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Best Finish for Wooden Kitchen Tables of 2021

Updated
Protect, seal, and restore the grain of your wooden table with these 7 top finishes.

If you think about how much use the kitchen table actually gets, you will realize why it’s such a great asset. And you need to show your wooden dining table some love to keep it in tip-top condition.

We take a look at the best finish for a wooden kitchen table, rating each one on coverage, application, and value for money.

Our Top Picks

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Image
Model
Product Comparison Table
Features

Product Image of the Watco 65141 Danish Oil Wood Finish, Quart, Golden Oak
Best Semi-Transparent
Watco 65141 Danish Oil Wood Finish
  • Generous 170 square feet of coverage
  • Dries to a warm hue to enhance the woodgrain
  • Easy to apply with a cloth
Product Image of the Rust-Oleum Zinsser 304H 1-Quart Bulls Eye Clear Shellac
Best Semi-Transparent
Rust-Oleum Zinsser Bulls-Eye Clear Shellac
  • Apply a second coat within 45 minutes of the first
  • Transparent finish that adds a golden hue to your wood’s color
  • Non-toxic and cleans easily with ammonia and water
Product Image of the Minwax 65555444 Polycrylic Protective Wood Finish, Clear Gloss, 1 Quart
Best for Painted Kitchen Tables
Minwax Polycrylic Water-Based Protector
  • Apply a second coat within 2 hours
  • Protects against water, sunlight, and abrasion
  • Works better on light woods like ash and birch
Product Image of the Rust-Oleum 260165 Ultimate Polyurethane, 1 Quart, Matte
Best Matte Finish
Rust-Oleum Ultimate Matte Polyurethane Wood Stain
  • Touch dry in 1 hour and recoats in 2 hours
  • Spreads over 150 square feet
  • Cleans with soap and water
Product Image of the Minwax 710330000 Water Based Oil-Modified Polyurethane, gallon, Satin
Best Satin Finish
Minwax Oil-Modified Polyurethane Wood Stain
  • The first coat dries in just 2 hours
  • Resists abrasions, alcohol, water, chipping, and other damage
  • Is suitable for use on floors
Product Image of the RUST-OLEUM 200031 Waterborne Diamond Polyurethane Scratch and Stain Protection, 1-Gallon, Gloss
Best Gloss Finish
Rust-Oleum Diamond Polyurethane Gloss Stain
  • Water-based, which is kind to the environment
  • Dries to a crystal clear finish
  • Low odor, scratch-resistant and self-leveling
Product Image of the Minwax 630500444 Water Based Helmsman Spar Urethane, quart, Gloss
Best Clear Finish
Minwax Water-Based Helmsman Spar Urethane Gloss Stain
  • Water-based, which is kind to the environment
  • Contains UV blockers for indoor and outside use
  • Resists temperature changes and rainwater

Do I Need To Finish a Wooden Kitchen Table?

You could leave your kitchen table untreated. There is no law that says you should apply a finish to the wooden surface. However, it will mark, scratch and discolor, not to mention become unhygienic to use.

Every time you spill food or drink on the wood, it soaks in, and eventually, what was once your pride and joy is now fit for firewood.

Finishing your wooden dining table keeps the wood in great condition. It protects it against heat and food stains, as well as water rings and chips and scuffs. Plus, the finish creates water-resistant protection that allows you to wipe the table clean with a damp cloth without fear it will soak into the surface.

Types of Table Top Finishes

Essentially, there are 4 types of table top finishes, but what are the differences, and which is the best?

Oil-Based Finish

Oil-based finishes are excellent for their protective qualities. They soak into the wood and form a water-resistant layer. If your table gets a lot of use, this might be the best type of finish for you.

The other advantage of oil-based products is they keep the feel of the wood grain rather than forming a high-gloss layer on the surface like varnish.

The disadvantage of oil-based finishes is the odor. You will need to wear a face mask and open all the windows to get the maximum airflow. Plus, oil is slower at drying, so you might have to complete your project over a couple of days.

Water-Based Finish

Water-based finishes are hard-wearing and easy to apply. They are typically thinner than oil products, so you might find you need a few more coats to achieve the desired results, but they are better for the environment.

They also wash clean using soap and water, so the cleanup is a whole lot easier. The other advantage is there is almost no odor and drying times are super-fast.

