I built a wooden container to hold all my essential oils. I’m having trouble figuring out what type of finish I should apply. I want one that has resistance in case anything spills. So a finish resistant to oil and alcohol would be best.

Should I do an oil finish and spray it with polyurethane? Or go straight to a poly wipe-on? Or is there a better finish that has a higher oil/alcohol resistance?

  • I completely forgot to add anything on this bit "Or is there a better finish that has a higher oil/alcohol resistance?" As you might expect, there are finishes with strengths far above the levels available in consumer-level products, the type of thing that might be chosen to finish bartops or counters in a commercial space, bistro tables, etc. This includes things like catalysed lacquer, two-pack polyurethane (completely different to oil-based polys), epoxy and polyester coatings. But in addition to their cost all or virtually all require spray equipment to apply, & they tend to be v. toxic.
    – Graphus
    Commented Jan 5 at 8:01

1 Answer 1


Should I do an oil finish and spray it with polyurethane ?

As mentioned in a number of previous Answers, often there is no benefit to oiling wood prior to adding poly. Where you may want to do this is to maximise colour contrast/figure in the wood but oil-based varnishes are already quite good at doing this.

Or go straight to a poly wipe on?

There are a number of modern finish types that tout oil and alcohol resistance that you could roll the dice on, but for maximum resistance you really need a film finish. And for a number of reasons wiping on poly is what I would have recommended anyway.

In addition to being relatively inexpensive and easy to get, oil-based polyurethane varnish is the easiest highly protective finish to apply to a high standard (irrespective of the shapes involved). See the images in this previous Answer on making it yourself. Note you don't have to wipe it on if you'd prefer not to, what makes the technique so forgiving is not wiping it on, but wiping off the excess. You can wipe off some, most or all of the excess as per your preference.

Oil-based poly comes with some attendant solvent odour (there's some in the formula already, when making a commercial wiping varnish they simply add more spirits.... and overcharge for it).

I thought someone who is into essential oils might appreciate a little on reducing the associated smells, especially since you're likely to be working indoors given the season.

A note on reducing solvent odour
If you want to reduce the smell of the thinned varnish, dilute it with "OMS" (odourless mineral spirits) or low-odour mineral spirits. The products in this category vary in just how "odourless" they are. Expect to pay more for any that have virtually no odour, but even a basic type should not have any offensive smell of the mineral spirits type.

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