Wipe-on Finishes for workbench top

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Forum topic by groland posted 08-14-2010 03:21 PM 14148 views 1 time favorited 12 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View groland's profile


152 posts in 2923 days

08-14-2010 03:21 PM

In his article on flattening workbench tops, Chris Schwarz mentions finishing them with a wipe-on varnish and oil finish.

I have a bunch of questions. I have used Watco Danish oil, natural color, one some wood projects (including my workbench base) and I like it pretty well. It’s easy to apply and looks good. Would using that on the bench top be less effective than a varnish and oil finish?

Is there a commercially available varnish and oil finish, or a standard recipe for making one up?

Is a mixture of boiled linseed oil cut with mineral spirits a suitable substitute for Watco Danish oil?

Many thanks,


12 replies so far

View CharlieM1958's profile


16249 posts in 3729 days

#1 posted 08-14-2010 03:37 PM

Watco Danish oil is an oil/varnish mixture. BLO and mineral spirits would not be equivalent to Danish oil. I like BLO for bringing out the grain, but it does not offer much in the way of protection. For that matter, Danish oil doesn’t either.

What finish you end up using should depend on what your primary goal is for the surface. Beauty? Smoothness? Resistance to moisture? If it’s overall protection you’re looking for, polyurethane is probably the best bet.

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View Milo's profile


869 posts in 2830 days

#2 posted 08-14-2010 03:43 PM

George, I recently finished a workbench (actually, it was a Schwarz “Nicholson” workbench) and would like to read that article on flattening. Could you let me know? In the mean time I’ll check the PW website.



-- Beer, Beer, Thank God for Beer. It's my way of keeping my mind fresh and clear...

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27251 posts in 3333 days

#3 posted 08-14-2010 03:59 PM

I agree with Charlie. Watco Danish oil is a mix of alkyd resins and raw linseed oil that are dissolved in, essentially, mineral spirits. Raw linseed oil will take quite a while to cure. The boiled version (which now is formulated with metallic additives to speed up the curing process rather than actually boiled) will cure much faster.

One “standard” receipe that is commonly used for an oil and varnish mixture is equal parts of polyurethane, boiled linseed oil and mineral spirits. This adds both protection and a penetrating oil to “pop” the grain in a mix that will penetrate the wood and provide surface protection.

Wipe on products are commercially available at Lowe’s, Wal-Mart, Home Depot, etc. But, if this is the route you want to go with, save yourself some money and make it up yourself. Essentially, when buying these mixes, you are paying a premium price for the vendor to add mineral spirits.

-- Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful- Joshua Marine

View richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 2585 days

#4 posted 08-14-2010 04:44 PM

The finish on my workbench is a hodgepodge collection of stains and finishes that dripped from a project I was working on or I spilled combined with drops of glue that I couldn’t completely scrap off. I even have some die that adds color to the bench.

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

View CharlieM1958's profile


16249 posts in 3729 days

#5 posted 08-14-2010 05:42 PM

I didn’t bring it up, but Rich describes my workbench perfectly. I don’t have one of the fancy-schmancy-so-pretty-I’m-afraid-to-work-on-it benches. Mine is full of glue, stain, epoxy, finishes of every sort… if something gets to be a annoying high spot, I chisel it off. :-)

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View davidroberts's profile


1025 posts in 2997 days

#6 posted 08-14-2010 05:46 PM

I used a couple of thin coats of shellac, which I’m happy with. The one problem is using denatured alcohol on the bench. It will dissolve the shellac. A recent video on FWW showed using thinned BLO.

-- Better woodworking through old hand tools.

View groland's profile


152 posts in 2923 days

#7 posted 08-14-2010 06:02 PM

Thanks guys—very helpful information. I am afraid I am in the workbench-so-pretty-you’re-afraid-to-work-on-it camp. Perhaps fortunately, I am so inexperienced a woodworker at this point that my best efforts don’t yield anything that pretty ;^).

Nonetheless, I think, based on this information. I’ll either go with more Watco Danish Oil or make up my own varnish and oil finish.

When my benchtop dries out or needs planing, I think that combination will be easier to deal with than harder polyurethane. I have used polyurethane varnishes, and they are great, but I think I’d prefer the oil and varnish route for now on the wprkbench.



View PurpLev's profile


8524 posts in 3159 days

#8 posted 08-14-2010 06:06 PM

I only put BLO on mine – although it does not protect it from spills, it DOES protect it from moisture and humidity changes which is what you’d really want for an unheated workshop. plus its easy to apply (wipe on) and really brings out the beauty of the wood.

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View paratrooper34's profile


903 posts in 2463 days

#9 posted 08-14-2010 07:32 PM

Agreed, Boiled Linseed Oil is the way to go on a bench. Easy to apply and provides some protection (glue for example). I view my bench as a tool and am not really concerned with making look like a piece of fine furniture. BLO and put it to work!

Good Luck!

-- Mike

View swirt's profile


2124 posts in 2483 days

#10 posted 08-14-2010 07:53 PM

BLO by iitself has the added benefit of not being a slippery finish. I use a bit of shellac on my bench and that is it.

-- Galootish log blog,

View TheDane's profile


5012 posts in 3174 days

#11 posted 08-14-2010 08:31 PM

For the ‘finish’ on the top of my bench, I used bee’s wax dissolved in gum turpentine, then mixed with boiled linseed oil. It took a couple of days to cure, but it is a decent finish, with the added benefit that glue, paint, etc. won’t stick to it. It is also pretty easy to renew after you do Chris’s flattening routine.

See ... also …

-- Gerry -- "I don't plan to ever really grow up ... I'm just going to learn how to act in public!"

View AaronK's profile


1455 posts in 2975 days

#12 posted 08-14-2010 09:02 PM

My bench top is MDF, so I let poly soak into it to make it harder. If I was making a REAL bench like you are, I think I would also use BLO. it’s foolproof, cheap, and easy to reapply periodically. PurpLev and paratrooper34 pretty much said it… you dont really need the same type of protection you would on furniture, but it does help prevent glue from sticking – which is handy.

If you do want a little added protection, I’d do a couple soaking coats of BLO, followed by a thin coat or two of wiping varnish (BLO, poly, and mineral spirits mixed together).

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