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For my first woodworking project, I am building bench with wood I found on the curb. Both my neighbor and a guy walking down the street said they thought the wood was at least 150-years-old. The walker suggested it used to be a floor joist. Anyway, my point is that it's an old and beautiful piece of wood, and I want to finish it in a way that preserves its sense of history. I really like the saw marks, for example.

Filling cracks. The wood has some cracks in it. I don't mind, but I don't want them to grow. And I attached the legs via dowels (based on this W.SE advice) and while it turned out well, there are some big gaps between the legs and the top. Do I need to fill these with epoxy or something for maximum durability over the years?

Finishing. I don't know anything about finishing wood. Based on googling, I don't think I want a stain. Rather, I'd like something that minimally changes the color of the wood---just enough to really bring out the texture---and that preserves it. I don't really know what my options are, how many coats to use, how to clean the wood before finishing, etc. Any advice is appreciated.

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    Whether to fill the cracks is an appropriate query for here (although it's a bit subjective) but how to is covered well in previous Q&As. FWIW with the way this is put together IMO no filling is needed, it could/should remain pretty stable from this point onwards. But apart from whether it's advisable filling almost always requires some overfilling, with subsequent flushing of the filler material. Meaning you'll lose a lot more (possibly all) of the remaining weathered appearance of the wood. I think you should just live with this and see how it goes.
    – Graphus
    Apr 20 at 19:34
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    "Based on googling, I don't think I want a stain" Yes, stain is optional; you use it only if you want to change the colouring. "Rather, I'd like something that minimally changes the color of the wood---just enough to really bring out the texture" Those two goals are counter to each other. You either increase contrast OR minimally change the colour. You can't do both. "I don't really know what my options are" Literally anything, including no finish. "etc." Decide on what you actually want/need and go from there. FWIW I'm fairly sure you'll eventually choose matt waterbased poly :-)
    – Graphus
    Apr 20 at 19:46
  • Okay, thanks. I'll look into tutorials for matte water-based poly. Based on videos, that looks like what I want.
    – gwg
    Apr 20 at 20:47
  • @Graphus please write that up as an answer so the OP can accept it! Not for the points, but so we don't have more unanswered questions (or questions with unaccepted answers) floating around
    – FreeMan
    Apr 21 at 14:46

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