Keeping everything in the kitchen protected, safe, clean, and visually appealing is essential. While there may be an opportunity to procrastinate regarding other stuff, but at least not in the case of a kitchen table! Probably you know why. But do you know how we can do that? Staining and coating with the wood finish – a pretty simple answer! You can try with paint, but it will not give a finish rich like staining. So, here we will learn about the best wood finish for kitchen tables.
Finishing a tabletop, whether building or refurbishing, is always tricky. It will test your skill and speed, particularly when you need to coat the entire surface of a large table before the finish gets sticky. Remember, you have not much time, but the application must be perfect! Only the right finish can help you pass the test on your dining table. Oil-based finishes are more fit for their durability, but they should have food-grade safety, as reflected in the General Finishes Arm-R-Seal, best in the oil category. Although we suggest an oil-based option for a kitchen table, a water-based alternative like Rust-Oleum Ultimate is to buy if you prefer a sure-safe option, despite having less durability.
Best Oil Based
Best Water Based (Safest)
Of course, Rust-Oleum is a name in which you can put your trust! They produce wood finish in both forms – water or oil. The Ultimate Polyurethane is their one of a kind type finish made following the water-based acrylic formula. The fast-drying and safest certified polyurethane give a durable hard coating on your kitchen table while leaving a much soft texture. Versatility, easy application, and activeness against scratches and smudges have made it a highly preferable option.
Does a wood kitchen table require finishing?
Woods have their specific lifespans, the utility of which can be enjoyed till the end if taken care of properly, while their life becomes shorter if neglected. Coating with a suitable wood finish is the most effective way to increase wooden objects’ durability. Uncoated woods will never last as long as woods well-treated with a standard finish. So, yes, you should use a wood finish to your dining table.
Not durability only, there are many other reasons why you should do this, for example, wood beautification. Generally, woods have their color, grain, and texture. By applying a clear-coat, you can make its natural look more lively and attractive. Gloss may increase the overall shine, while satin alters the original color slightly to give something different. Water finish enhances the natural beauty by making grains more visible, while oil-based options provide a rich amber tint. You have the freedom to create a blend of different finishes as per your requirements.
Whatever you apply makes the table withstands moisture and water, making it safe from rot, mold, and mildew. Working against stains, spills, and solvents to keep the wood surface protected also confirms the necessity of wood finish on dining tables.
Right Type of Finish for Kitchen Tables
According to Statista.com, the US market revenue of living-room and dining furniture in 2019 amounted to around 80490 million dollars, which is forecasted to increase at a CAGR 4% within 2019-2024, as reported by Mordor Intelligence. The kitchen table is one of the most used objects in a kitchen and comes in continuous contact with water, oil, heat, and moisture. Therefore, it is advisable to use a superior finish capable of protecting the table against those for a long time. A kitchen table always stays in contact with food, so the presence of any toxic compound is also dangerous. You may also have to think twice before deciding, as there is an array of available finishes that react differently in different woods and may provide a result that was not in your expectation.
Therefore, it is quite tricky to answer all things considered, which is the best type of finish for kitchen tables. But we have done our research and come to the point that urethanes, particularly the oil-based options, are the most suitable finish for kitchen tables amongst others like lacquer, shellac, oil/varnish blend, and solid oil finish. Though you may consider water-based units too, they are comparatively less durable. Choosing lacquers is great for cabinets, probably not tables, as they are thin and get yellow over time. But you can go for oil/varnish blends, as long as you need an antique look.
Best Kitchen Table Finish (Full Reviews)
General Finishes Arm-R-Seal Urethane Topcoat – Best Oil Based
Since its inception in 1928, General Finishes has satisfied all types of users (woodworkers, manufacturers, and other DIYs) with top-grade wood finishes. It has never skimped on technological advancement. In addition to increasing the effectiveness of regular wood finishes, the development of water-based stain finishes over the last 3 decades is enviable! It has blessed the stain and finish industry with many products, and the Arm-R-Seal Urethane Topcoat is one of those!
The topcoat has everything required to be on top, and that’s why it’s the first choice for most professionals as a wood finishing agent. The topcoat is made of 100% (highest-grade) urethane resin. It gives a beautiful protective glow to the surface of your wooden table while allowing the natural textures to remain visible. This information is for you if you do not know that most of the oil-based finish allows a little to keep the grain and texture visible, where Arm-R-Seal is an exception.
