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I'm building a workbench with a beech countertop. Originally I was going to finish the countertop with varnish on the bottom and linseed oil on top.

However, I noticed that this workbench is too big to be stored inside, so I will be storing it outside. I'll put a cover over it, but it's still somewhat going to be exposed to the elements.

I know varnish has a much better protection outside, but it's not ideal for a workbench.

What finish would you use?

EDIT: Answering a couple of questions from the comments:

  • The rest of the workbench is made from plywood. I've already covered it with three layers of clear varnish
  • The bottom of the countertop I'll do with the same clear varnish
  • I'm planning on making some foldable extensions to the bench such that I can keep the cover from touching the top. Would that prevent mould?
  • I used a mixture of bee's wax and boiled linseed oil. If applied regularly it will keep moisture out of your wood. woodworking.stackexchange.com/questions/10355/… – Alaska Man Jul 23 at 18:08
  • "varnish... not ideal for a workbench." Depends on the workbench. Many guys like no finish at all on their workbenches (on the top I mean) but there are numerous others who oil theirs, or use a penetrating finish like "Danish oil", and even varnish or shellac their workbench tops. It's all about intended use, aesthetics, personal preference etc. Now re. your top, if you oil it and it's kept outdoors under cover you can expect that it'll grow mould of some sort... the linseed oil will likely promote this rather than prevent it or slow it down. – Graphus Jul 23 at 18:10
  • Elephant in the room: what's the rest of the bench made from? This sounds like it could be much more exposed to the elements than the top, even if kept under cover, and that is perhaps what you should be most focussed on here. If the wood is just a softwood (SPF), then I'd treat it like I would softwood for a fence, or planter. If it's a durable hardwood then I'd give serious thought to doing nothing to it. – Graphus Jul 23 at 18:12
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    When you cover it you could use some small pieces of trim to keep the cover up and allow air to circulate. – Alaska Man Jul 23 at 18:15
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    I picked up your point a bout covering it. Make sure that it is done in a way that there can be no trapped water and that air can circulate. Best of luck – ohdearme Jul 24 at 7:41
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For the bottom, you may want to look into a spar varnish or even a spar urethane if that is an option (some people just don't like urethane for whatever reason). These types of finishes were originally used in the marine finishing world. Really anything designed for marine use would work, but epoxies and the like can get pricey.

I like Minwax's Helmsman series for exterior applications since it's also available in a spray can. Just remember to use several thin layers versus trying to get it all on at once. It can get gummy looking of you don't.

For the top, I'm guessing that you're trying to stay away from a finish that will harden. That's a little tougher. Here's an article that I look back to often, https://www.woodcraft.com/blog_entries/clear-outdoor-finishes#

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  • Just a point for the OP if they decide to go with varnish, spar varnish and marine varnish are generally not the same thing any more in the modern marketplace. In general if you want the level of protection spar varnishes used to be noted for you need to buy one specifically sold to the boating people... and find the yeuch yellow colour such a varnish imparts acceptable :-) – Graphus Jul 23 at 18:15

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