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What is a durable but natural looking finish for a Walnut dining table?

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Forum topic by AndyCC posted 06-26-2017 08:13 PM 1767 views 0 times favorited 12 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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AndyCC

3 posts in 173 days


06-26-2017 08:13 PM

Hi folks,

I know this kind of question has been asked a thousand times, but I have to ask because my head is awash with different opinions from trawling the internet looking for the right wood finish.

I am making a Walnut dining table, and when I come to finish it, I need a finish that is two things…
1. Durable: as it’s a dining table, it will get wear and tear. Ideally I don’t want to be in a situation where it needs to be refinished/repaired again and again.
2. Natural looking: that looks as if the timber is bare and unfinished (or as close to this as possible with commonly available products). I don’t mind if the timber colour becomes a little richer, but I don’t want the surface to have any kind of sheen, or apparent film layer.

My understanding is this…
Wax is not an option because of its durability – it’s susceptible to wear and also moisture.
I’ve used water-based matt varnish in the past, but it leaves a plasticky look to the surface. I’ve read that thinning the varnish and applying just a couple of thin coats will give a less plastic look – any thoughts on this?

So, I’d appreciate suggestions about what products would achieve this type of finish – please let me know what kind of experience you’ve had with what you’re suggesting!

Many thanks,

Andy.


12 replies so far

View Rich's profile (online now)

Rich

1984 posts in 428 days


#1 posted 06-26-2017 08:37 PM



1. Durable: as it s a dining table, it will get wear and tear. Ideally I don t want to be in a situation where it needs to be refinished/repaired again and again.
2. Natural looking: that looks as if the timber is bare and unfinished (or as close to this as possible with commonly available products). I don t mind if the timber colour becomes a little richer, but I don t want the surface to have any kind of sheen, or apparent film layer.

- AndyCC

Those two things are kind of mutually exclusive, Andy. I’m sure you’ll get lots of suggestions on here. If I had one that met your criteria, I’d be glad to share, but durability is hard to come by without a film topcoat.

-- No matter how much you push the envelope, it'll still be stationery.

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AndyCC

3 posts in 173 days


#2 posted 06-26-2017 08:44 PM

Hi Rich,

Yeah I reckoned that there’ll have to be a trade-off between durability and no film. Do you have any thoughts on the idea of thinning a water-based matt varnish and applying thin coats so that it soaks into the timber and leaves a thinner film?

Andy.

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Rich

1984 posts in 428 days


#3 posted 06-26-2017 08:49 PM

I’m not a fan of water based topcoats. They have a cold, plastic look to me. Others love them, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Lots of folks on here swear by Arm-R-Seal, and it’s a great finish. Wipe on poly will probably get you closest to what you want because it doesn’t build heavily, and is really easy to apply. Being oil based, it will give you some extra warmth in the color, but it will also bring out the beauty of the wood.

Also, you can also wipe on Arm-R-Seal, or Waterlox sealer/finisher to get a thinner film.

Be sure to do lots of test boards. Prepare their surface the same way you will on the table and try different recipes to get the look you like. Some people say to test on scraps. That’s totally wrong. You want to test on real surfaces that match the final piece.

-- No matter how much you push the envelope, it'll still be stationery.

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Loren

9633 posts in 3486 days


#4 posted 06-26-2017 08:52 PM

Clear Watco is already a varnish/oil mixture.
It does darken walnut a bit but doesn’t leave
a visible film. A wax topcoat is ideal, imo.

Tung oil is nice too. You might test it. You
can buy pure, which cures slower, and
polymerized, which I think has driers in
it and behaves a little more like a wiping
varnish.

View bondogaposis's profile

bondogaposis

4480 posts in 2190 days


#5 posted 06-26-2017 09:11 PM

For a dining table I would use oil base poly wiping varnish, it is the most durable, use satin and it will look pretty natural. You can control the look by how many coats you apply. No less than 3, but as many more as you want, more coats = more durable, but more of a film finish.

