work tabletop finishing?

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Forum topic by LarryB posted 875 days ago 1241 views 1 time favorited 13 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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54 posts in 1223 days

875 days ago

My shop work table is an old industrial arts / art room, 72” X 42” that must be 80 to 100 years old. I’ve stripped and sanded down the top (I believe it’s hard maple) as fine as 320. It’s very smooth but I’d like to put some kind of finish on it to protect it from any spills, etc. Oil might transfer to paper & projects. A friend says no to shellac. I’ve considered wax – but what kind? Polyurethane is an option, but would that mean having to refinish periodically as it gets worn? Just wondering what LJs would recommend. Thanks!

13 replies so far

View a1Jim's profile


111999 posts in 2172 days

#1 posted 875 days ago

I say yes to shellac ,why because it’s easily renewable . Poly’s much tougher but once you scratch your top it will need to be sanded and start over ,with shellac just clean it of and does a quick light sanding and reapply shellac . It will melt right into the previous coat.
Sorry friend of Larry :))

-- Custom furniture

View waho6o9's profile


4744 posts in 1172 days

#2 posted 875 days ago

Beautiful table top. I’d use paste wax, it makes for a nice finish.

View mondak's profile


58 posts in 996 days

#3 posted 875 days ago

I’m not so sure that I wouldn’t put a sacrificial top over the top of that beautiful table top.
But, if you want to just use that top, another good option is something like watco penetrating oil. Very easy to re-apply and after glue dries on it-it just pops off and your back to a nice clean flat surface again.

View ddockstader's profile


107 posts in 1857 days

#4 posted 875 days ago

Masonite! Keep that maple beautiful. Masonite is easy to work with, cheap, lasts for a long time, and is easily replaced.

View Clint Searl's profile

Clint Searl

1380 posts in 956 days

#5 posted 875 days ago

Waterborne poly floor finish (Varathane) would be perfect.

-- Clint Searl.............We deserve what we tolerate

View Les 's profile


199 posts in 1286 days

#6 posted 875 days ago

This is the only way to go as far as I am concerned. It has been around for years.

Shave a hen’s-egg-size chunk of beeswax (about 2-ounces) into thin strips using a knife or food grater. Put the beeswax shavings into a pint (16-ounces) of pure gum turpentine and cover until the wax is dissolved into a butter-like blend. Next, add an equal volume of BLO and stir until the mixture is combined into a thick liquid. Brush or wipe the blend over your workbench and allow the “finish” to be absorbed into the wood for an hour or two before you squeegee off the excess. (Put the excess in a tightly sealed container—it is still good and can be used to renew the finish in the future.) Allow the finish to “cure” for a few days and then buff to a soft shine. The original version of this very old recipe called for raw linseed oil. This finish, or something very close to this finish, was most probably used on most of the surviving 18th and 19th century work benches.

Heres the link.

-- Stay busy....Stay young

View Charlie's profile


1001 posts in 881 days

#7 posted 875 days ago

OR…. you could simplify and just get some polyx hard wax oil. The stuff is used on floors and makes a great finish that’s easily repairable if it gets worn. It is NOT oily when dry, despite the name. Much like the beeswax, turp, BLO formula above except it’s premixed and stable. It goes on with a scrubbing motion and is intended to be applied in thin coats. You almost can’t put it on too thin, but you can put it on too thick.

I’ve used it on hardwood floors and also on cork floors. If an area gets worn, you can refresh just that area without having to do the entire floor (great for entry areas) AND you never need to sand the floor again.

Les is right. This type of finish has survived the years extremely well.

View Bill White's profile

Bill White

3340 posts in 2556 days

#8 posted 875 days ago

What was the reason for NOT using shellac?


View SnowyRiver's profile


51451 posts in 2076 days

#9 posted 875 days ago

Shellac is soft and doesnt hold up to heavy use. Its great for a finish, but I never use it on anything that will have heavy use. Like Jim said its a great finish and very easy to fix if it gets scratched etc, but I fear you would be doing a lot of fixing. Several coats of poly on the other hand is much harder, but if it gets scratched you have a bit more work to fix it. Oil type poly is used on floors so it’s very durable. If you dont want to put on a finish, you could cut a piece of clear plexiglass to fit the top and use a small piece of double-backed tape to hold it in place on the corners. If the plexiglass gets scratched or damaged, simply replace it.

-- Wayne - Plymouth MN

View Loren's profile


7222 posts in 2243 days

#10 posted 875 days ago

People who dismiss shellac often have little experience
working with it.

Shellac with a wax topcoat is quick to apply, nice looking,
and holds up better than most people think. Shellac
has been dismissed as “not durable” and compared
to spar varnish or poly it won’t take nearly the same
sort of abuse. It is far easier to apply and repair however.


View NiteWalker's profile


2696 posts in 1172 days

#11 posted 875 days ago

My choice would be crystalac polyoxide. It’s a hard wear water borne clear coat that’s very durable and easy to apply. Don’t be afraid of dings and marks in the WORK bench. They all add character.

-- He who dies with the most tools... dies with the emptiest wallet.

View foneman's profile


111 posts in 2690 days

#12 posted 875 days ago

” Don’t be afraid of dings and marks in the WORK bench. They all add character.”

I couldn’t agree more!!!!! I am working on an old high school benchtop and it has lots of character. The bottom is in nearly new shape and will become my top surface. This post was started just in time to help decide what to use for the finish. Since this top came from a school, I can see the type of beating it can take and still be structurally sound. I don’t think it will see the constant rough use it has in the past and when I am gone (permanently) I don’t care how many scratches, dings, or other character marks it has for the next owner.


View LarryB's profile


54 posts in 1223 days

#13 posted 874 days ago

Wow, I wasn’t expecting so many choices! But I am narrowing it down.

I’ve owned (& used!) this table for over 40 years and it is full of “character”. The recent sanding job was needed to bring it back to a level, even, smooth finish, and I wanted it sealed for preservation. Someone will inherit this table and I hope they enjoy it and get as much use from it as I have. It is one heavy dude.

Thanks to each of you for your input. I like learning about new (to me) techniques and applications.

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