It is incredibly durable and protects your kitchen table for a long time. So far we realize, you can expect no necessity for reapplication or refinish for around 3 years on average. However, for a commercial spot, like a restaurant, it may last less, while for a family house, the durability should be much more than this. Being oil-based, it will take some more time to cure, but when it dries, it can tolerate even the most powerful disinfectant wipes without being damp.
Arm-R-Seal, the ideal water-resistant finish for kitchen tables, is available in different sizes. It allows you to buy as needed whether quart or gallon, so you are less likely to have leftovers. Applicable for nearly every wooden structure, having said that it’s a food-safety pass. It is perfect for curved furniture surfaces, despite its overwhelming performance on flat surfaces.
Prepare your table
Sanding > Dust Cleaning > Finishing > Sanding > Finishing – that’s the straight formula for making a wood surface ready to apply any wood finish. Imperfection in the first step (sanding) may end up in an uneven and rough coat. Before applying the best finish for a wood kitchen table top, sand with less than 150-grit sandpaper and vacuum the dust with cleaner, air, or cloth. Never apply fine-grit papers to over-sand, as this can seal the wood’s grain and prevent desired color absorption.
Right way to apply Arm-R-Seal
(Process, Temperature, Humidity, Tools)
The urethane topcoat is easy to apply. According to General Finishes, you will hardly require to dilute the finish as it already has a low viscosity. But if you still feel it required, do it using a maximum of 10% mineral spirits subject to local authority permission. Ensure enough ventilation, standard temperature (70°F/20°C), and low humidity (50%-70%). Fresh airflow is essential for accurate output, so it’s good to apply in a well-ventilated area.
Application is pretty easy in both ways – hand or spray. In many cases, we observed that using the hand with a cloth, soft foam brush, pad, or natural bristle brush gives a better result. The manufacturer has also suggested hand application, as spraying can emit too much finish in one area. Apply even strokes and wipe along the grain with a decent amount of urethane. But be careful about over-brushing, which may unwantedly flatter the sheen.
A total of 3 coats will probably give you a perfect scratch resistance wood surface. Gloss or at least semi-gloss sheen with no or little flatting agents should be the choice if you need a streak-free result after application. But for a flatter sheen with minimal gloss, 2 coats of semi-gloss urethane, supported by another single coat of satin Arm-R-Seal, will be perfect. Remember, the satin formulation produces more flatting agents, and it is a little tough to apply. Stir well or decant what you are going to use immediately, or frequently stir throughout the process to prevent the flatter sheens from settling down the can.
Use a fine-grade foam sanding pad (220-320) or 400-grit sandpaper to sand between coats. It will improve overall smoothness, extra shine, and ensure better adhesion. Dry times between coats on raw or stained raw wood are at least 12 hours, which may take even more than 24 hours. But when applying an existing sealed finish (by a sealer, stain, linseed oil, tung oil, etc.), it will take more than 72 hours. To get it fully cured and hardened, start cleaning and using it after 30 days from application. Never apathetic that oil-based wood finishes are prone to dry and cure lately, and doing anything less than as explained above can delay curing or even ruin the entire project.
What about a leftover finish?
General Finishes has made it clear that their products last no longer than many other alternatives available in the market. Despite having top-notch quality, the finishes used to stay at their best form within 1 year from the manufacture date, though proper care may help it extend some more time. But how to do that, especially when you have a decent amount of leftover?
The most useful thing you can do is open the lid, pour the finish as much as you need into another container, seal the lid, and reopen later if required. This helps a lot in preserving the leftover urethane. Remember, it is curing as long as the lead is open for being exposed to oxygen.
Do not store the residue in any other container except for the original can. Ensure temperatures in between 50°F/10°C and 80°F/26°C, and anything lower or higher can make the finish damaged. You can also never revitalize frozen or heat-damaged Arm-R-Seal. Adding some boxygen can help a lot, as this argon gas agent prevents resin hardening.
How much area can you cover?