-- Bondo Gaposis

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AandCstyle

2905 posts in 2096 days


#6 posted 06-26-2017 09:25 PM

Andy, I don’t know if this will help you or not, but here is a walnut table finished with Waterlox. At least, this will give you some idea of a Waterlox look. Also, you should know that walnut will lighten up color-wise with exposure to sunlight. HTH

-- Art

View Gilley23's profile

Gilley23

392 posts in 221 days


#7 posted 06-26-2017 09:33 PM

Check this out, The Wood Whisperer did a product comparison that might interest you: https://youtu.be/PryTA4pzTZ4

View Rich's profile (online now)

Rich

1984 posts in 428 days


#8 posted 06-26-2017 09:33 PM



Andy, I don t know if this will help you or not, but here is a walnut table finished with Waterlox. At least, this will give you some idea of a Waterlox look. Also, you should know that walnut will lighten up color-wise with exposure to sunlight. HTH

- AandCstyle

Note that on the Waterlox site they say that the sealer/finish starts with a 75 sheen, and drops to 50 to 55 in a few months. 50 sheen is still pretty glossy. I use their satin urethane over the top of it to knock that down, however it will add a thicker film, which Andy didn’t want. It is darned durable though.

-- No matter how much you push the envelope, it'll still be stationery.

View JBrow's profile

JBrow

1274 posts in 759 days


#9 posted 06-26-2017 09:33 PM

AndyCC,

I like Rich Taylor’s suggestion of testing various finishing products on walnut test boards which have been prepared to accept finish just as the table is prepared.

I elected to use gloss polyurethane on our walnut dining table. I probably overdid it by applying five coats to the table top for that protection you mentioned (but only three coats on the base). This product was selected since I wanted to ensure the wood was protected from dents and dings and from pigment-rich foods that can leave difficult to remove stains in wood (like red wine). We also wanted to simply wipe the top with a damp cloth to clean up any spills, with no other maintenance required.

Our table went into service about 9 years ago. It has been used frequently and we work hard to protect the top with cloth place and serving mats and otherwise strive to be careful. However, walnut, bearing a softer hardwood, has picked up some dents and dings. I suspect that a softer or thinner finish would have left the table I with a few more dings. Base on this experience and assuming your dining table will get heavy use and you want to keep the table looking pristine, periodic re-sanding and re-finishing may be required. So far I have been content to allow each dining experience at our table to add a little more character; but one day I am sure our dining table top will be back in the finishing room.

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AndyCC

3 posts in 173 days


#10 posted 06-26-2017 10:31 PM

Thanks guys, lots of interesting info there. I’m leaning towards the wipe-on polyurethane… the Wood Whisperer in Gilley23’s video said that the wipe-on polyurethane is just pre-diluted polyurethane – so is there any reason why I shouldn’t just dilute some that I already have, in order to see how it looks?

Does anyone have any experience of Osmo products?
http://www.osmona.com/interior.shtml

View Rick_M's profile

Rick_M

10640 posts in 2219 days


#11 posted 06-27-2017 02:43 AM

Walnut is relatively soft. I would strongly recommend you go with a varnish or polyurethane. Some wipe on products are just the regular varnish thinned with mineral spirits to make it easier to apply. Some wipe ons contain oil which makes the finish softer. If you have kids or ever plan on having kids around, they are tough on dining room tables. You may find this interesting:

(edit, I just noticed Gilley already posted the same video)

-- http://thewoodknack.blogspot.com/

View runswithscissors's profile

runswithscissors

2565 posts in 1864 days


#12 posted 06-27-2017 04:27 AM

For walnut, I like a Danish rubbed oil. Daly’s Ben Matte, for example. Wet sanded with 400 to 600 wet or dry paper just for the first coat. More coats may be put on. Very easy to brighten up with just another coat wiped on with a cloth every year or so.

But here’s another way to think about this. Assuming this is going to be a well-built, solid family dining room table, one that will last for maybe a couple of generations or more, do you want to keep it looking like it’s brand new for all those years? Let it get the scuffs and dings that come with use, and someday it will look like a well-loved antique, not something from Ikea. Just a thought.

Of course, I’m not a good example. I feel the same way about the dings and scuffs on my car. Just shrug ‘em off.

-- I admit to being an adrenaline junky; fortunately, I'm very easily frightened

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