Repainting or refinishing a table is a great way to showcase your style. But before you haul your hand-painted masterpiece into the house, make sure to protect your table top. You don’t want to see all your hard work spoiled by a spilled drink!
Below, we’ve put together five of the best polyurethanes for table tops. Whether you’re waterproofing a picnic table or restoring a family heirloom, we have a recommendation for you!
Read on to learn all about the best polyurethane for table tops.
Our Top Picks
Total Boat Halcyon Marine Varnish
Varathane Water-Based Ultimate Polyurethane
Varathane Water-Based Ultimate Polyurethane offers superior protection at an affordable price. Overall, it’s a great product for first-time users and professionals alike. In fact, for most DIY applications, this product is the best polyurethane for table tops.
Beginners will appreciate the self-leveling formula. On a wide, highly-visible surface like a table top, it’s important to ensure a perfectly even finish. The relatively thin consistency of this polyurethane is also easy to work with for first-timers.
DIYers that refinish lots of furniture will like the quick dry time and easy soap-and-water clean up. While many woodworkers prefer the look and durability of an oil-based product, there are times a water-based product is best. For example, only a water-based polyurethane will dry completely clear.
The clear coat, ease of use, and easy cleanup make this polyurethane our top recommendation for table tops.
- Clear finish will not yellow over time
- Water-based product is easy to apply and clean up
- Quick drying
- Superior quality still will not have the performance of an oil-based product
- Brush marks can be hard to avoid since it is quick-drying
- Thin consistency may require extra coats
MinWax Fast-Drying Polyurethane
Our most budget-friendly option doesn’t skimp on quality. MinWax Fast-Drying Polyurethane is also one of our most durable selections. This oil-based polyurethane is one of the best polyurethanes for table tops due to its thick, protective coating.
Oil-based products are a favorite for table tops with a wood finish. The polyurethane will penetrate the natural wood, highlighting wood grain and enriching the color. While oil-based products may have more of a learning curve for first-time DIYers, the results are well worth it. Go slowly to ensure even application and build in extra time for cleanup.
Bottom line: don’t feel like you have to break the bank in order to protect or restore a beautiful solid wood table. MinWax Fast-Drying Polyurethane delivers a high-quality finish at a remarkably low price point.
- One quart is about half the cost of comparable polyurethane
- Extremely durable finish resists stains and scratches
- Quick dry time for an oil-based product
- Strong odor
- Dries with an amber cast, not ideal for finishing white table tops
- Does not dry as quickly as most water-based products
Total Boat Halcyon Marine Varnish
Outdoor furniture is guaranteed to take a beating from the sun and rain. Protect your hard work by choosing a polyurethane that will stand up to the elements. For adding durability to outdoor projects, you can’t beat Total Boat Halcyon Marine Varnish.
What makes this the best polyurethane for table tops that will face the great outdoors? The formula is extremely flexible, allowing even very thick coats to expand and contract with the wood. This ensures the finish will not crack in extreme temperature changes.
The product also offers UV protection and waterproofing. Total Boat Halcyon Marine Varnish will even stand up to salt and scratches, making it a top choice for boaters!
- Available in a variety of sheens and clear or amber finish
- Superior self-leveling
- Quick drying
- More expensive than most polyurethanes
- Cannot apply over some wood stains; check for compatibility
- Some users have reported the product yellows over time
MinWax Wipe-On Poly
Most polyurethanes are applied by brush or even with a roller. It’s not the easiest way to apply a smooth, blemish-free finish. In fact, many DIYers go through several rounds of sanding to remove unsightly brush marks and bubbling.
MinWax Wipe-On Poly eliminates the need for a brush or roller. You can wipe this product on with any lint-free rag. Even old tee shirts or socks would work! The result is a perfectly smooth finish that enhances and enriches the look of the wood tabletop. The ease of application makes this one of the best polyurethanes for table tops.
Be sure to read the product description carefully: MinWax Wipe-On Poly is available as an oil-based or water-based product. While the water-based polyurethane will have easier cleanup, we recommend the oil-based for its durability and finished look.
- Easy wipe-on application
- Durable finish protects against water, stains, and wear and tear
- Available in satin or gloss finishes
- Requires more coats for full protection
- Thin consistency can be difficult to control during application
- Best for finishing natural wood tones, not painted surfaces
Varathane Triple-Thick Polyurethane
In general, semi-gloss and glossy sheens are the most durable and easiest to clean. The best polyurethanes for table tops will generally have a shiny, reflective finish for this reason. But what if you need extra durability and don’t like the look of a glossy table top?
Varathane Triple-Thick Polyurethane is available in a satin finish. The results will be less shiny and reflective than most of the polyurethane products on the market. However, you’ll still have a durable, scratch-resistant surface thanks to the extra-thick polyurethane.
We recommend this as the best polyurethane for table tops with a textured or rustic finish. The thick, clear polyurethane coating should fill in the crags and divots of wood planks while preserving the rustic look. The result is a matte, easy-to-clean surface for your textured tabletop.
