While there are a lot more obvious features that make up a sturdy, convenient and long-lasting workbench, the workbench’s finish also plays a key role in how it will hold up over time. There are many types of coatings that can be applied to a workbench and each of them provides something different in terms of durability, ease of maintenance, and appearance.
This article will discuss 6 types of finishes that are used by the most popular workbench manufacturers and some of their pros and cons. We’ll also share some useful FAQs that are commonly asked.
What Is The Best Finish For A Workbench?
There are several factors to consider, not only what looks best, but also what is most suitable for the work environment. Workbenches are an important component in most workplaces and are designed differently according to the user’s needs.
For example, if a workbench is used to cut meat, the appropriate coating for it would be a different type than what’s used for a workshop’s workbench. To choose the best finish for a workbench you need to consider the following:
What’s the intended use of your workbench? What kind of environment will it be used in? Is there a risk of damage to the surface (water, chemicals, etc.)? What does your end goal for this workbench look like? What kind of space do you have to work with and how much money do you want to invest?
Also Read: Workbench Upgrade Ideas
6 Different Workbench Finish Ideas
Below are the different types of coatings that are the most popular among workbench manufacturers. We’re going to discuss what makes them unique, their advantages and disadvantages, we’ll also recommend some high-quality products easily available online
1. Drying oil finish
Product Recommended: Danish Oil Wood Finish
While there are two types of oil finishes, drying oil and non-drying oil, both types of finishes are quite different from one another.
Drying oil finishes are actually made of oil that has been modified to offer a faster finishing time and a tougher finish with easy maintenance. They prevent water damage, are easy to apply, clean, and can be cured quickly. They can handle medium traffic without showing wear or scuffing.
The most popular types of drying oils are tung oil, walnut oil, and linseed oil. Danish oil is usually made from a blend of tung oil and linseed oil which offer a hard, water-resistant surface. Danish oil is non-toxic and penetrates deep into the wood to add a stunning, satin glow that isn’t extra glossy or shiny; just the right amount.
This waterproof protective coating finish is best for wooden workbenches that will be used outdoors and may be subjected to glue, paint, or any other sticky liquid.
If your workbench is made using attractive and durable Oakwood, to protect and also enhance its natural beauty, we recommend using the Danish Oil Wood Finish on Amazon.
2. A Thinned Coat Of Polyurethane Varnish
Product Recommended: Minwax Wipe-On Poly
Polyurethane varnish offers a durable and water-resistant surface that can handle most types of everyday wear and tear and is also easy to clean.
There are two types of polyurethane Varnishes, water-based and oil-based. Oil-based polyurethane varnishes look amazing and offer a high-gloss finish. Furthermore, they’re more durable and easier to apply than water-based polyurethane varnish. However, they’re not as safe or environment-friendly when compared to water-based polyurethane varnish.
It is recommended to apply a thin coat of either type of polyurethane varnish as if the coat is too thick it will show some discoloration, also do not apply it on top of any previous coats of varnish without sanding between the coats.
Polyurethane varnishes are easy to find and you can easily buy them on Amazon. We recommend the water-based Minwax Wipe-On Poly as it is easy to use, offers a quick drying time, and is thinner than most other polyurethane varnishes available.
3. Non-stick Coating
Product Recommended: Howard Wood Polish & Conditioner
Workbenches are typically subjected to all types of sticky messes that need to be cleaned every once in a while, especially if you use them for craft projects.
Non-Stick coatings are made of synthetic particles that are suspended in an oil or water solution. They’re applied over the wood to create a protective layer preventing liquids from sticking to the surface. They are easy to clean, usually waterproof or water-resistant. However, keep in mind that they’re less durable than regular coats of oil or varnish.
The product we recommend is the Howard Wood Polish & Conditioner as it’s made of Carnauba Wax and Beeswax, is durable, offers a brilliant shine, prevents the wood from drying out, and is also budget-friendly.
4. Film Finishes
Product Recommended: Watco Lacquer Semi Gloss Wood Finish
Film finishes are translucent or opaque liquids that create a thin, protective shield over the wood. They do not penetrate the wood and create a protective film on the surface that’s easier to clean than drying oils, varnishes, and wood polishes.
