Dining table finish

  • Advertise with us

« back to Finishing forum

Forum topic by USMCSergeant posted 01-18-2013 09:17 AM 6996 views 1 time favorited 37 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View USMCSergeant's profile


28 posts in 1955 days

01-18-2013 09:17 AM

Topic tags/keywords: table dining table live edge

I’m finishing up a maple burl live edge dining table, this is my first woodworking project and I am stumped as to finishing.

The original plan was de-waxed shellac coated with poly, but on a test piece it really darkened and I didn’t like it. My wife and I both like the look of the table as is, but I’d like to bring out the grain of the wood some. I’d like it to look as natural as possible.

Any suggestions to bring out the grain, without darkening the table overall? Easy finish also, again I’m very new to all of this! Thanks in advance.

37 replies so far

View Kelby's profile


134 posts in 2411 days

#1 posted 01-18-2013 09:32 AM

Oil-based poly tends to darken a little more than water-based, but for the most part, the same things that bring out the grain also tend to darken the wood a bit.

Before you give up on the poly, try this: The darkening is a function of the poly’s “sheen.” It is reflecting the light. The more it reflects, the darker the wood looks, and the more visible the grain is. You can reduce the sheen with sandpaper or steel wool. The coarser the grit, the more you will reduce the sheen. I would recommend sanding the poly lightly with a 320 or 400 grit sandpaper. Keep in mind that the less sheen you have, the lighter the wood will be, but the less clear the grain will be also. If 320 or 400 grit is too rough (i.e., if the grain isn’t clear enough), work your way up through the grits—600, 800, 1000, or even some 0000 steel wool. Each of those will give you progressively more sheen than the previous grit, although substantially less than you are starting with from a wet coat of poly.

Now, with all of that said, you also need to keep in mind one additional consideration: This is a dining table, and you need an extremely durable finish for that. I don’t know what kind of poly you are using, but most finishes will not stand up well to the kind of abuse that a dining table gets. With many types of poly, leaving a glass of water on the table will result in a water ring on the table that is a huge pain to repair. For a long time, Behlen’s Rock Hard Tabletop Varnish was the standard for finishing dining tables, although I couldn’t tell you whether something newer and better has come out in the last few years. You might try some of that, and use the same approach of sanding through the grits until you get the sheen you want.

-- Kelby

View Purrmaster's profile


915 posts in 2093 days

#2 posted 01-18-2013 10:33 AM

If it’s going to be a heavily used dining table you may want to use poly for protection. I recently finished a much smaller project in curly maple. I used the Minwax “Natural” color of stain. It did darken the wood a bit, there’s no denying it. But I think it made the grain much more visible and enhanced the look of the piece considerably. I then used their flat sheen wipe on poly. I find that a few coats of the non-gloss wipe on poly are less likely to make it look like it was dripped in plastic (my chief beef with poly).

If you want pretty good protection you could also try lacquer. One of the advantages of lacquer is that if you don’t like it you can strip it off with lacquer thinner. That will be a messy and smelly process . But lacquer can be totally reversed if need be. I think shellac wouldn’t work well on a dining table. Shellac is weak against water, alcohol, and heat.

I’ve tried water based poly once I didn’t like it at all. That being said, it is the most “clear” of the finishes. That is, it will impart almost no color change to the wood. In theory, at least.

If you get something with a gloss sheen you can known down the sheen with steel wool. If you opt for a water based finish use synthetic steel wool.

You could also try the lightest color of Watco danish oil. It’s very easy to put on. But I don’t think it’s terribly protective.

View tenontim's profile


2131 posts in 3745 days

#3 posted 01-18-2013 01:12 PM

+1 for the water based finish changing the color the least. Not a big fan myself. All of the dining tables that I’ve made have been finished with 100% tung oil. About 8 coats of it. It has to be renewed every year, but it’s a food safe finish and it’s fairly water resistant. We use coasters on our table, to help keep wet glasses from standing on it, but the normal spills that happen on a dining table haven’t caused any rings or spots.
Start out with a 50-50 mix or tung oil and mineral spirits and work your way to pure tung oil for the final coat. You’ll have to give it a couple of days between coats. It will give you a satin finish.