Quoting precise coverage is not possible. It is assumed that in 1 gallon, you can give 3 coats of 400-500 square feet (100 to 125 square feet in each coat), no matter if it’s a flat wooden tabletop or any other wood object. Going on relatively thin in each coat (lighter topcoat) will probably give a better outcome unless the kitchen table surface is too porous.
But still, it depends on several other facts, i.e., types of wood, natural beauty & wood grain you would like to keep, previously applied with a wood sealer or stain, and refurbishing the unfinished wood. The attached user manual will help you further, and the General FInishes helpline is there for an extraordinary situation.
Oil-based urethanes are not entirely safe, but General Finishes has always tried to make its products safer. Following this, the Gloss formulation of Arm R Seal is completely safe. But the Semi-Gloss and Satin formulations can still expose the applicator to Benzene, which is dangerous.
Any other shortcomings?
No product is fully flawless, neither this one. Since Arm-Seal is oil-based, it has been reported with few common downsides, and indeed, none are so significant. Meanwhile, you know that the finish takes a long time to dry and cure. But if your table is made of oily exotic wood, the matter is quite scary! Because not only will it be late to dry, but the project is more likely to be spoiled with Arm-R-Seal.
Another problem, it hardens very quickly, which is not the case with many other oil-based finishes. So it may not be possible to avoid streaks if you take a little more time and it becomes sticky while applying. Although it gives a rich amber color, if you want the original wood color with a more visible grain texture, it will disappoint you. In that case, our second choice is preferable.
It is a combustible liquid and tends to vapor. You may experience a little eye irritation and pungent odor (strong smell) when applying. But, it is not going to be problematic as long as the area is well-ventilated. An inherent aspect of oil-based finishes is that they tend to get yellowish over time; therefore, blaming this GF Topcoat is wrong. And, complaints regarding poor container quality from users are not accurate, as those were pure user errors in most cases.
As the most durable wood finish, Arm R Seal Topcoat is suggested for advanced woodworks, whatever the type, and of course, a must-rely option for wood kitchen table. Although it has a long drying time, the results will be solid and unrivaled in the end! Even a novice can expect nearly the same results as a professional subject to comply with the instructions.
Rust-Oleum Ultimate Soft Touch Polyurethane – Best Water Based
As said before, those who want a completely safe finish should apply water-based urethanes on their wooden kitchen table. They are relatively less durable compared to their oil-based counterparts but still sustainable enough to rely on. Another great thing that will pull you in is that it dries and cures faster. So, choosing Rust-Oleum Ultimate, from one of the most trusted brands available, is always pleasant.
It dries faster, so you need drastically less time in between coats! While an oil urethane finish needs at least 12 hours (may need to wait up to 24 hours before the second coat), Rust-Oleum Soft Touch will do the job within just 1 hour (you can recoat just after 2 hours)! Doesn’t it sound impressive?
3 coats are best-practice for the perfect result, regardless of water or oil generated finish. Probably, you can cover up to 150 square feet with a quart of matte or gloss Ultimate. It may vary between 100 sq ft to 150 sq ft depending on coat thickness and wood diversity. It does not cause eye irritation or breathing difficulty because of having very low VOCs and no toxic odors, making it the safest finish for wood.
As just quoted – Soft Touch – really an exciting feature, though not new! You will feel a soft and smooth finish when touching it, although the finished wooden surface is hard and durable enough. It is more of a bonus, which you probably do not find in traditional polyurethane finishes, especially oil-based ones.
The Ultimate will not give you a rich amber look, but it offers the great facility to keep the surface texture as it is! Users who love seeing the natural beauty and grain of your table more visible should welcome this one. Like other high-tech waterborne finishes, it does not get yellowish over time, a complete step-up than oilborne options.
Although softer, it ensures a reliable resistance against scratches, scuffs, fingerprints, and stains just with a typical cleaning process (by soap and water). But it needs to be cleaned relatively sooner than the oil-finished table. However, the matte finish formulation makes the fingerprints and smudges less visible, leading it to be the best matte finish for dining tables.
It is suggested for indoor wood surfaces, as water finishes can not perform durably outdoors under direct sunlight. Naturally, for an indoor wooden kitchen table, there is no such restriction. You can also use it for doors, cabinets, trim, crafts, furniture, and various other indoor wood projects.
