Best Polyurethane For Table Top: Top 4 Picks & Buying Guide (2019)

best-exterior-polyurethane

There are many things you should factor in when working on a piece of furniture you'll be using daily – and finding the right finish for the job is one of them.

How do you know you picked the best polyurethane for table top that will be both beautiful and tough, though?

Stick around, and you’ll find out!

Is Polyurethane Safe For Kitchen Tables?


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Okay, let’s get one thing straight:

Every finish is safe to use on kitchen tables and countertops, as long as it’s thoroughly dry and forms a hard film on the surface – and that includes polyurethane, too.

The question of safety mostly arises due to the various driers added to these finishes to speed up the curing process, but there’s no evidence that the driers used today are unsafe in any way.

Best Polyurethane For Table Top: My Top 4 Picks


First one up is the General Finishes Water-Based Urethane Topcoat. Don’t let the name confuse you – we’re still talking about polyurethane coatings here!

The product dries to an evened-out, low-sheen finish, and as soon as it cures, which could take up to a month, it becomes rock-hard – a must-have feature if you want a tabletop that’s able to withstand daily wear and tear.  

Also, keep in mind that you can apply this one with everything from bristle and foam brushes to rollers and spray tips!

And while most water-based polyurethane finishes do work wonders on light-colored wood, this one seems to be an exception to the rule, as it leaves a yellowish tint. It may work in some cases but stay away from this one if you’re working on white-painted surfaces.

Pros:

  • Leaves a clear finish
  • Easy to apply and dries very quickly
  • Works with several application methods

Cons:

  • Not suitable for light-colored wood

Right off the bat, I could tell that this Rust-Oleum Water-Based Polyurethane Finish is different than most other finishes I’ve used in the past.

How?

It doesn’t have that brain-numbing chemical odor to it – and that’s always a plus in my book!

It has a pretty fast drying time, too, which is a huge plus when you’re applying several coats (as you should with this particular product) – you won’t have to sit around all day and wait for individual layers to dry.

It was amazing to see the layers “melt” into each other, without leaving any visible lines in their wake – and even the tiny bubbles seemed to go away on their own!

Also, if you’re working on light-colored wood, you should know that it won’t leave a yellowish hint as it dries – the finish stays completely clear.

Pros:

  • There’s minimal odor 
  • It dries very fast
  • Doesn’t add a yellow hue

Cons:

  • Requires lots of layers 

The wipe-on method of applying polyurethane is, by far, the easiest one to master – so, of course, I had to include the best wipe-on polyurethane for tabletop in my round-up!

Enter Minwax, a coating that will leave your tabletop with a hand-rubbed finish and the level of protection only oil-based polyurethane can provide. Your table top will be safe from water and food stains, as well as daily wear and tear.

As you can imagine, it’s super easy to apply, as it goes on smoothly and has a quick drying time – plus, you won’t have to worry about bubbles or visible brush streaks, either.

Now, it may require a few more additional coats to get the same finish level you’d get from standard polyurethane. That said, it’s well worth the hassle because the results are always flawless.

Pros:

  • Very easy to apply 
  • Fast drying time
  • No bubbles or brush streaks

Cons:

  • The finish is a bit dull

You’re probably wondering how did a floor finish end up in my round-up of the best polyurethane for tabletop, but rest assured that the ZAR works its magic on all types of wooden surfaces – not just your hardwood floors.

The consistency closely resembles that of conventional polyurethane, so you don’t have to worry about it being too runny or too streaky. The full-bodied formula goes on smoothly, without leaving any bubbles, and feels dry to the touch in about half an hour, which means you can build your coating every two hours or so.

Pretty fast, huh?

Most importantly, though, it produces virtually no odor – something you’ll highly appreciate if you’re working in a poorly ventilated room.

Pros:

  • Doesn’t produce any odors 
  • Goes on smoothly with no visible bubbles
  • Approved for use on exotic wood
  • Dries very fast
  • Doesn’t yellow

Cons:

  • None so far 

Things to Consider When Choosing the Best Polyurethane for Table Top


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Polyurethane vs. Varnish vs. Shellac: Did You Pick the Right Finish?

You might be scratching your head here, trying to figure out whether polyurethane is the right choice for your tabletop finish, especially with options like varnish and shellac available, as well – but rest assured you've made the right call:

Polyurethane topcoats form a hard film and are durable enough to withstand the wear and tear of daily domestic use.

Water-Based or Oil-Based Polyurethane

Although both have their strengths and weaknesses, when it comes to picking the best polyurethane for tabletop, oil-based polyurethane is the way to go:

It’s a bit more forgiving application-wise, and when it dries, it forms a hard, impenetrable surface that will protect your tabletop from moisture and food stains.

However, if the table in question is made from light-colored wood, you can use water-based polyurethane, as it adds a crystal clear finish, rather than taking on a light amber tint.

Brush-On or Spray-On Polyurethane

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The wipe-on method is pretty self-explanatory, so let’s stick to the remaining two – brush-on and spray-on:  

Spray-on polyurethane will save you some time and eliminate the risk of drips, bubbles, and visible brush strokes, giving you a perfect mirror finish – but you have to deal with the inhalation of VOCs.

For this reason, brush-on polyurethane is my go-to option for tabletop finishes. As long as you follow a few woodworking guidelines, you’ll get the same beautiful results – minus the VOCs.

Final Thoughts & Recommendations


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It’s time to wrap things up, and you know what that means?

I’m about to announce the winner of the round-up and the best polyurethane for tabletop on the market!

My favorite is the Minwax 60910000 Wipe-On Poly Finish Clear:

It’s super easy to apply, which is a huge plus for those new to woodworking, and it doesn’t leave any streaking or bubbles.

That said, I’m pretty sure they’d all perform equally as good if you give them a chance, and use them on the right type of wood!

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