View USMCSergeant's profile


28 posts in 1955 days

#4 posted 01-18-2013 03:16 PM

I think you guys have talked me back into oil finish. In the past we use our dining table quite a bit for everything. Homework, sitting and talking, crafts..etc.. I like the natural minwax finish purrmaster posted. I’ll try that with a few coats of poly.

This weekend I’m going to re-weld the legs. I’m just not happy with 3/16” and I’m gonna go up to 3/8” 3/16 is stable, and the table is solid supporting weight. But from the ends it looks very, very thin. I’m also going to switch out the 3/16” plate and go up to a 1/4” support plate underneath where the legs attach. Hopefully I’ll have it finished in a couple of weeks.

View Cosmicsniper's profile


2202 posts in 3159 days

#5 posted 01-18-2013 04:03 PM

Pop the grain with the dewaxed shellac. Then use a water-borne poly. That’s the best way I can think of to give a natural appearance, other than just leaving it naked.

-- jay,

View Purrmaster's profile


915 posts in 2093 days

#6 posted 01-18-2013 09:37 PM

I tend to agree with Cosmicsniper. The dewaxed shellac will probably pop the grain nicely. And then the poly will give protection.

I’m not sure pure tung oil will give you much protection. Coasters and such will help. I agree with tenontim’s finishing schedule for the tung oil. His method is spot on.

View JSilverman's profile


89 posts in 2614 days

#7 posted 01-18-2013 10:54 PM

I agree with the shellac recommendation—it will keep it light (lighter than any oil containing finish) and then apply topcoats of a more durable finish. By using the shellac you will maintain the color better.

View pintodeluxe's profile


5662 posts in 2813 days

#8 posted 01-18-2013 10:55 PM

I spray tabletops with 2 coats of pre-cat lacquer (Valspar brand). Dark wax is optional. I use howards walnut wax.

-- Willie, Washington "If You Choose Not To Decide, You Still Have Made a Choice" - Rush

View USMCSergeant's profile


28 posts in 1955 days

#9 posted 01-19-2013 12:33 PM

Would thinning the shellac make it lighter? Maybe 2 lb cut into a 1 pound cut for example.

Busy day today. Re welding the legs in 3/8”. So much grinding ahead of me! I didn’t like the look of 3/16”. Too thin. Should be ready to start the finish work in a few days.

View Purrmaster's profile


915 posts in 2093 days

#10 posted 01-19-2013 10:48 PM

You can use any cut of shellac you like. Might be best to start with a 1 pound cut and you can move up from there. You could snag the Zinsser Bullseye Seal Coat. It’s dewaxed and you can thin it however you like. Just make sure you don’t use non-dewaxed shellac as other coatings don’t stick so well to it.

View Clint Searl's profile

Clint Searl

1533 posts in 2361 days

#11 posted 01-19-2013 11:10 PM

Forget the shellac; it just complicates the process without adding value. Nitrocellulose lacquer would be great if you can spray, otherwise waterborne poly floor finish will emphasize the grain without darkening the tone. If it’s tough enough to dance on, it’s tough enough to eat off of. I like Varathane or Bona Mega.

-- Clint Searl....Ya can no more do what ya don't know how than ya can git back from where ya ain't been

View jumbojack's profile


1676 posts in 2624 days

#12 posted 01-19-2013 11:30 PM

I am a lacquer guy, so I vote lacquer. Lots of thin coats, eight would be a minimum. Sand back after the third and sixth coats with 400. Apply #7 & 8 then hit with 800 or 1000. Several coats of paste wax and you are golden. The color will pop grain will jump.

-- Made in America, with American made tools....Shopsmith

View GuyK's profile


356 posts in 4079 days

#13 posted 01-19-2013 11:39 PM

I have to agree with the dewaxed shellac. Try a test with a 50/50 mix with Denatured Alcohol. It will lighten the color a little and also soak deeper into the wood. Sand with 400 grit lightly, then several coats of a water based poly.

-- Guy Kroll

View Purrmaster's profile


915 posts in 2093 days

#14 posted 01-20-2013 11:20 AM

If you don’t have spray equipment you can still spray. You can get lacquer in rattle cans.

View Monte Pittman's profile

Monte Pittman

29233 posts in 2338 days

#15 posted 01-20-2013 11:48 AM

Danish oil and then Epoxy coat

-- Nature created it, I just assemble it.

showing 1 through 15 of 37 replies

Have your say...

You must be signed in to reply.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics