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Thread: Best Dining table finish

  1. #1

    Best Dining table finish

    My project is an expandable Sapele (Mahogany) dining table which I had intended to, and tested, stain, shellac, grain filler, and then wipe on poly. I had some issues with the grain filler but have thinned it and found it eaiser to apply. As some of you have pointed out, the poly is not the best choice if a mirror finish is what I am looking for. I have experimented with Behlens Rock Hard Table Top Varnish but am finding that it has issues with dust and temprature at application and during the cure. Is Sellac and or Laquer that much of a problem when it comes to general durability of a dining table? If you spill a drink will it really destroy Shellac? If a sweating glass sits on a Laquer finish will that to be a problem? It seems like the Rock finish might be the right thing but from what I am seeing, I would have to build a finishing tent that was dust free and heated. One more thing, the finish must be wiped or brushed (no spray gear). Thanks

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2003
    SE PA - Central Bucks County
    Lacquer or non-poly varnish are probably the best bets for this particular project, and brushing lacquers are not going to be fun for such a large surface. Therefore, varnish is still the best choice due to your application needs.

    That all said...ALL finishes have minimum tempuratures and "preferred" tempuratures for best results. If you cannot provide that, then you are risking your finish on your fine project. Depending on where you are, you might be able to find a cabinet shop that you could sub contract spraying a finish for you. Otherwise, wait for warmer weather or find an alternative location to complete your finishing.

    The most expensive tool is the one you buy "cheaply" and often...

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Feb 2003
    New Orleans LA

    I'm not a sprayer either

    When I absolutely had to spray a piece (don't ask me why I had to) I went to an auto body shop here in the small city I live in, and they did a fine job at what I considered a fair price. On the table top I used Fuhr's #355 water borne varnish. I rubbed it out with Abralon discs and Menzerna compund. A real good result.
    18th century nut --- Carl

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Feb 2003
    Shoreline, CT
    You can't build a completely dust free finishing room unless you are willing to spend big bucks on filters, etc. Dust happens, but you should never expect to have a furniture quality finish without rubbing it out, and that will eliminated the dust, unless it is really excessive. (Even sprayed lacquer products that can achieve a good kitchen cabinet without rubbing out because they dry so quickly, would benefit from rubbing out.) In terms of temperature--the most sensitive are waterborne finishes. Some just give up and refuse to coalesce below 55 or even below 60 (give or take depending on the finish). Shellac will cure at just about any above freezing temperature, as will lacquer, though it will still take longer to dry.

    You have plenty of time to wipe up a spilled martini on shellac, just don't let a puddle stay overnight. (But if it does, you can repair the spot in half and hour.) Sweaty glasses can be a problem with both shellac or lacquer, but again is not going to have an effect is someone sets a cold glass down for half an hour. Dewaxed shellac is more water resistent than shellac with wax.

    But coasters are still available, and are easy to whip up in the shop.

  5. #5
    Thanks for the input. Sounds like the RH varnish will be the finish of choice. I thought about taking the table to a finisher of sorts but my pride wouldn't let me. My test piece has 2 coats of varnish I plan on a 3rd then rub it out and hopefully all of the little imperfections will go away. Ultimately, I would like to fashion a finishing tent with a heat source to apply the varnish. I realize there are conciderations there with fumes, fire etc. I thought, if I made the tent of plasic, got one of those under the desk type heaters with a fan, put a filter of the inlet side of the heater, set the fan speed on low and set the thermostat to 75 degrees that might do it. Maybe if I cut some small flaps in the tent, the heater would create a slight positive pressure in the tent forcing fumes out. I could also make a panel that could be lowered over the freshly applied finish to keep the dust off but temperature would still be an issue. OK, so I know this sounds a liittle nuts but I don't want to wait for summer to finish this table ( I will if I have to). Have any of you done such a thing? Any thoughts? Thanks once again

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jun 2005
    Charlotte, NC
    I just finished two table tops the last 2 months. Wiped Rock Hard on both with very good results. Here's what I did:

    I have a spare bedroom and did the work in there....I was able to close the door keeping the odor in and the cats out.

    1st coat was full strength...trying to get a good coat down. Let that dry for 48 hours then sanded with 220.

    Thinned the varnish 50:50 with mineral spirits and wiped on 8 more coats, 1 per day for 8 days. I only "lightly" sanded between coats if I saw a streak or bump. For the applicator I used an old tee shirt. I also cleaned the surface by wiping with mineral spirits right before applying the varnish. This also helped the Rock Hard go on smoother.

    After the last coat is down, let it dry for several days. If it looks good to you, you are done....or you may choose to continue and polish the finish to the desired sheen.

  7. #7
    John, Thanks, We live in a rather small place so I don't have the luxury of an extra room to do the work in. We do have some unfinished attic space that I could rig something up although it does get cold up there. I read in a finishing book by Bob Flexner about thinning the varnish near the last coat if you choose and he suggested brushing the thinned mixure on, either way sounds like a good idea. Today, I nearly flattened my test piece that had 2 full strength coats with 400. Most of the imperfections went away but a few remained. I lightly hit it with 0000 steel wool and it all evened out. Held up to a light, I could still see some minor waves but I am sure if I coat it again and take it back down it will turn out great. What kind of wood were your tables made of? did you use grain filler? Randy

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