Need help on choosing a finish

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Forum topic by shortyski13 posted 07-16-2016 04:30 AM 572 views 0 times favorited 3 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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8 posts in 828 days

07-16-2016 04:30 AM

I’m making a hardwood coffee table, and afterwards plan on a dining room table. I’m not sure which finish (type or brand) to go with. Here is what I’m looking for:
-Since I will be using some exotics like purpleheart as accents and I’d like to slow down the discoloring as much as possible (even tho inevitably it will lose its color, any tiny bit of prolonging it is a plus to me) so I want something with UV inhibitors/blockers, especially since I will likely have it in front of a window and/or my large sliding glass and screen door.
-I don’t want to tint the wood a different color, such as slightly yellow. I want to keep the natural look so I was leaning towards a water-based finish instead of oil based since I hear they can give a yellowy tone. However, does this mean I can no longer put warm or mildly hot dishes on it? I’m sure place mats will work there anyway.
-I’d like if possible to have a non-gloss/satin finish. Semi-gloss could work too, but again I want the wood to look like wood.
-I’d like something that can hold up and not have to be re-applied too quickly. A couple years would be nice. I was originally looking at Minwax Helmsman Spar Urethane, but just recently read that it doesn’t hold up for even a year.
-The tables will be inside so I don’t have to worry about weather wearing it down too much except for changes in temp and humidity (Living in New England).

I’m not totally sure what would be best. Can you wonderful people help me out? I was originally looking at water based satin spar urethanes, but maybe i should go with exterior/marine spar varnish, though i thought you could only get that in glossy tones. If you have a suggestion as to what type of finish and what brands are good/reputable, I’d very much like to hear that.

Oh also, I don’t want to complicate the process of applying it. As in, I really don’t want to first add this, then do that, then apply the finish, then do something else.

Thanks for any and all help.

3 replies so far

View chrisstef's profile


17683 posts in 3155 days

#1 posted 07-16-2016 11:02 AM

Take a look at general finishes high performance.

-- Its not a crack, its a casting imperfection.

View Fred Hargis's profile

Fred Hargis

5097 posts in 2641 days

#2 posted 07-16-2016 12:20 PM

Skip the spar varnishes (especially Helmsman) and just go for a good quality top coat that otherwise fills the bill. The GF HP that Chris suggested would be a god choice and should easily exceed your “couple of years”. My personal first choice would be a good oil based alkyd varnish, but they give that color shift you want to avoid. Still, if it’s an option P&L 38 has a lot less of the amber tone than others. It’s formulated with soya oil instead of linseed oil, and that gives it the more natural look. Very durable as well, I’ve had it on a coffee table I built over 10 years ago and has been severely abused…it’s doesn’t have any damage. Now for the “spar” stuff. Spar varnish is simply a “long oil” formula (more oil in the mix that gets cooked to make the varnish) and that is to make it more flexible to allow for wood movement. It does not mean the varnish has UV inhibitors thought most of them do…but it’s just not what you need for your table. The cheap ones are made with a urethane resin, which doesn’t do well in UV rich applications and is why you see so many comments about the failure of Helmsman. The true marine spar varnishes are mostly made with alkyd resins, and can be very expensive…so while they are great, they are probably overkill for what you need. Good luck with your choice!

-- Our village hasn't lost it's idiot, he was elected to congress.

View OSU55's profile


1869 posts in 2138 days

#3 posted 07-16-2016 12:29 PM

You don’t say how you will be applying the finish. For water clear no color, WB is the choice- not aware of an OB finish that is water clear non yellowing (maybe some conversion varnishes, but those aren’t something for the typical hobbyist). For a surface the size of coffee/dining tables, WB should be sprayed. They set fairly quickly and thus don’t level well. They can be brushed on smaller surfaces, but table tops would be a challenge to brush.

If you insist on uv inhibitors, Target Coatings EM9300 would be an option. All of the Target Coatings are WB and come in gloss to flat. My choice for the application would be EM9000, a water clear poly. I would use Targets CL100 cross linker for even higher abrasion resistance (only on the tops, the apron and legs don’t need CL100, and could be EM6000, but it yellows some). Never used GF hi performance, a WB poly, but it gets good reviews.

WB finishes are pretty lifeless. They don’t pop the grain or provide any chatoyance – hard to explain, but OB finishes can make the wood “shimmer” under a light. Shellac can be used as a 1st coat for this, with WB finish as a topcoat, to add some life. The flatter or less glossy the finish the less impact this has.

As for hot dishes, whether oil or water based, if you can keep your hand under it (temperature wise), it will probably be ok on the finish, otherwise use a mat under the dish.

In any case, create a finish schedule, step by step instructions for sanding through to all finish coats, and complete on a piece of scrap before touching the project. You may have to make some changes to get what you want. You don’t want to have to redo the project piece.

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