Varnish

Varnish is an excellent way to seal painted table tops, protecting the color from scratches and fading that comes with heavy use. Varnishes come in different sheens, from high-gloss to matte, and once applied, you have a water-resistant seal that repels almost everything.

However, varnish takes a long time to dry, so don’t expect a speedy completion to your project. Plus, it also has strong odors, thanks to the solvent-based formula.

Shellac

Shellac dries to form a high-gloss finish, thanks to the combination of solvents and wax. Once it dries, it creates a water-resistant barrier to protect your table top. However, shellac is prone to chipping off, so if your table gets a lot of use, it might not last the distance.

How To Choose the Best Finish for a Wooden Kitchen Table

What are the important things to look for when selecting a finish for your kitchen table? Is it the sheen, the product, or ease of application? Let’s discuss the significant factors you should keep in mind.

Ease of Application

How easy the finish goes on is important, especially if you are a novice. Some rub on with a cloth, while others require patience and a degree of skill with a paintbrush.

Varnishes and non-penetrating finishes tend to require more TLC when applying them. Watch out for streaks and brush marks, and always work with the wood grain. The easier something is to use, the less chance you have of messing it up.

Maximum Coverage

While your table top may not be the biggest worry when it comes to coverage, remember that finishing your wooden kitchen table is not a one-time thing. Instead, it will need restoring every couple of years, so you need a decent amount of coverage for it to cope.

Plus, it should store away without hardening. There is nothing worse than starting a project and reaching for the stain to find it has set solid while in storage.

Type of Finish Effect

Whatever your tastes, there is a table top effect to suit your color scheme and design. You can get antique finishes that make your wooden kitchen table look like it has an aged pattern that only comes with time. You can get washed effects for that shabby-chic appearance, or you might prefer a traditional country design.

With so many products to choose from, you are spoilt for choice.

Odor

Oil-based finishes create the strongest odors. This is because they use solvents as a core ingredient, so they throw off a powerful smell that can cause headaches, nausea, and sore eyes and throat. These are known as Volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and in some states, they are banned.

Drying Time

The time it takes for your wooden kitchen table to dry depends on the type of product you are using and the weather conditions. Trying to apply a table top finish in a damp environment will severely affect the quality of your work.

Most water-based stains dry to the touch in 30 minutes to an hour and take a second coat within a couple of hours. These times vary if it is a bright and sunny day.

Oil and solvent-based finishes take a little longer to cure fully. Expect your first coat to be touch-dry within a couple of hours, and you should allow 24 hours before you add the second coat.


The Best Finish for Wood Kitchen Table of 2021

With so many wooden table finishes to choose from, getting to the 7 best products was tricky. We looked at hundreds of finishes, rating them on coverage and quality to bring you our definitive list.

Watco 65141 Danish Oil Wood Finish

Best Semi-Transparent Finish for Wood Kitchen Tables

This Watco danish oil works on different wooden surfaces, from kitchen tables to countertops, chairs, trim, and doors. The spread is impressive too. From this 1-quart can, you get 170 square feet of coverage. That’s enough for a couple of coats.

Applying it couldn’t be easier. It goes on with a cloth, and you rub it into the wood grain. It protects against chips, water damage, abrasions, and it dries in about an hour so you can recoat it and get the job done in a single day.

Thanks to the semi-transparent color, the wood turns into a warm shade to enhance the grain of your woodwork. This is an oil-based formula, so you do get strong odors, and it isn’t good for the environment when you wash it clean.

Pros

  • Generous 170 square feet of coverage.
  • Dries to a warm hue to enhance the woodgrain.
  • Easy to apply with a cloth.
  • Dries in an hour, so you can get multiple coats done.

Cons

  • Powerful odors mean you need good ventilation.
  • Damaging to the environment.

Additional Specs

Quantity 1-quart
Coverage 170 square feet
Type Oil-based
Drying time 1 hour
Price $$

Rust-Oleum Zinsser Bulls-Eye Clear Shellac

Quickest Drying Finish for Wood Kitchen Table

This shellac finish from Rust-Oleum preserves and protects your wooden table top. It enhances the color and dries in just 45 minutes, so you can get a second coat down within the hour.

