Drop Leaf Table #11: A Cowardly Finish

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Blog entry by Tom posted 01-17-2020 05:51 PM 606 reads 0 times favorited 4 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 10: Drawings and Dimensions Part 11 of Drop Leaf Table series no next part

I am pretty wimpy when it comes to finishing my projects. It stems from a total lack of knowledge and experience. In the past, I have used oil based stains, brush on polyurethane, oils, shellac, etc. Some woods do not take oil based stain very well. I did a cabinet in maple which took me a long time to build using my hand tool methods. I tried to stain it to match another piece and it was a blotchy mess. I had to rework the finish for days to get a decent look. Staining poplar has also not been a great experience.

My preference is to use no stain at all and keep it natural. But sometimes you want to bring out the grain or darken the piece. So I have gravitated to using tinted Danish oil and then a couple coats of wipe on polyurethane.

For my drop leaf table, I used oak which is actually pretty forgiving wood for staining and finishing. I considered no staining and just the clear coat, but I decided to use a couple coats of medium walnut Danish oil. It is super easy to apply and it gives the wood a rich look and a very even coloring. The only thing required is a bit of patience to allow the coats to dry. I am going with 2 coats of the Danish oil and a couple coats of clear wipe on poly. This kind of finish will be very easy to repair.

I usually coat the top on both sides. For some reason, I seem to think that will help with the wood stability which is probably a bunch of hogwash.

Does anyone else have an easy finish recommendation for a rank amateur? I’d like to know about it.

-- Tom

4 comments so far

View lightweightladylefty's profile


3647 posts in 4799 days

#1 posted 01-18-2020 06:09 AM


I’m an amateur when it comes to finishing so I stick with what works for me. Your finish looks great! Poly is a pretty durable finish for a table top; I think you made a good choice. I have pretty good results with poly so I’m hesitant to try other finishes.


-- “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” Benjamin Franklin -- Jesus is the ONLY reason for ANY season.

View Sylvain's profile


1253 posts in 3586 days

#2 posted 01-18-2020 01:47 PM

Paul Sellers also apply the same finish to the underside to equalize humidity take and release.

-- Sylvain, Brussels, Belgium, Europe - The more I learn, the more there is to learn

View therealSteveN's profile


7702 posts in 1661 days

#3 posted 01-21-2020 10:12 PM

I agree, poly for the top of a piece where it’s expected it could get heavy use, and abuse is just making a good choice. It’s one of the most durable, fairly easy to apply, you just have to let it cure on it’s own terms.

You specifically mention Poplar as being hard to finish, it’s in the same camp as Pine, Maple, especially the soft Maples, and even beloved Cherry all can stain unevenly. If you feel you must use stain, on a scrap piece of the same material, prepped exactly to the same degree, try putting on a wash coat of Shellac first. This will allow a more even uptake of your stain. Always try before you commit, and finishing is just a mini science project, but you can learn a lot from trying new things.

Also give dye a try. Works deeper than stain does, and isn’t so affected by the issues that cause stains to not work so well.

-- Think safe, be safe

View David's profile


219 posts in 4802 days

#4 posted 01-22-2020 03:56 AM

Cherry will darken with time. Personally, I never stain and use a tung oil finish. I’ve had good luck with this and over time, pieces have taken on a nice hue. Oak stains well with a mineral spirit stain. I use polyurethane on cabinets especially for kitchen and bath.

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