Finishing poplar kitchen table top

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Forum topic by sadams posted 08-09-2016 04:00 PM 852 views 0 times favorited 4 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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1 post in 857 days

08-09-2016 04:00 PM

Topic tags/keywords: kitchen table finish poplar

No, poplar is not the best choice for a kitchen table top. Considering the heavy use, it is too soft for my liking. I have some nice oak and cherry, but the boss wanted poplar, so… I have read tons, some from pros who obviously knew what they were talking about. Lots of differences of opinions. The considerations as I see them: 1. this top is poplar, so its soft. 2. this wood is very thirsty. It will soak like a sponge until I get a few coats on it. 3. some nice colors that I would like to retain vs hiding them in the amber of an oil-based polyeurethane (OBP). 4. the table will get some sun, not much but some. Thinking UV damage here. 5. I would like to brush apply the finish, several coats. I don’t have the spray equipment, have never sprayed, dont want to. Lots of options out there: lacquer, shellac, an ever growing variety of polys, more. I understand that each has its strengths and weaknesses. 1. Of the issues stated above, I guess tough and scratch resistant is my priority. I understand that hard and scratch resistant are not the same things. Guessing that OBP is high on the list here. 2. Thirsty: I need to be able to add multiple coats, so I want to brush it myself vs going back and forth 10 miles away to my local shop. Lacquer out on this one. 3. I hate to lose the colors in the wood, but if I have to I can deal with it. OBP takes a hit here. 4. I hear that OBP is bad to deteriorate with UV, but not too much sun on this table. Also, I have never had a problem with UV damage personally, even on an outdoor porch swing which I finished myself with minwax oil-base poly. Again, not much sun, so maybe I am ok with oil-based poly on this one. I have used OBP alot, and I feel good about using it. Oh, and reapplyability over time when it can use a new coat. I know it sounds like I have already made up my mind (OBP), but I am open to all possibilities. So, please comment/critique my novice suppositions. I appreciate all advice. Thanks

4 replies so far

View jwmalone's profile


769 posts in 904 days

#1 posted 08-09-2016 07:32 PM

I’ve finished poplar with oil based Polly, And had no problems (not table tops). If you think about it you finish floors with basicly an obp and it takes a beating and is exposed to sunlight through the windows and what not. They make poly now with uv protection and not near the amber of varnishes, just remember most poly by nature does not flex any contraction and expansion will cause you serious problems, it also allows water vapor to pass through. Maybe a spar urethane which are pretty clear would be better for a table top just keep that wood expansion thing in mind. Spar varnishes and urethanes aren’t as hard as polly but guess you just have to pick what you think is the lesser of the evils kinda like voting for a politician.

-- "Boy you could get more work done it you quit flapping your pie hole" Grandpa

View rwe2156's profile


3171 posts in 1683 days

#2 posted 08-10-2016 11:21 AM

How about a glass top?

I’ve done this before on desks and other tables works out really well.

-- Everything is a prototype thats why its one of a kind!!

View OSU55's profile


1971 posts in 2191 days

#3 posted 08-10-2016 11:47 AM

Wanting to preserve the natural color as much as possible, brush applied, and using ob poly, I’d use a wb based finish as a conditioner. About any will work. Thin the wb 1:1 with water, brush it on and keep it wet for several minutes by adding more, then wipe off until “dry”. After it’s actually dry, light 320 sanding, repeat. A little heavier 320 sanding, then finish with ob poly. This will seal the poplar and prevent blotching and maintain the color, but provide plenty of adhesion for the ob poly. Test on scrap, 1 coat or 3 coats of conditioner might be needed. I wouldn’t use a spar varnish for indoor furniture, too soft, has a lot of color. If you use ac in the summer and a humidifier in winter, wood expansion is a non issue.

View Cooler's profile


299 posts in 1045 days

#4 posted 08-15-2016 12:47 PM

I was asked to re-finish the table tops at the local Starbucks store years ago. The factory finish had failed in less than a year. The table tops were Baltic birch.

I sanded down to bare wood, used filler where customers carved their initials, and then applied four coats of oil based poly (semi-gloss Minwax). I let the finish dry overnight, lightly sanded between coats and used a foam brush for application. The final coat I applied thick and allowed it to self-level.

I waited 200 hours (7 days) after the final coat before delivering the table tops. I did these two tops at a time so that they would not be out of business while waiting for the table tops.

Starbucks re-models their stores on a 10 year cycle. The table tops were in excellent condition when they were retired after about 9 years use. This is pretty heavy use, with multiple wipe downs daily and many, many customers daily. Some of which throw backpacks, lap top computers, and an occasional spilled drink.

The finish remained hard, clear and undamaged.

There are probably other finishes that will do as well, but the only finish that I’ve used and that has been provend this tough is the oil based poly.

-- This post is a hand-crafted natural product. Slight variations in spelling and grammar should not be viewed as flaws or defects, but rather as an integral characteristic of the creative process.

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