A film finish is not recommended for a workbench that will be exposed to harsh conditions like extreme heat or cold water. It’s not the most durable option available for protecting your workbench and maybe a bit slippery, thus this finish is recommended for workbenches that will be used indoors and sparsely; not too much.
Film finishes are found in many different types of brands, we recommend the Watco Lacquer Semi-Gloss Wood Finish as it’s easy to apply, offers a beautiful glossy sheen, and dries extremely fast.
5. Oil Finish
Oil finishes penetrate deep into the wood and offer a natural finish. They’re easy to apply and may be used as a base coat for other types of coatings. Oil finishes typically offer a much more natural-looking surface. They enhance the natural color of the wood and also age well with time.
Keep in mind that oil finishes take a few days to dry completely and the number of coats may vary depending on the wood type. The oil finish we recommend is Odie’s Oil and the Varathane 200061H Water-Based Ultimate Polyurethane as both are easy to apply and offer a beautiful glossy finish.
6. DIY Mixture of Oil & Beeswax Finish
If you’re having trouble finding a product of your choice to use as a finish, you can easily make your own mixture at home using the following steps:
- You’ll need to mix equal amounts of turpentine, beeswax, and boiled linseed oil
- First, pour equal amounts of turpentine and linseed oil into a jar
- Melt some beeswax and then add the same amount as the others into the mixture in the jar
- Stir it properly and secure the jar with a lid
- Let the concoction sit in the sun for a day or two
- Now your at-home DIY Finish is ready to use
This Finish is made using three ingredients only, is easy to apply, has a beautiful glossy finish, and can be done at home without spending money on pricey products. Use this and you’ll be enjoying a polished and traditional finish in no time.
Which Is Better Varnish Or Polyurethane?
This varies depending on the type of workbench you’re looking to protect. Polyurethane is not recommended for workbenches that will be exposed to harsh conditions like extreme heat or cold, water, and outdoor use. Varnish is recommended for workbenches that will be used to complete projects in harsh conditions or outdoors.
Varnishes typically take a longer time to dry than polyurethane and may also be trickier to apply but are cheaper and offer better UV protection than the latter.
Should I seal my workbench?
It depends on your personal preference, you should seal your workbench if you want the wood to look nice and remain protected for a longer period of time.
Note that raw unsealed workbenches offer more friction so you won’t have to worry about your items slipping across the surface, though you can also use a vice to hold your pieces securely so it really depends on your preference.
If you’re not bothered about aesthetics, unsealed workbenches are typically better for use as they’re easier to maintain and offer friction.
Why Is Varnish Used On Wood?
Applying varnish on wood is common for protecting the surface and enhancing its natural color. It’s used to seal the wood against moisture, protect the surface from scratches, enhance the wood texture and make it more durable.
What Can I Use Instead Of Polyurethane?
Polyurethane isn’t exactly eco-friendly so if you’re looking for an alternative then there are several options to choose from
- You can use natural oil finishes such as Tung oil or Linseed oil, they’re non-toxic and enhance the wood’s color, however, this finish requires several coats and is time-consuming.
- Varnish is also a great alternative, offering UV protection, the required sheen, and durability.
- Shellac is another eco-friendly alternative that is made of natural ingredients and has a nice color and shine to it
- Lacquer is for those looking for a tough, protective, and glossy finish, but this finish isn’t exactly long-lasting in its clear color or an eco-friendly option.
Choosing the right type of finish for your workbench is critical in achieving an appealing and protective surface. Generally speaking, you need to make a decision based on the wants and needs of your workbench. In any case, you should always be aware of your choice’s toxicity, flammability, odor, drying time, and color. Good Luck!
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Lawrence D. Reynolds is an experienced carpenter and woodworker who started this site to help others get into this craft by providing advice on choosing tools and materials and sharing How-To guides about woodworking. He has been into Woodworking for over 25 years and enjoys nothing more than sharing his knowledge and helping others learn about this wonderful material.