As said, the Ultimate applied table needs to be cleaned relatively sooner than an oil-finished table when it comes in contact with stains. If you do too much lately, the stain-resistance may go in vain! Of course, it’s a big threat and downside compared to the oil-based alternatives! The chance of failure to resist stains increases if you fail to apply the finish and cure it well.
We were surprised about a user-complaint that they got tiny pieces like black hairs in the finish! Probably it was due to the manufacturing, packaging, or storage malfunction of that particular unit or batch, about which Rust-Oleum must have enough concern. A few cloudy or unclear results were reported, but we think those were user-error.
As it dries so quickly, you need to be really quick at application and precise at the same time. Missing the symphony may create streaks and thereby unfinished surfaces. This one is not a product flaw, so caution is enough here.
Professionals do not prefer water-oriented polyurethanes for high traffic spots, especially for the soft texture they give. But this should not be a problem with Rust-Oleum Ultimate as long as it is not used on a floor. A kitchen table is high-traffic, but not in a way like the floors. Most essentially, for the safety it ensures, experts nowadays increasingly suggest water-based alternatives for kitchen tables as long as it delivers durability close to oil-based options. We agree with them and encourage you to pick this one if you are symphonious.
Emmet’s Good Stuff Wood Finish
When someone asks for a pure wood finish dedicated to raw or unfinished woods, there is no competitor to Emmet’s Good Stuff. The urethane gel is formulated with fast-drying synthetic oils. So, it delivers a highly-protective coating resistant to stains, moisture, alcohol, and most solvents, while keeping the natural beauty and texture of wood attractive.
The difference between the Arm R Seal and the Rust-Oleum Soft Touch with Emmet’s Good Stuff can be divided into two main points. While the Arm R Seal covers the original color of the wood and provides a bright amber color, Emmet’s Good Stuff makes the original texture and beauty of the wood more attractive, much like the Rust-Oleum Soft Touch! On the other hand, it protects wood from stains and almost all kinds of solvents for a longer period than Rust-Oleum Soft Touch, as the Arm R Seal does. We can call it a bridge between those two, which is the critical point of advanced woodworkers’ attraction on Emmet’s Good Stuff.
It contains no toxic elements, thereby safe for the foods on your dining table. Application is relatively easy – a soft cloth will give you the desired output. You do not need much brushing. Rubbing in circular motions into the wood is the right approach. It dries faster than any pure oil-borne urethane but slower than waterborne finishes.
At room temperature, wait 4 hours before applying a second coat, but it may increase up to 12 hours if it’s colder. Sealing the surface prior to deploying Good Stuff gives better results. For a robust surface, 4 layers of Good Stuff is essential. Available in Pint and Quart sizes, and with each Pint, you can cover 4 layers of 80 to 90 square feet area.
It is perfect for kitchen tables, butcher block tops and islands, cabinetry, and other raw wood surfaces. To date, we saw no significant bad of the gel finish. Some of the users provided some complaints, though we consider those mostly user errors.
Waterlox 5284QT TB5284 Stain
For any wooden project, waterproofing is always welcomed as it increases the overall lifespan of the structure. Waterproof means it can resist most stains and solvents, which is super essential for a kitchen or dining table. Waterlox is a prominent brand in the wood finish industry, especially reliable for waterproof finish formula. The Waterlox Original 5284QT is one of their identity products, the best waterproof finish for dining tables.
It penetrates intensely and delivers an utterly waterproof surface when applied at least three coats. Either you use the Satin only or in conjunction with Original Satin and High Gloss Finish from Waterlox. The combination will probably produce a sheen of 75° gloss level immediately after curing, which may fade and be stable with a 50-55° gloss level by 6 months.
The unique aspect is its capacity to make an elastic coat on the table surface yet strong enough to resist stains, water, and most solvents. No spills, moisture, and fingerprints can leave their prints for the elasticity, though you miss cleaning them hurriedly. It ensures a fantastic adhesion to oily, exotic, and dense woods like rosewood, ipe, and teak, which is impossible for most wood finishes, not even by our top choice Arm R Seal. But until it is properly dried and cured, we cannot certify it as a safe-to-food agent.
The application requires special care, expertise, and it takes too much time – at least 24 hours – probably most among the products so far we reviewed here. High humidity, poor ventilation, or cool temperature will increase the dry time. You need to apply thin coats, and drying (curing as well) time is critical – failing to comply will probably end up with full destruction of your project. Wait for around 2 months before rubbing. 1 gallon of Waterlox Satin can cover up to 500 square feet. If you apply 4 coats in total, each coat should have a maximum of 125 square feet area.
A misuse of polyurethane with Waterlox may also turn out to be a nightmare. Use a standard foam brush, soft cloth, or applicator. Remember, almost all of the few negative reviews it received were related to the application. We have verified that those were not a problem of Waterlox at all, but due to application inefficiency.
It is a time-proven product serving since 1910! That’s too old, isn’t it? Although we have counted it for wooden dining tables, it’s a truly versatile finish. Usable on doors, windows, cabinetry, floors, furniture, fly fishing rods, bar tops, and other advanced indoor woodworks.
But for outdoor projects, for example, patio dining tables, you should use Waterlox mainly as a sealer. If you want to make your outdoor wooden projects really durable, apply 1 or 2 coats of Satin, followed by two more Waterlox Original Marine coats. Overall, a great product for indoor and outdoor wooden structures.
Minwax Fast-Drying Oil Polyurethane
If you feel for an oil based poly that is durable enough but has a super-fast dry-ability like a water-based finish, the Minwax Fast-Dry is your pick. It leads amongst the three fastest oil-borne polyurethanes available in the market, with around 2 hours drying & sanding timespan before the second coat.
Built for almost all interior wood surfaces but ideal for cabinets, doors, kitchen tables, and floors. Not good for those who need to keep the wood texture visible as it is, but Minwax Fast-Dry will make sure a beautiful surface with a slightly amber tone. The coats will be strong soon to offer a super protective layer that withstands nearly any stain and solvent for a long time – durability is beyond question. It’s a very suitable formula for both raw or unfinished and finished wood surfaces.
Easy to apply and has low odor. Use of brush should be wiser when you apply. But avoid applying it on white wooden objects, as it has an extra tendency of being yellowish on white. Be also careful while applying so that the Satin does not turn to be Glossy or Milky due to imperfect application. A quart of Minwax polyurethane wood finish may cover a maximum of 125 square feet.
Minwax Polycrylic Protective Finish
This one is also from the similar brand Minwax, but this time it’s a polycrylic, a pure waterborne finish. Naturally, safe for food and ultra-fast to dry and cure. For recoating, you need less than a couple of hours. Twenty four hours should be enough for drying, curing, and hardening, leaving the surface ready to resist moisture and stains.
Staining, sealing, finishing, sanding, cleaning, and in every relevant aspect, the Minwax Polycrylic Protective Finish is user-friendly. It beautifies the wood by converting the original wood grain to a more natural and shiny effect. It emits no toxic odor and tends not to get yellowish, irrespective of wood type and color.
Dedicated to indoor use, including, but not limited to, dining table, cabinetry, door, furniture, and other interior wood structures. Available in clear, gloss, semi-gloss, satin, matte, and ultra-flat, thereby making it a more accessible finish for different types of wood. Easy to apply and clean up makes it a preferable choice for DIYs.
How do you seal/waterproof a wooden kitchen table?
As of the discussion point, all the product reviews answer the questions – what do you seal a kitchen table with, or how do you waterproof a wooden tabletop. But we often question how to seal a wood table top, mainly the kitchen table. Here we shall present a very brief yet meaningful answer.
Polyurethanes, either oil-based or waterborne, are the most suitable among sealants for wooden tabletops, for example, dinner tables, countertops, gaming tables, etc. The oil-based options are more appropriate (expert-recommended, too) for use where the tabletops frequently come in contact with water, food stains, alcoholic beverages, and other solvents. Let’s get to know the steps:
- Select a quality polyurethane sealer for the strongest protection. Other than a top-notch sealer, you cannot achieve the desired penetration into the wood surface;
- Clean the tabletop surface meticulously, as even a little dirt could prevent strong adhesion. From light to medium hand sanding (with less than 100 grit paper) may be in order depending on whether it’s finished or unfinished (raw) wood surface. Remove the dust thoroughly.
- Take a paintbrush, cloth, soft foam, or suggested applicator to apply the sealer across the cleaned surface in circular (or straight) long strokes. Be meticulous to avoid streaks or drip marks before it gets hardened. Make sure there is instructed ventilation, temperature, and humidity.
- Wait until the sealer dries. Dry time will vary from brand to brand. You probably will not get a sealed surface with one coat; a second will be necessary. Wait until dry before another coat, and sand using fine-grade foam sanding pad or sandpaper. Give the second and wait as directed for drying and curing.
- Over time, you will get a hard, well-sealed, and waterproof wooden surface.
Oil or Water – What kind of polyurethane do you use on a kitchen table?
It depends on what the user likes. We consider three major differences between oil and water polyurethanes to be the catalysts for decision making – durability, resistance, beauty, and safety. But there may be some other factors, for instance, traffic, stains, solvents, thickness, dry time, and application complexity. Unless you are an expert to judge all of these, then –
- get oil polyurethane for super durability and rich tint with some toxicity and much dry-time, or
- select water polyurethane for super safety, beauty, and quick dry-time with less durability.
You have to decide based on what you can leave or what you can not leave – we mean compromise. The decision is up to you.
Clear, Gloss, Satin – What is good for dining table surfaces?
Generally, woods have their color, grain, and texture. Clear, gloss, or satin – what you will apply on your wooden surface largely depends on those color, grain, and texture. By using a clear-coat, you can make its natural look more lively and attractive. A gloss can increase the overall shine with a glittering effect, while satin alters the original color slightly to give something different yet beautiful. Some love such rich tints and therefore choose satin, but those who prefer shiny natural beauty prefer a clear finish. You may even create a mix of these two for a custom color output.
Can you paint a kitchen table top?
Of course, you can paint your tabletop; don’t bother if it’s for the kitchen, studying, or gaming. But yes, the paint should use ingredients that ensure food safety. In other words, no paint should be used on the dining table without making sure that it does not contain harmful toxic substances, such as lead. However, it is better to use wood finish than paint when it comes to durability because sealed and finished wood is much more protective than painted wood.
What is the most durable table top finish?
Definitely, an oil-based polyurethane, as we have enlisted at the top of our list. You can consider a waterborne option too, but that is comparatively vulnerable to solvents than oil-borne options. You may also consider paint, lacquer, shellac, oil/varnish blend, and solid oil finish. But considering every possible advantage and disadvantage, we vote for the oil-based models.
Is polyurethane safe for dining tables?
Many people question whether polyurethane is safe in food contact applications. It is a bit tricky to answer this question – neither can you generally declare them safe, nor can you claim them unsafe, as it varies from manufacturer to manufacturer and formulation to formulation. The suppliers of raw materials used to formulate polyurethanes in factories are also vital stakeholders in this responsibility. FDA sets some rules and regulations, and all stakeholders have the responsibility to comply with those. As long as the entire process (all folk engaged with it) goes according to the FDA guidelines and the finished product is delivered to the end-users, the polyurethanes are safe in any food contact application, including on a dining table.
How many coats of polyurethane on kitchen tables are necessary?
Delivering a straight answer may be proven incorrect, so it is wise to give a tentative calculation in every aspect of wood finish application on kitchen tables – regarding the number of coats too. Based on wood type, condition (raw or finished), humidity, temperature, traffic, and desired thickness, necessary polyurethane coats may vary from 2 coats to 5 coats, while 3 coats are mostly recommended.
Can I use wax or oil for finishing a kitchen wood table?
Yes, you can certainly use wax or oil for finishing the dining table in the kitchen! A good number of quality wax or oil-based products are available on the market. You just need to find out the most accurate one for your table. We reviewed some oil-produced products, though no wax yet. You can still keep your trust in quality wax. Oil or wax both bring out the natural beauty of wood, removing the necessity of any plastic. Both are hydrophobic, so add decent moisture resistance. Overall, an oil-based option should be the first choice as a wood finish, and wax comes later to it.
Who doesn’t want the table in his kitchen or dining room always to look so beautiful? Even with the slightest idea, we all know that nothing can do this job better than a good wood finish without compromising food safety. Some finishes may cost a little more – sometimes you may have to endure a lot of stress while applying – but the beauty and long-lasting protection you get at the end is just unique. And, that’s why we put our effort into figuring out the most effective and durable wood finish for kitchen tabletops.