What is the Best Finish for a Dining Table?

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When it comes to picking the best finish for a dining table, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, take into account the type of wood your table is crafted from. This is crucial as different woods may require specific finishes to bring out their best qualities. Additionally, it’s important to factor in your personal preferences. 

To make your decision easier, I’ll be sharing some of the top finish options you can find, along with several helpful tips for applying and maintaining them in this guide.

Using Stains

There are two main types of stains: water-based and oil-based. Water-based stains are generally simpler to work with and clean up afterward, which can be a real convenience. However, they don’t penetrate the wood quite as deeply as their oil-based counterparts.

On the other hand, oil-based stains can deliver a richer color and a more durable finish. But I must admit, they can be a bit trickier to handle during application.

dining table

Finish Options

Film-forming finishes, such as paint, lacquer, and polyurethane, form a protective layer on top of the wood. This type of finish is ideal for tables with a lot of wear and tear, such as kitchen tables or high-traffic areas like formal dining rooms. 

Penetrating finishes, such as oil and wax, absorb in the wood grain to create a durable and long-lasting finish. This type of finish is ideal for tables that are not used as often or for more delicate pieces of furniture, such as an antique dining table.

Shellac

Shellac is a natural resin that can be derived from insects or plants. It’s versatile stuff, finding its way into everything from food coatings to cosmetics. When used as a wood finish, shellac produces a hard, durable surface that is resistant to water and alcohol. 

However, pure and dewaxed shellac are not heat resistant. So, I wouldn’t recommend using pure or dewaxed shellac on surfaces that frequently encounter hot dishes or plates.

French Polish Shallac Method

French polish is a traditional wood finishing technique that dates back to the 19th century. It is often used on high-quality furniture like dining tables and chairs. The process involves applying thin layers of shellac, a resin secreted by female lac bugs.

French polishing table

Here’s how it works: you apply these layers one at a time, allowing each to dry before giving it a good buff and polish. This results in a deep, glossy, durable, and beautiful finish. While French polish takes time and effort to complete, it is well worth the effort for those who want the best finish for their dining table.

I won’t sugarcoat it; French polishing does demand some time and effort. However, for those who want nothing but the best for their dining table, it’s an investment well worth making.

Paint

Paint offers a versatile way to transform the appearance of your dining table completely. Whether you want to add a pop of color, create intricate patterns, or achieve a charming distressed look, paint allows you to achieve your desired style. Moreover, if you decide to change the table’s look later on, paint can be easily removed or updated.

Lacquer

Lacquer is a type of resin that dries quickly and produces a hard, durable surface. Lacquer comes in two main varieties: water-based and solvent-based.

Now, the water-based version has some advantages worth mentioning. It’s less toxic, which is a plus for both you and the environment, and it’s a breeze to clean up after use. However, it’s essential to note that it may not deliver quite as tough of a finish as its solvent-based counterpart.

A lacquer finish, regardless of the type you choose, can give wood a beautiful, deep shine. It is also one of the most durable finishes available, making it a good choice for high-traffic areas such as dining tables. Lacquer is also heat resistant, which means you can confidently use it on dining tables without worrying about the occasional encounter with hot dishes or plates.  

How To Use Lacquer

Applying lacquer is a multi-step process, but the results are worth the effort. 

spraying lacquer to dining table

The first step is to sand the wood thoroughly. This will create a smooth surface for the lacquer to adhere to. Next, apply a coat of primer and allow it to dry completely. Once the primer is dry, you can begin applying the lacquer itself.

For the best outcome, remember to go with several thin coats rather than one thick one. Give each coat enough time to dry completely before adding the next.

To finish it off, buff the surface with a soft cloth to bring out the shine. With a little time and patience, you can achieve a beautiful lacquer finish that will last for years to come.

Polyurethane

Polyurethane is another type of resin that dries quickly and produces a hard, durable surface. Polyurethane is available in both water-based and solvent-based formulas.

applying polyurethane to table

Now, the water-based version has its perks: it’s less toxic, which is always a plus, and cleaning up afterward is a breeze. However, similar to water-based lacquer, it might not give you quite as robust of a finish as the solvent-based alternative. 

Polyurethane is also heat resistant, making it a good option for use on dining tables. 

