiny. I had been thinking of filling the holes with epoxy and doing a wipe on finish. Then thought about a bar top epoxy but I can’t seem to find a matte one. Any suggestions?

  61. Gordon Nelson March 21, 2012

    I just bought a big piece of oak from a company that reclaims and restores old barns. I’m using it for my bar top that I’m building and the barn company suggested a tung oil finish to keep it natural. I’ve applied one coat and like the look, but am still wondering about it’s ability to repel spills. That’s how I ended up at your article above and I am wondering if I can or should apply a coat of the Watco Danish Oil on top of the tung oil in order to get a better seal? The wood is 150+ years old and has some great character with knots and grooves, which equate to some large cracks and places for spills to run. Any suggestion would be much appreciated.

    •  

      That sounds like a good plan to me Gordon. The Danish Oil has some varnish in it and will provide quite a bit more protection than the oil alone. That’s certainly going in the right direction concerning protection.

  62. William (http://n/a) March 24, 2012

    Marc, longtime fan of your site and work, first time post. Remodeled a kitchen and am building an island with some quartersawn 8/4 mahogany for a top. I have planed and jointed the pieces and was planning to face glue them into the tabletop (about 7 pieces to make it a 72″ x 50″ top). thinking through the finishing and construction. I really want the warmth of the wood and the grain to pop: I am doing some mild steel countertops blackened for the rest of the kitchen.

    Read this post and there are so many options i’m not sure what direction to go now and would appreciate any input:
    1. Wasn’t going to breadboard the ends, but leave them open b/c i like the look. With this big of a table am i asking for issues by not?
    2. What would you advice to really make the mahogany q/s grain pop and have good protection? The steel will be glossy clearcoated, so i like the idea of a more natural finish.

    thanks in advance
    -Will

    •  

      Hey Will. Thanks for the kind words. No I don’t think you’re setting yourself up for issues at all with a big top like that. As long as the wood is good quality stable, kiln dried stock, you’re probably in good shape. Also the fact that the wood is quartersawn is a good thing for stability as well.

      As for the finish, you’re right, there are a lot of ways to go. But if you want the grain to really sing, it’s hard to beat an oil-based finish. If you want more protection and a nice film finish, try a wiping varnish. If you want more of a natural looking finish and you don’t mind a little less protection, try the original recommendation in this article: a few coats of Danish Oil.

      When it comes to finishing, I like to keep things as simple as possible whenever possible.

  63. Tae March 25, 2012

    Thinking about buying a reclaimed wood table, But i am worried about water stains etc. I really want to keep the texture and the look of the wood. Is waterlox still a good option? wondering what it would do to the color of the wood.
    Thanks!

    •  

      I think it is a good option. Waterlox is an oil-based mix and like any oil-based finish, it will bring an amber hue to the wood. Some folks like this and some don’t. On medium and dark woods, it just seems to bring out the life in the wood. On blonde woods, it definitely makes them more yellow/amber. Some like it and some don’t. So that’s something to keep in mind.

  64. Tim March 27, 2012

    I just installed a 6/4 black walnut bar top that the fabricator coated with a conversion varnish. While he stated that it was the best finish for durability on a bar top, I must say I’m not impressed with the impact resistance. The little raised nubs on the bottom of a beer bottle can dent the wood fairly easily if the bottle is set down too hard or on edge. I considered putting some pour on epoxy over the whole bar top, but I feel like I might as well have just used walnut contact paper over plywood if I’m going to bury it all under plastic anyway. I thought maybe I could put a marine wax or something that builds up an “impact layer” to prevent impact damage to the bar top. I guess black walnut isn’t as hard as I thought it was. Any thoughts?

    •  

      Conversion varnish is pretty tough stuff indeed. If you are actually denting the wood under the finish, I am thinking perhaps the top didn’t receive enough coats. Unfortunately, conversion varnish isn’t exactly a “repairable” finish. So I suppose you could pour some epoxy on top of it, but I think you might be better off just stripping and starting over. Pouring thick finishes on top of other finishes doesn’t really sit well with me, but in the case of epoxy I suppose it can be done. As you might be able to tell from my original response in this article and subsequent replies to comments, I am fan of beauty over protection. If it were my bar top, I would just use something like Behlens Rock Hard or Arm-R-Seal to put on a few thin coats of varnish. Then I would be very careful not to press the dimples of my beer bottles into the wood. :) But again, that’s just my personal preference and I am willing to sacrifice durability for the look I am after.

  65. pangie March 27, 2012

    We are building a bar top out of reclaimed hand hewn boards. We love the look and texture, but need to do something to avoid constantly getting splinters. What is the best way to approach it? Should we just use a pourable epoxy to cover the whole thing? Should we sand it down and seal it? Or, is there another option? Thanks!

    •  

      Hi pangie. If the wood is splintery, I think good surface preparation is going to be more important than the finish you use. So be sure to sand the piece thoroughly before finishing. I usually like to start with 80 grit, then 120, then finally 180. This should produce a nice smooth splinter-free surface. Now what finish you choose is completely up to you. Epoxy looks very different than the finish recommended in this article, so it just comes down to decided what look you want and then which finish you are comfortable applying.

  66. Andy March 30, 2012

    I am designing a bar top for myself that I would like to utilize 2-1/4″ wide solid black walnut flooring material (tung/groove), that I will border with some 8/4 walnut to give the appearance of a thicker piece. I would like to assemble the flooring section with glue on the tung/groove using clamping, and onto a substrate that will make up the overall ~2″ thickness. My current plan is the 3/4″ thick flooring slab glued down onto 1-1/4″ worth of MDF. Then attach the 8/4 walnut border to the flooring/MDF sandwhich using biscuits (long grain – long grain). Overall bar width will be 18″, in L’ish shape ~20sqft

    Question 1 – Will this cheater method to achieve 2″ thickness be stable, resist gapping between 2-1/4″ boards?
    Question 2 – Utilizing your originally described finish schedule, should this be also be applied to the underside (MDF) surface, or alternate finish approach?

    •  

      One thing that concerns me is that you are glueing solid wood, a material that expands and contracts, to a stable substrate that does not expand and contract. You may very well wind up with a buckled surface. And I would indeed coat both sides of any board when possible. But in this case it might be a moot point since I personally don’t think the MDF is a good solution to achieve your desired thickness.

  67. Tony March 31, 2012

    I have built a Bar(coutertop) out of the leftover Heart Pine wide plank flooring and would like to finish the top surface with something that will withstand wet glasses or spills. I am considering a product called liquid glass, any comments or suggestions would be appreciated.

  68. Chris April 2, 2012

    I am in the process of building a “L” shaped bar with prefinished bruce hardwood solid natural finish hickory of 2 1/2″ width. I need a process of sealing the joints and protecting from water and spills especially on the lower bar side near the sink. I do not like the thick wet look of the epoxy which is what I originally thought I would need to do. I’ve read the previous posts and am encouraged someone may have another alternative for me. I am for sure a novice and would need specific direction and recommendation. In hindsight I probably should have not purchased the prefinished product but too late. Is the prefinish going to be an issue? What would you all suggest and if this is not directed specifically to the woodwhisperer could someone point me in the right direction.

  69. We just bought a slab of pine, freshly cut, that is 8′long, 36″wide, and 2.5″ thick. We are planning on using this for our bartop. I read about (and have been told) that the whole thing needs to be sealed before staining/poly go on. What am I sealing it with? Another question is does the slab need to be inside the house for any period of time to adjust to temp? Does the wood need to ‘dry’ before we do anything to it? Thanks in advance.

    •  

      Well, if the slab is truly “freshly cut”, then you might have some drying time to wait for. It is said that wood dries at the rate of 1 year per inch of thickness. And you certainly do want to wait for the slab to dry before finishing. It would be a good idea to seal up the ends to slow down the rate of moisture loss and to avoid cracking and checking. Once you are confident the board is dry, you can cut off the ends and then proceed with finishing. I’m guessing this isn’t what you had in mind when you bought your slab and I hope it is already kiln dried. As for a sealer, I would direct that same question to the source that gave you the information. Generally speaking, any finish you apply to the wood will seal the surface. So there usually is no reason to go through the trouble of buying a specific product solely intended for “sealing”. Additionally, if you stain, you need to be concerned about blotching with pine. Just do a search for that on my site here and you’ll find some useful information. Charles Neil’s blotch control formula is what I’d recommend for that.

  70. Tim May 15, 2012

    Hi, I have purchased a piece from the lane of an old bowling alley (complete with arrows and lane markings) that I am going to make into a bar top. If you are not familiar with bowling alley floor it is a bunch of long 3 inch x one inch thick maple boards all nailed together not glued. I have it all cut to size and I have just finished Sanding off the old finish and getting a nice flat smooth surface. I am wondering what you would recommend I use for for a new finish on the bar top that would be durable enough for a home bar? I would really like the finished piece to look just like a bowling alley.

    •  

      I really don’t know exactly what they finish bowling alleys with, but I have to imagine it is some sort of oil-based poly. Could be wrong. So that would probably be the route I would take. Maybe try Behlens Rock Hard Table Top Varnish?

  71. Dave June 2, 2012

    Have 3 inch rough cut bar top- can still see saw marks – over 70 years old – would like to keep as is, but would like to seal. Friend recommended boiled linseed and paint thinner mixture? any downside side? is the process just heat, rub-in and let dry?

    •  

      Well the down side is that BLO offers very little protection. The oil absorbs into the surface and does eventually cure. But it just doesn’t offer much heat, abrasion, or moisture resistance. You need to add some varnish to the mix for that. But if you are going to just do the oil alone, heating it will help it penetrate into the wood and make it easier to apply.

  72. Seth June 11, 2012

    I am waiting for a piece of White Oak I am having milled by the Amish to be used as a Mantle piece. It will be over a wood stove insert instead of an open fireplace, but still want to make sure the sealer I use isn’t flammable once dried. I am trying to maintain the natural wood grain without discoloring and not planning to set any liquids on it. Also I’m having it milled to be 5″ thick, leaving the bark on the outer edge facing the room. Do you have a suggestion for the best sealant options? will I need to use a separate type of sealer for both surfaces? Thanks

    •  

      I think I would just recommend a simply polyurethane varnish. Good heat resistance and easy to apply. Try a product called Arm-R-Seal or if you’re in a hurry, just pick up a can of Minwax Wipe On Poly. And I would use that on all surfaces.