- One-coat coverage
- Dries quickly
- Satin finish that will stand up to wear and tear
- Not as self-leveling as comparable products
- Extra-thick polyurethane is tricky to apply
- Only rated for indoor use
Polyurethane for Table Tops Buyer’s Guide
The best polyurethane for your table top will go beyond protecting the surface from occasional spills. Depending on the product you choose, polyurethane can deepen the color of your wood or preserve the underlying paint. You could use polyurethane to create a soft, glowing finish or a shiny reflective surface. For tables that need a quick turnaround, you can even find easy-to-apply products that dry quickly. It all depends on the needs of your specific project.
Before choosing the best polyurethane for your table top, consider durability, sheen, color, and ease of application. With so many great products on the market, you’re sure to find a polyurethane that meets your needs.
How will you be using the table top? For frequently used or outside tables, durability is extremely important. Look for formulas that offer waterproofing and UV protection for these hard-working surfaces. For step-by-step instructions on sealing outdoor furniture, check out How to Seal Outdoor Wood Furniture and Keep it Looking Great • That Sweet Tea Life
Consider, too, the type of wood that makes up your table top. Hardwoods, such as oak, cherry, and acacia, are naturally more resistant to scratches and dings. However, the best polyurethane for table tops made of softer woods, such as elm or pine, will offer extra durability.
Just like paint, polyurethane is available in a range of sheens. Some DIYers love the look of a high-gloss table top, while others prefer a more understated satin finish. Whichever your preference, the sheen will affect the overall look of the table.
Several of our best polyurethanes for table tops are available in two or more sheens. A higher-gloss sheen will be easier to clean but quicker to show chips and water rings. Satin sheens will have a warm, soft cast rather than a bright reflective surface.
Some polyurethanes can yellow over time, while others are formulated to remain clear. If you are applying a protective polyurethane coat over white paint, for example, use a product that will remain clear. Crystal clear polyurethane is also essential when preserving the look of decorative, hand-painted surfaces.
Water-based polyurethanes are most likely to remain clear over time. However, read the label carefully to ensure your water-based product hasn’t been tinted. Descriptors like “warm” or “amber” are a tip-off that the polyurethane is tinted rather than clear.
Polyurethanes that have an amber cast will bring out the wood tones of your table. Polyurethane can make natural wood appear rich and deep without truly changing its color. You’re most likely to find this coloring in oil-based polyurethane. Let’s say you have a solid wood table and want to highlight the beautiful wood grain. The best polyurethane for your table top will deepen the color and protect the surface.
Ease of Application
Even the best polyurethane for table tops will probably require time and energy to apply. Plan enough time for carefully brushing on and sanding multiple coats for professional results.
That said, there are some products that are formulated to dry more quickly and apply more easily than others. Look for a polyurethane that’s self-leveling to eliminate most brush and roller marks. Thicker polyurethane can often be applied in fewer coats. Thinner polyurethane, however, is often easier to apply and more forgiving of mistakes.
Frequently Asked Questions
How many coats of polyurethane should I apply to my table?
Typically, three thin coats of polyurethane will do the trick for covering a table top. Less than that may not give your surface enough coverage. More coats become trickier to apply and sand down to a truly smooth overall finish.
However, always be sure to read the manufacturer’s directions for specific recommendations. Some of the best polyurethanes for table tops can be applied in one or two thick coats. Others could require four to six thin layers. If you’re on a timeline, be sure to allow enough time for additional coats, if needed.
Do I need to sand between coats?
Yes! Without sanding, polyurethane can bubble or have a tacky, sticky texture. Use fine-grit sandpaper on each coat of polyurethane after it dries.
Check out some of our favorite sanders for this important task: The Best Sander for Furniture Painting • That Sweet Tea Life The non-electric micro sander is our favorite for small table tops!
Finally, be sure to wipe away any dust before applying the next coat of polyurethane. Use a tack cloth or even a wet paper towel to ensure a perfectly clean surface.
How long will polyurethane last on my table top?
In general, a polyurethane finish will last for about ten years. However, the longevity of your polyurethane finish comes down to several factors.
Obviously, using a high-quality product and taking your time with application will give you the best results. Bubbles and uneven coverage will result in cracking or flaking over time. Also, remember that polyurethane is made of several components, so stir well before applying.
Heavy use will also impact how long your polyurethane finish will last. Even the best polyurethane for tabletops will wear down from constant wear or heavy damage. For a patio table that’s used daily for dining al fresco, plan to refinish the tabletop every few years. An antique side table that only holds doilies can probably be passed down to your children as-is.
Sand and refinish your piece as soon as you notice scratches or chips in the polyurethane. While time-consuming, it’s still much easier to reapply polyurethane than it is to fix damaged wood.
Choosing the Best Polyurethane for Table Tops
Whether restoring vintage furniture or completing a new build, it’s important to protect your work from wear and tear. The best polyurethane for your table top will depend on your specific requirements. Consider durability, color, sheen, and ease of application before investing in a product.
Putting in the research beforehand is well worth it. Once your tabletop is protected with polyurethane, you can use and enjoy the piece for years to come.
Now that you know how to choose the best polyurethane for table tops, you’ll be on the lookout for more DIY table projects to tackle! Here are 15 of our favorite painted table top ideas.