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Oils

Oils, such as teak, tung, and linseed, are popular for unfinished wood furniture because they penetrate deep into the grain and provide long-lasting protection against moisture damage. Oils can be applied in thin coats and don’t require special equipment or ventilation like other finishes. 

Wax

Wax is another popular choice for unfinished wood furniture because it’s easy to apply and provides long-lasting protection against moisture damage. Wax can be applied in thin coats with a soft cloth and doesn’t require special equipment or ventilation like some other finishes [1]. 

How To Refinish a Wooden Dining Table

A wood dining table can last for many years with the right care. Eventually, your wood dining table will need to be refinished to bring back its original beauty. This process is not as difficult as it may seem, and it is a great way to save money instead of buying a new dining table.

round dining table

Follow these simple steps to refinish your wooden dining table. 

Necessary Materials

Before you begin to refinish your wood dining table, you will need to gather the necessary materials. You will need sandpaper in various grits, a tack cloth, a wood stain, a foam brush, and a polyurethane topcoat.

Once you have gathered all of the materials, you are ready to begin refinishing your wood dining table.

Step #1: Prepare the Wood

Preparing the wood is the first step in refinishing your wood dining table. It’s also crucial to ensure you’re working with the best wood for your dining table top to achieve the best results. Begin by clearing the table’s surface of all items. Next, use medium-grit sandpaper to remove any stains or defects on the surface of the wood.

cleaning wooden surface

Once you have sanded the table’s surface, use a tack cloth to remove any dust from the surface. 

Step #2: Apply the Stain on the Wood

With the wood prepped, it’s time to apply the stain. Before you begin staining the wood, read the manufacturer’s instructions so that you are familiar with how long you need to let the stain sit on the surface of the wood before wiping it off.

Once you have applied the stain, use a clean cloth to wipe off the excess. 

Step #3: Brush the Finish on the Wood

Now, let’s protect your table with a clear finish that guards against spills and stains. Start by stirring your polyurethane topcoat so that it is evenly mixed.

brushing finish on the wood

Next, use a foam brush to apply an even coat of polyurethane over the entire surface of the table. Allow the finish to dry according to the manufacturer’s instructions before using the table again.

Read Next: Steps to Get a High Gloss Finish on Wood

Common Supplies Needed for Dining Table Refinishing

Refinishing a dining table is a fantastic way to breathe new life into an old piece of furniture. The best part is, it’s a pretty straightforward project that most folks can tackle with just a few basic supplies. So, let’s dive into what you’ll need to kickstart this makeover.

Estimated Cost For a Dining Table Finishing Project

The estimated cost for a dining table finishing project will vary depending on the type of wood you choose, the size of the table, and the level of finish you desire. Generally, you can expect to spend between $50 and $200 for a complete dining table finishing project.

wooden dining table

Some important things to keep in mind when choosing a finish for your dining table include choosing a finish that is compatible with the wood type, making sure the finish is food safe, and selecting a finish that will be durable enough to withstand everyday use.

FAQ

What is the best finish for an oak dining table?

The best finish for an oak dining table is a clear coat of polyurethane. Polyurethane will protect the table from moisture and spills, and it will also help to keep the wood looking shiny and new. 

Make sure to apply at least two coats of polyurethane for the best results.

What is the best finish for a timber dining table top?

The best finish for a timber dining table top is a natural type that will leave the timber in its natural state. A wax or oil finish will protect the timber and give it a sheen. If you’re looking for a more durable finish, you could also choose to paint or lacquer the tabletop.

Also Read: Lacquer and Polyurethane Comparison 

What is the strongest dining table finish?

The strongest dining table finish is a resin-based finish. A resin-based finish is durable and can protect your table from scratches, water damage, and other wear and tear.

Conclusion

When it comes to selecting the best finish for your dining table, keep a couple of key factors in mind. The most important factor is the type of wood your table is made out of. Whichever route you choose, be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully in order to apply the finish correctly.

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Robert Johnson is a passionate furniture maker & carpenter, sought after for his knowledge on the craft.
You’ve probably seen his down-to-earth wisdom in USA Today, Bobvila, Family Handyman, and The Spruce, where he has shared commentary and guidance on various woodworking topics.

Robert is the brain behind Sawinery, where he aims to share tips, tricks, and a passion for all things carpentry.

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