It dries transparently with a faint golden cast that is much lighter than oil-based stains and finishes. It is non-toxic when it dries, so you can use it on your wooden table, and it cleans easily with ammonia and water.

You can also use this product on art projects and crafts because it is a stain and sealer in one. The downside is shellac is not as robust as other finishes, so you might see chips and marks start to form on your table top with repeated use.

You also need to allow 48 to 72 hours for the finish to cure before you start using your table.

Pros

  • Apply a second coat within 45 minutes of the first.
  • Transparent finish that adds a golden hue to your wood’s color.
  • Non-toxic and cleans easily with ammonia and water.
  • Multi-use on art and craft projects.

Cons

  • Chips and flakes easier than other products.
  • Takes 48 to 72 hours to fully cure.

Additional Specs

Quantity 1-quart
Coverage Not stated
Type Alcohol-based
Drying time 45 minutes for recoats and 48 to 72 hours to cure
Price $

Minwax Polycrylic Water-Based Protector

Best Finish for Painted Kitchen Tables

When it comes to protecting your painted table top, this Minwax polycrylic protector seals in color and forms a protective barrier against water, sunlight, and abrasions. It dries crystal clear and is best used on light woods like pine, maple, ash, and birch.

Once applied, it dries in 2 hours, ready for a second coat, but you should let the final coat cure for 24 hours, and when it dries, it is non-toxic. You can get this finish in gloss, semi-gloss, matte, satin, and ultra-flat.

This formula is guaranteed to not yellow or fade, so it should keep your wood looking good for a long while, and you get 125 square feet of spread, depending on the surface.

On the downside, while this formula doesn’t yellow as it ages, some users have complained that it leaves a yellow tint to the woodwork when it dries.

Pros

  • Apply a second coat within 2 hours.
  • Protects against water, sunlight, and abrasion.
  • Works better on light woods like ash and birch.
  • Covers 125 square feet of surface area.

Cons

  • Dries with a yellow tint, according to some customers.

Additional Specs

Quantity 0.5 pint
Coverage 125 square feet
Type Water-based
Drying time 2 hours for the second coat and 24 hours to cure
Price $

Rust-Oleum Ultimate Matte Polyurethane Wood Stain

Best Matte Finish for Wood Kitchen Tables

This matte finish polyurethane protects cabinets, doors, trim, and kitchen tables. It’s a water-based formula that dries super-quick and is completely environmentally friendly as it washes clean with soap and water. Because this version is water-based, it is low odor and low VOCs so that you can use it indoors.

Once you apply it, it is touch-dry in an hour, and you can recoat in 2 hours, and you get 150 square feet of coverage, so you should have more than enough to keep you going.

The durable topcoat gives a robust scratch and stain-resistant layer that dries super-smooth, making it easy to clean. It also reduces instances of fingerprints and smudges.

The only negative is this formula is very thick, so spreading it across the surface of your wooden table is tricky. You also need to try and avoid streaks and uneven marks.

Pros

  • Touch dry in 1 hour and recoats in 2 hours.
  • Spreads over 150 square feet.
  • Cleans with soap and water.
  • Low odor and VOCs.

Cons

  • Thick formula is difficult to spread.

Additional Specs

Quantity 1-quart
Coverage 150 square feet
Type Water-based
Drying time 1 hour for the second coat and 24 hours to cure
Price $$

Minwax Oil-Modified Polyurethane Wood Stain

Best Satin Finish for Wood Kitchen Tables

This is a satin finish, so you get a softer sheen than gloss. It has a lower odor compared to other solvent-based polyurethanes, and this product is so robust, you can even use it on the floor.

The polycrylic formula resists abrasion, water damage, chipping, alcohol, and other common hazards that your kitchen table faces daily. It has almost no odor, so indoor painting is safe, and it recoats in just 2 hours.

You get up to 150 square feet of coverage, and it cleans up with soap and water, so it is non-damaging to the environment. Rust-Oleum recommends that you use a minimum of 3 coats to get the maximum protection.

On the downside, this satin finish will highlight every imperfection in the surface of your table top, so if you have an old table, it might be better to go for solid paint instead. Plus, given the price of this 1-gallon can, you need to have a lot of tables to get your money’s worth.

