protect a wood table

How to Protect and Seal a Wood Table

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You’ve chosen a beautiful statement piece of furniture in your home, and that means you’ll also want to invest the time and energy it takes to keep it looking its best. The right efforts to protect a wood table can make it last a very long time, but careful treatment is key. Careless behavior around one can stain or damage it forever, making both prevention and quick responses to spills extremely valuable.

Protecting and sealing your wood surfaces will help them remain stain-resistant, sturdy centerpieces for generations to come. This guide will help you understand what different substances and behaviors can do to your wooden table, plus how to prevent lasting damage. 

The Types of Wood Used to Make Tables

Furniture makers who want to create beautiful wood tables must balance the look and feel of the wood with its ability to stand up to daily life. Here are a few facts about selecting the right wood for a project:

  • Many woodworkers will consider woods like maple, oak, and walnut for the interesting, distinctive grain of their slabs. 
  • These woods also come with a particularly sturdy durability that will hold up to everyday wear and tear.
  • Pine is common for lower-budget projects. 
  • Pine is softer, however, and thus needs even more protection to continue looking beautiful over time.
  • Other more expensive and exotic hardwoods can be great options for a wooden table. 

You’ll want to talk to a woodworking expert if you haven’t made a table with those woods before, as many live edge slabs are expensive — which means you would want to make sure you are fully prepared for the project. You’ll also want to align your protection plan with the type of wood and how best to clean, seal, and protect it.

Why It’s Important to Protect a Wood Table

Wood is a temperamental substance when left untreated. If it is exposed to too much humidity, for instance, it can warp because of the moisture. Also:

  • Dust that builds up on the surface of the wood can scratch it.
  • Water or other fluids can stain or damage it.
  • Softer woods take and retain dings and dents easily.

Luckily, a variety of readily available materials help to seal moisture out, create a protective coat against stains and dings, and make wood easy to clean when it gets dusty. 

How to Protect a Wood Table

There are two types of protection you’ll want to consider when working to keep your wood surface strong and protected, including day-to-day maintenance and long term care. For day-to-day:

  • You’ll want to start with a lint-free cloth, as keeping your wood table dusted is one of the best answers when it comes to how to protect a wood table from scratches.  
  • A gentle one or two drops of dish soap in a cup of water is often a good solution to cleanse your table occasionally and get more than just surface-level dust off. 
  • Make sure you’ve confirmed that dish soap is safe for your kind of wood and its sealant or finish before using such solutions.

For longer-term care, sealing a wood table allows you to wipe away dust, fluids, and other potentially damaging substances much more easily. There are a variety of popular methods for sealing your wooden table, however, and the frequency of application varies. 

  1. Apply a natural oil finish.

There are three major brands that we use at Makers Woodshop. The first, and most heavily used is called “Rubio Monocoat”, followed by “Osmo, and Odies oil”. We have used all of these products for years now, and they are much simpler to apply than polyurethane.

All of these are food-safe products that are a mixture of several natural oils, with an optional Accelerator for quickening the hardening process for the Rubio Monocoat. 

Application is simple, you spread the oil out on the table, let it soak for 5-10 minutes, then buff it off. The wood is dry to the touch after being buffed off, and will achieve full hardness and protection from water within 7 days.

Unlike polyurethane, oils soak into the wood, and are generally matte-satin in sheen, so re-finishing is much easier since you don’t have to remove everything down to bare wood to refinish. A light sanding and then a re-coat of the oil is all it takes to bring it back to its original beauty.

The only downside to oil is that it generally has little in the way of UV protection, so if your placing your furniture outside, or in direct sunlight, your wood color will fade over time.

  1. Consider traditional shellac.

Shellac is both a traditional substance for protecting wood tables and good for creating a moisture-resistant barrier between the table and its environment. A variety of types are available at any home improvement store, and it’s important to apply multiple coats using the instructions on the container. Shellac is generally clear after application, but many people opt for it on light-colored woods because it brings out the warmth in their grains. This is not used very often, unless we need a quick waterproof barrier to keep epoxy from staining the wood grain. Shellac dries very quickly, but doesn’t hold up for long time use as well.

  1. Polyurethane finishes may be right for your project.

For an extremely durable finish, oil-based polyurethane creates a strong, impenetrable barrier and protects woods that would otherwise be vulnerable to dings or wear and tear. Make sure to apply it with patience, making sure to keep your individual layers thin. The thick clear film created by these finishes can yellow or get cloudy with time. These finishes are great for a table that is likely to experience a lot of potential stains or liquids, such as a family dining room table, or bar top. For outdoor use, get a polyurethane with uv protection.

  1. Furniture wax adds extra protection.

Furniture wax adds an additional layer of protection to your table. Once it has hardened it protects the layer under it from scratches. This is most useful to apply over a natural oil finish since these work well together, but you can call us if you have questions about putting wax over other finishes.

The truth is that no amateur woodworker is expected to know all of the ins and outs of sealants, and no table owner should have that expertise either. Feel free to give us a call with any of your questions, and we will do our best to guide you in the right direction.

Keep Your Wood Table Beautiful for Years to Come 

Understanding the combination of sealant, varnish, and type of wood is going to be important in protecting your wood tabletop surface. It’s key to read the directions on the products you are using and to know whether that solution is the correct choice for your furniture piece. Consulting an expert could save you tons of time and money — plus heartache — by keeping you from ruining your item in your quest to protect it. If you are looking for help with how to properly protect a wood table project, look no further than the experts at Makers Woodshop. We’ve been creating timeless pieces from live edge slabs for years, and we’re always ready to provide our expertise and experience. Contact us today!

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