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I'm somewhat of a beginner woodworker and I'm looking at building a small caddy of sorts for my bathroom counter to hold my razor, razor blades, shaving brush, toothbrush, etc. because my bathroom isn't laid out conveniently enough to store those things in an easy-to-reach manner.

Having said that, this thing will be subject to steam from the shower daily and then of course puddles of water from the sink.

I'm going to guess spar varnish is the way to go, but I'm really not too sure. I'm thinking about possibly building this out of some sort of veneer. In any case, the wood has to be around 1/4" thick or so or some things won't fit properly.

  • Hi, welcome to Woodworking. Assuming you're not using ply but instead solid wood you actually don't have to use a finish, as many things that are wetted regularly do quite well with the wood left bare. This is even with species that aren't particularly noted for being resistant to rot, including pine and some similar softwoods. But, regardless of the species you choose at only 1/4" thick you'll need to choose your stock with care to give it the stability needed to hold up over time — quarter- or rift-sawn wood throughout would be your best bet as it's far more stable than any flat-sawn wood. – Graphus May 14 at 12:30
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    Does this answer your question? What is the best finish for wood in a bathroom – Alaska Man May 14 at 16:59
  • No doubt that Q&A has a complete answer by Graphus, making my answer extraneous! Good find. I didn't even think to look for historical Q&A in this case. – jdv May 14 at 17:03
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1/4in dimensioned pieces are going to be a challenge no matter what finish you use, or at all.

As suggested in the comments, you are going to have to choose your wood carefully at that dimension to reduce warping over time. I'd go further and say this is an opportunity not only to look for dimensionally better cuts, but also varieties known for stability under these circumstances.

Consider what wood is used in saunas, or outdoor patio furniture. Wood like cedar and acacia hold up reasonably well with no finish, and are somewhat traditional for these applications. (Though I'm not sure how cedar would hold up at such small dimensions.) Check your local builders to see what they would use for saunas.

To address your main question on finishes: almost any reasonable poly or varnish type finish will do. Even so-called "indoor" finish. In most cases, the water resistance is similar, with outdoor finishes being made with more UV inhibitors. You'll want to follow the instructions for multiple light coats. And, whatever you finish it with, if it gets wet a lot you will probably have to refinish it semi-regularly as the finish wears. (This is the big win for not finishing stuff like this: less maintenance.)

So-called spar finishes are usually a urethane type with various oils added, and these also tend to be more pliable than polyurethane finishes. So they might work better with something expected to get dings and knocks as it ages.

You might look at "sealers" as well, which aren't as waterproof, but allow for a nice even finish and allow the wood to breathe somewhat. These also need to be reapplied occasionally, though reapplication is usually easier than with polyurethane.

I'd also advise you to finish the pieces completely before assembly, because moisture likes voids and cracks, and water ingress at a joint on otherwise finished wood will have a tough time drying out, weakening the joint and discolouring the finish around the joint. It is likely you will be using a modern glue for assembly, so care will have to be taken to remove the finish from the gluing surfaces.

At 1/4in your choice of fasteners and joinery will be important, as well. For fun, you could consider not using metal fasteners at all. But if you do want metal fasteners I'd advise stainless-steel types. Even those coated types for roofing and siding will rust and stain eventually.

I'd advise you to look and see what those "claw-foot" bathtub wood caddies are built from, and how they are built, as this is a similar application to yours.

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  • Another reason to finish before assembly: from the sounds of it, there will be small compartments that will be difficult to get into to apply the finish. This will leave an inconsistent finish and almost guarantees that there will be bare spots that will be magnets for water. – FreeMan May 15 at 17:21
  • +1 but with some caveats. Urethane = polyurethane, it's just a shorthand. And these varnishes almost all modified alkyd varnishes anyway, so technically it's uralkyd but that term is rarely used on the labelling (I guess because the word looks/sounds ugly haha). Also, the majority of spar varnishes don't use urethane, but instead are based on another resin or combo of resins. – Graphus May 16 at 8:38
  • On the fasteners, I'd go with glued joints throughout here. If necessary reinforced with dowels or pegs of some type (bamboo skewers work well for very thin material). – Graphus May 16 at 8:39
  • @Graphus I think one of my least favourite things about woodworking is the way finishing products have incomplete, incorrect, historically inaccurate, contradictory, and confusing naming! Like, I don't even know what the word "oil" means anymore! But, anyway, I suspect your answer in the duplicate covers what we need here anyway. – jdv May 17 at 17:43
  • @jdv, couldn't agree more. And yes, oil has become so devalued over the last few decades (worst example being Tung Oil Finish?) And now they've gone and done it with wax too, esp. just recently with all the "hardwax oils" whatever they are sigh – Graphus May 18 at 13:48

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