Pros

  • The first coat dries in just 2 hours.
  • Resists abrasions, alcohol, water, chipping, and other damage.
  • Is suitable for use on floors.
  • Coverage of 150 square feet.

Cons

  • Highlights every single imperfection in your table top.
  • Double the cost of other products.

Additional Specs

Quantity 1-gallon
Coverage 150 square feet
Type Water-based
Drying time 2 hours for the second coat
Price $$$$

Rust-Oleum Diamond Polyurethane Gloss Stain

Best Gloss Finish for Wood Kitchen Tables

This Rust-Oleum comes in 1-gallon tins, so when you finish protecting your table top, you can get to work on the door and window frames and just about any other wooden surface inside your house.

This one is a crystal clear gloss finish, so you get a highly polished surface, making it easy to clean. It’s a low odor product; it is stain and scratch-resistant and cleans up easier with soap and water.

This is a water-based finish, so you can use it liberally, knowing that it won’t damage the environment. It spreads easily thanks to the self-leveling formula, so you can reduce instances of streaks and swirls.

You also get one of the best coverages of any of the products listed, at 300 square feet. This is not a budget option because you are paying for a 1-gallon can, so be sure that you need this much polyurethane before committing to a purchase.

Pros

  • Water-based, which is kind to the environment.
  • Dries to a crystal clear finish.
  • Low odor, scratch-resistant and self-leveling.
  • 300 square feet of coverage.

Cons

  • Large 1-gallon can cost double the price of other products.

Additional Specs

Quantity 1-gallon
Coverage 300 square feet
Type Water-based
Drying time Not stated
Price $$$$

Minwax Water-Based Helmsman Spar Urethane Gloss Stain

Best Clear Finish for Wood Kitchen Tables

This clear gloss urethane contains UV blockers to stop the sun’s damaging rays from affecting your exterior and interior wood. You can use it on almost every wooden surface, including fences and decks, as well as protecting your wooden kitchen table.

It also resists temperature changes and rainwater, so once you’ve recoated your kitchen table, you can get started on your garden dining furniture.

It has a VOC value of 275, so while it is low, it isn’t the lowest. For this reason, when using it indoors, make sure you ventilate well and wear a face mask. This is a water-based product, so it cleans up with soap and water, plus it is also kind to the environment.

Like other Rust-Oleum polyurethanes, according to some customers, this one dries with a slight yellow tint.

Pros

  • Water-based, which is kind to the environment.
  • Contains UV blockers for indoor and outside use.
  • Resists temperature changes and rainwater.
  • Multi-purpose polyurethane.

Cons

  • Health implications thanks to the 275 VOC value.
  • Some customers claim it dries with a yellow tint.

Additional Specs

Quantity 1-quart
Coverage Not stated
Type Water-based
Drying time Not stated
Price $$

Finish For Wood Kitchen Table Comparison Chart

Product Best Quantity Coverage Type Drying time Price
Watco 65141 Danish Oil Wood Finish Best Semi-Transparent 1-quart 170 square feet Oil-based 1 hour $$
Rust-Oleum Zinsser Bulls-Eye Clear Shellac Quickest Drying 1-quart Not stated Alcohol-based 45 minutes for recoats & 48 – 72 hours to cure $
Minwax Polycrylic Water-Based Protector Best for Painted Tables 0.5 pint 125 square feet Water-based 2 hours for the second coat & 24 hours – cure $
Rust-Oleum Ultimate Matte Polyurethane Wood Stain Best Matte 1-quart 150 square feet Water-based 1 hour for the second coat & 24 hours – cure $$
Minwax Oil-Modified Polyurethane Wood Stain Best Satin 1-gallon 150 square feet Water-based 2 hours for the second coat $$$$
Rust-Oleum Diamond Polyurethane Gloss Stain Best Gloss 1-gallon 300 square feet Water-based Not stated $$$$
Minwax Water-Based Helmsman Spar Urethane Gloss Stain Best Clear 1-quart Not stated Water-based Not stated $$

Headshot of Mark Weir

About the Author

Mark Weir

Mark spent 24 years working in real estate, so he knows his way around a home. He also worked with contractors and experts, advising them on issues of planning, investments, and renovations. Mark is no stranger to hands-on experience, having renovated his own home and many properties for resale. He likes nothing better than seeing a project through to completion.