Finish wood countertops
Finish - To ensure a long functional life for your countertops, the finish is just as important a detail as the glue and the lumber used, if not even more important. However, choosing the right type of finish for your wood countertop can be at time a not so easy task, as each type has its cons and pros and choosing one over another involves a bit of a trade-off.
Polyurethane finish is our option of choice for a wide variety of projects because of its versatility and durability.
Polyurethane forms a thick and durable coat that has, at the same time, great elasticity and fully seals the wood. It works great on all types of wood surfaces except for cutting boards, butcher- blocks and similar work surfaces used for cutting and chopping food. When applied on a rather soft wood, such as alder, it actually hardens the surface.
The main inconvenience of this finish type is not enhancing the grain the way other finishes do. This is the reason why we apply a coat of tung oil prior to the polyurethane when dealing with walnut, sapele, mahogany and other similar species as the tung oil brightens up the colors and brings out the beauty of the wood.
Lacquer is also a sealing finish which, compared with the polyurethane, greatly emphasizes thegrain by highlighting subtleties in color and grain pattern and making them visible but is not ashard, durable and scratch-resistant.
Because they fully seal the grain, both lacquer and polyurethane are recommended for kitchen countertops featuring sinks and are a must for bathroom vanity tops. The sheen of both finishes can be adjusted from matte to high gloss in whatever increment desired; this way, a “personalized” sheen is achievable. They both have the pro of being waterproof and stain-proof and the con of potential dents and scratches being hard to repair on site.
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Hard wax is a new type of finish that got a lot of popularity recently because of their ease of application and repair. There are many brands available but essentially all products in this category consist of a mix of oils and wax; when applied, the oil penetrates the wood fiber while the wax forms a coat on the surface. The coat is usually thin and breathable which means it doesn’t fully seal the wood the way the two previous finishes do. How well it seals the wood depends on the brand chosen, as some result in a thicker coat, other in a thinner one, leaving almost a “bare wood” look.
The hard wax is softer than both polyurethane and lacquer and so it scratches easier but on the other hand it is just as easy to repair; accidental dents and scratches are easily dealt with on site. All hard wax products greatly enhance the colors and the grain and most of them are environmentally-friendly, bio-degradable, with almost zero VOC. They usually come in either flat or satin gloss so the range of choices is pretty limited as far as the sheen goes. While not being 100% stain- or water proof, the hard wax coating has a decent degree of stain- and water-resistance.
Penetrating oil finishes do not do a very good job at protecting the wood and they usually need to be re-applied periodically, these being the reasons why we do not use them very much. The only exception are the wood surfaces meant for real food preparation for which we recommend
food-grade mineral oil.
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The mineral oil is not even a finish proper because it never dries; it temporarily clogs the wood pores but, as it gets absorbed into the wood because of the capillarity, it leaves the surface dry again in a matter of days or weeks depending on the wood type. When that happens, a new coat of oil is required. The mineral oil gives a “wet look” to the wood and the surface can feel greasy to touch for a couple of days after application. The oil coating is neither water-proof nor stain-proof.