As someone who has been working with different types of wood for several years, I am still surprised at why many woodworkers prefer solid and hard butcher-block workbench tops over softwood. The thing is, if you don’t want to dent or ding your project, you need bench tips with softer wood. But if you have a softwood workbench top like plywood, you need to add an excellent finish to it. In this way, you’ll find it easy to clean and make the softwood benchtop last long.
Oils and other liquids can easily sip through the softwood and cause damage. Hence, it will be best to add an excellent finish to your softwood benchtop. But given the myriads of finishes at hand, which finish should you use for your workbench top? Well, most woodworkers have their takes on this, but if, at this point, you are still a bit confused as to which to choose, it will be best to consult the experts to know their wise opinions on which finish is best for a workbench.
Types of Finishes Most Recommended for Workbench
If you’re confused right now, trying to figure out the best finish for your workbench, you should know your options at hand. It will be best to be cognizant of the following different types of finishes ideal for the workbench:
1) Film Finish
You may think that film finish is the go-to finish that offers optimal protection to your workbench. Well, such a thought, of course, is partly true. The film finish does provide optimal resistance to spills or drips. It gives your benchtop surface a protective finish against abrasions and dings. Moreover, it brings in a clean and professional look to your workbench.
Nevertheless, film finish has its downsides. One downside is the tendency of the film to dry hard while providing the surface with excellent smoothness. Thus, it makes the benchtop surface slicker and harder. Once slippery and smooth, the surface will find it challenging to secure in place your workpieces while you work on them.
You will also not want to dent or ding it because of its sterling appearance. But soon, you will see cuts and dents on its surface. So, its appearance is a bit difficult to maintain. However, film finish is best when you apply it to the base and legs of the bench, far from where the nitty-gritty of woodworking happens. Of course, the base and legs will not get the usual beating that the benchtop will get.
2) Drying Oil Finish
If you’re looking for a tested ingredient for your workbench finish, you can check out the drying oil finish. It is easy to use and belongs to the oldest finishes for wood. You only need to wipe several coats of drying oil to the surface. Moreover, it is inexpensive and easy to use.
One example of the drying oil finish is the Watco Danish oil. This drying oil product provides a protective film over the benchtop surface that prevents gunk, paint, and glue from sticking onto your benchtop.
The downside of this finish is that it will quickly wear, given the heavy workload on the benchtop. Yet, it is easy to refinish the surface with drying oil. You only need to sand the surface and clean it. Then, apply some coats of this drying oil.
If the surface has noticeable dents, you can prep it for refinishing by planing the surface to level it again. Afterward, you can apply several coats of this finish.
Another drawback of using an oil finish is that it takes longer to dry. In fact, it may take several days to dry. Say, for instance, you are using linseed oil. You may need to wait for several days before you can reuse your benchtop. Besides, it leaves an odor that may be irritating to some.
Oil finish, however, may not provide your benchtop with much protection from dents and damages. It may resist spills and liquids, but it doesn’t provide much protection from abrasion and dirt. Moreover, when you use it, it would seem your workbench is devoid of finishing.
3) Beeswax Finish
If you want a traditional look in your workbench, check out the beeswax finish. Like the drying oil finish, beeswax is a classic finish that has been in use for centuries. It is pretty easy to apply and offers more protection than a drying oil finish. Therefore, it is warranted to say that this finish is your best option at hand.
For one, it provides enough protection to your benchtop. Besides, it is easy to renew, allowing you to keep your benchtop looking excellent. So, it should be your first option if you’re feeling indecisive about the type of finish you would like to have.
You can buy a beeswax finish. But for optimum results, you can combine oil and beeswax to create the best finish for your benchtop. To make this concoction, you need to have an equal amount of linseed oil, turpentine, and beeswax.
Once done with your concoction, you can apply it the same way you use the oil finish. If your workbench is new, you need to apply up to three coats of this finish to seal the wood. After the finish dries, you can buff it using a soft cloth. To refinish, you can simply apply a rejuvenating coat when needed.
The oil component of the finish seals the wood against unforgiving liquids and spills. The beeswax, however, keeps glue and gunk from sticking to the surface of the benchtop. It also provides additional protection from minor abrasion and dirt.
Another option you have at hand is the polyurethane varnish. Polyurethane can help protect your benchtop for years. It lets you clean up quickly after every woodworking session.
Polyurethane, of course, is admired for its durability and ease of application. It may come as water-based or oil-based. Moreover, you can apply it using a brush. You can also use wipe-on formulas that you can apply using a rag.
Before applying, you can stir the can, but don’t shake the can so as not to introduce more bubbles into the polyurethane. Besides, you should choose a ventilated area when using polyurethane in your workbench.
How Would You Finish Your Workbench?
Knowing the different finishing options at hand allows you to choose the ideal one for your workbench. Yet, it will also help to know how you can finish your workbench. There are varying processes for applying the finish to your workbench. Yet, the best method will depend on your workbench type and the finished product you would like to achieve.
Of course, before applying the finish, you need to prep the benchtop. You must sand the surface of your benchtop or plane it. You can clean the workbench surface afterward with water and dish soap.
After cleaning, you can then apply your chosen finish. You can use a soft cloth or brush when applying the finish on your workbench. Apply multiple coats to ensure that you seal the wood and provide it with enough protection.
Keeping your workbench clean and tidy can help dictate the mood of your mood when engaged in woodworking. One way to keep your workbench clean and tidy is by applying an excellent finish to your benchtop. As mentioned above, you can finish it with beeswax, drying oil, film finish, and polyurethane.
The thing is, when choosing a finish for your workbench, you should consider the wood type, the harsh elements you want to protect your workbench from, the tone of the finish that you would like to achieve, and the ease of application of the finish. Besides, you need to consider whether the finish complements the type of wood you use on your workbench.
Liam is a 37-year-old woodworker and interior designer who loves to make every furniture project an art piece. He is very experienced in furniture design and woodworking project planning.