I'm building table tops made out of pine and will varnish them.

This will be for a public cafe, so Im wondering if there is any stuff I can use to protect the varnish from getting scratches with the usage.


  • We need to get some key details that you've omitted from the Q. 1 Indoor only or will the tables be used outdoors at all? 2 What's the climate? 3 How sunny is the locale (need an idea of the UV levels)? If these need to deal with lots of UV then epoxy is out unless you overcoat with something (marine spar varnishes are the norm) as epoxy is damaged by direct sunlight. If you're not limited to consumer-level finishes there are things you could consider, including two-part urethane coatings which are way tougher than oil-based poly.
    – Graphus
    Dec 19 '19 at 8:28
  • Have to add, pine is not a good material choice for tables subjected to lots of use and wear and tear, unless such wear won't be considered deleterious to the charm of the tabletops. Any decent hardwood would be far better suited to this application on general principles, even if purely for dent resistance (dropped items will be common, but even from leaning down on a bunch of keys as one sits down or gets up). Locally ash, oak and beech are the most common species seen but there's also the occasional table in maple IIRC.
    – Graphus
    Dec 19 '19 at 8:32

In order of strength:

  1. Epoxy will be strongest, but will look plasticky
  2. Oil-based varnish (e.g., polyurethane) is probably second strongest, less plasticky
  3. Water-based varnish
  4. Lacquer/shellac are probably about equally strong. The benefit is that both are easy to repair. (Though you could repair oil or water varnishes with another coat).
  5. Oil finish (e.g., tung oil).

For my table (4 kids), I will choose oil-based varnishes and probably reapply every few years.

  • You left out a few chief options but shellac? That's a brave suggestion for a cafe table that needs to be wiped down multiple times a day every day with a wet cloth o_O
    – Graphus
    Dec 19 '19 at 8:34
  • Water based varnish is not good for tables that will be wiped every day. It needs a clean neat surface that only synthetic varnish can give. Is it a good idea to apply a coat of polyurethane varnish to make the surface hard on top of the previous normal sent varnish? - It will be indoors - Weather is mild (north of Portugal)
    – Carlo
    Dec 19 '19 at 16:56

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