Best Finish for a Softwood Workbench?

Best Finish for a Softwood Workbench?

What kind of finish would you recommend for a workbench top made of softwood? –  Robert Montana

Rob Johnstone: I would recommend a drying oil finish — something like a Watco Danish oil. Let it cure completely. It puts a thin protective film down that will help keep glue, paint and other gunk from sticking to the workbench top. When it starts to wear through (which will probably happen pretty quickly under steady use), just take a random-orbit sander, give it a good once-over and apply some more finish. If you have “installed” some big dents or surface distortions over time, you can renew the surface by planing it flat — provided the surface is thick enough — then put the oil finish on once more.

Tim Inman: For a shop workbench, I would put on a thinned coat of polyurethane varnish. Not much will stick to poly, and you will certainly have spilled glue, oil, nondescript goo, and other things on the bench over the years. The poly will let you clean up pretty well. A good coat of wax is another option. The third option, which I use myself, is nothing at all. My bench top is made of 3-in. thick Douglas fir bridge planks, which are about 12 inches wide. The top measures 3 ft. by 8 ft. and the thickness of the planks. I have used this bench since about 1974. Other than being “used”-looking, it is as good today as it was the day I made it. I was able to get these bridge floor planks because they arrived at the road engineering department “untreated” and they refused to use them. Their bad luck made my day!

Chris Marshall: This is one of those questions where, if you ask 10 different woodworkers, you’ll probably get close to 10 different answers. I like the “non-stick” approach for easier bench cleanup. Currently, my bench has a couple of coats of dewaxed shellac sanding sealer on it — mostly because I had a nearly empty can of it at the time that I wanted to use up. But I wish it was even more non-stick than it is. Next time I scrape it down and refinish the top, I think I’ll just use some wax and call it good.

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