      • Seth June 15, 2012

        Thanks for the tip, do you think it would be worth clear staining the piece b/4 I poly it to help bring out the grain, or would it even be worth the effort?

        •  

          I’m not sure what clear staining is. I suppose any finish would be considered a “clear stain”. But no, I don’t think you necessarily need to do anything additional. Most top coats do a wonderful job of bringing out the beauty in wood.

        • Seth June 23, 2012

          Thank you very much for your advice thus far. I have one more question though, after receiving the mantle piece last night I decided I am going to give it more of a hand tooled and distressed look so it can better fit into my 120 yr old farm house. I would also like to age the surface. The only formula I’ve found without buying a stain to completely change the color of the wood involved vinegar and tea bags to slightly discolor the wood. Do you have another suggestion?

        •  

          Well you could always experiment with ammonia. There is an old technique that involves the use of a very strong ammonia solution that turns the wood brown. But you can still get some color change by brushing on some household ammonia. The problem is that the process is unpredictable and you’re going to have a big mantle that smells like ammonia. So instead, I would recommend finding a water-based dye that gives you a slight color change. The dye won’t obscure the natural beauty of the wood but should allow you to change the hue ever so slightly in whatever direction you like.

  73. We just installed oak butcher block countertops from IKEA in our kitchen- including around our apron front overmount sink. I’ve already applied a couple coats of Boos Magic Block Oil. Is it too late to use something like the Watco Danish Oil to get a more water resistant finish? Can I do that in the kitchen without taking the countertops off- or would it be too toxic smelling to have in the house? I’m not worried about food safety at this point. I just want my husband to be able to use the sink without being worried he’s going to ruin our counters :-) Please help!!!

    •  

      Hi Emily. There are always complications if you want to apply a drying oil on top of a non-drying oil. Boos Magic stuff, from what I can see, contains mineral oil. That’s an oil that never really dries. It absorbs into the wood and eventually wears off. This non-drying oil creates problems for other film forming finishes, mainly the fact that they won’t cure properly. So it can be pretty tricky once the non-drying oil is already on the surface. I suppose you could wait a while and try the Danish Oil in an inconspicuous area in a very thin application. See if it cures after a few days. If not, you might be stuck for a while. And yes, all of these finishes that contain thinners will stink up the house. The oil-based finishes off-gas for quite some time so it isn’t ideal to apply them and let them cure in an active kitchen.

      Now if you are in a rush, here’s what I would recommend. Wipe the surface down with mineral spirits several time. Scrub real good with a cloth too. Let this dry. Then come back with a couple coats of dewaxed shellac. You can buy this under the name Bullseye Sealcoat. With any luck, the shellac will seal off the oil in the wood and give you a nice clean barrier to work with. After the shellac, sand the surface lightly with 320 grit paper and then apply some sort of wiping poly. Skip the Danish Oil. If you’re looking for protection and a fast-drying finish, go with the wiping varnish. Minwax wiping poly is a good option. Now this is a regular interior poly and not necessarily something intended for lots of water contact. But poly generally has decent protection from spills. Be sure to wipe up any excess what just to be safe. Not the best situation, but it is a decent workaround.

  74. Lance June 25, 2012

    I am making a walnut counter top for my kitchen. Its 4″ tongue and groove. Good stuff. What type of finish do you recommend? For durablility. Thanks!

  75. Maureen July 24, 2012

    Hi, We currently have a marble dining table that has really been fantastic with three kids, spills, and hard everyday use. I want to purchase a wood dining table but my husband is worried that it wont be long before we ruin it. I remembered a client of mine mentioned that her dining table has a bar finish on it and thought that would be a great solution. What is a good bar finish that looks natural, wont change the color of the wood or look plastic? Does the bar finish prevent scratches, ring marks etc.?Any and all suggestions would be great. Although I’m pretty handy, this is my first attempt at something like this.

    •  

      Well your first question is answered with this article. While it does offer a good deal of protection, it isn’t a bullet-proof finish like an epoxy would be. It would be fairly easy to repair though should you get a scratch or other blemish. If you want more protection, you could always just use a wiping varnish like Minwax Wipe-on Poly. Problem is, after about 3 coats, the finish really starts to build and you get that “fake” look. So there really isn’t a finish out there that is incredibly durable, but also looks natural. This is one case where we can’t have our cake and eat it too. It is more of a compromise than anything.

      • Maureen July 24, 2012

        Thanks for your quick response. The idea came froma client of mine. I sat at her dining table and asked for a coaster to put on the table and she said that there was no need because it had a “bar finish”. Is the Minwax Wipe-on Poly used for bars and considered a “bar finish”. I’m trying to fighure out what she used but no longer have her contact info. Her table looked great and the sweat from the cup had no impact on the table.

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