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Thread: What is the Best Finish for Walnut Dining Room Table?

  1. #1

    What is the Best Finish for Walnut Dining Room Table?

    My next project will be a Walnut dining room table. From what I've read, Polyurethane seems to be the finish of choice, however, my client is not a big fan of Polyurethane. What would you suggest as an alternative finish that will resist the typical use that a dining room table might see? Would danish oil work in this situation (he really likes the look)?

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2007
    Charlottesville, VA

    Wipe-on Polyurethane

    I suggest you use a wipe-on polyurethane finish. With just a few coats you can get the look of an oil finish with the durability of varnish. Do not use an oil finish. It will water spot very easily.


  3. #3
    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    Plano, TX
    The problem with poly on a dining room table is that eventually the poly will chip, scratch and develop cuts due to the use of hardware. At which point a complete redo will be required. If your client likes the "lived in look" you might want to suggest an oil/wax combination. The look is great on Walnut. Lacquer provides a more serviceable option, where you can spot treat defects as they will inevitably develop.
    The means by which an end is reached must exemplify the value of the end itself.

  4. #4
    i've worked on over 40 walnut dining tables for a restaurant and we used a danish oil type finish. looks great, works great. the tables still look fabulous after 3 years.

    i would not use polyurethane if the client doesn't like it!

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Feb 2003
    Shoreline, CT
    Polyurethane varnish is hardly the finish of choice for any furniture however great it may be for floors. It's primary "advantage" is resistance to heavy abrasion.

    The true question is whether a film finish is desired or whether an "in the wood" finish is the way to go. Danish oil which is an oil/varnish mixture does provide an attractive look on walnut. Since no film is built on the surface it's protective qualities are limited, though most people find them satisfactory unless they are both careless and picky. A lot more protective than pure oils such as BLO or Tung Oil. Will need occasional renewing.

    There are a number of film finish alternatives to polyurethane varnish. For traditional furniture shellac can be very attractive. It's a bit prone to damage, but that damage is very quick and easy to repair. It's much more durable and protective than most people credit.

    For more protection a wiping varnish is good, though you must realize that there is a tradeoff between film thickness and protection. With only a couple of coats of a wiping varnish you may get a look similar to danish oil, but with only slightly more protection. To really get the benefits of the protection of varnish requires a thicker film.

    And while traditional resin varnishes, either wiping or brush on, will look better than polyurethane varnish, they will still be on the surface and that, rather than polyurethane per se, may be the look your client doesn't like.

    Waterlox makes a very good wiping varnish, in three flavors--Satin, Original/Sealer (a mellow gloss or semi-gloss) or Gloss. For a brush on varnish Behlen Rockhard is an excellent traditional resin varnish that looks particularly good on walnut since it is a little darker than some varnishes. Rockhard is the varnish to use when durability is the primary goal.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Dec 2003
    Laguna Beach , Ca.
    I have used tried and True and Daly's for years with good results. Rings from glasses will show though. In the last couple of years I switched to General Finishes Seal a Cell and Arm R Seal and it gives a near perfect finish with some experience that has good protection and is not difficult to re coat
    "All great work starts with love .... then it is no longer work"

  7. #7
    Some questions I have:

    Are you going to use a filler in the walnut grain?
    Do you want a high gloss rubbed out finish?

    If yes to these, I would use an oil base poly.

    Danish oil, boiled linseed oil and Tung oil will need more maintance and could be covered with a poly to add more protection. Point that out to the customer however, I would do what the customer wants.

    Good luck,


  8. #8
    Thanks for all those responses everyone. I have decided to try to convince him to go with Waterlox.

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