Seeking Table/Desk finishing suggestions (Sapele top, Ash frame)

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    Greg Sarsons

    Hello woodworkers,
    I’m about to start my first significant project – a trestle table with hand tools – but I have not yet decided on a finish. Seeking your wise thoughts.

    Wood – sapele top and ash frame
    Intended use – small kitchen table, that will likely be used as a desk. This will be for my daughter when she moves out (someday) … 🙂
    Finish experience – I’ve had good experience with “Tried and True” products and with “Watco Danish Oil”. I’ve dabbled a bit with Zinnsers shellac (thinned). Not a huge fan of strong finish odors my basement shop; working outside is not yet an option … I’m in Ottawa Canada and there is too much snow.


    Bill Epstein

    My experience with finishes runs the gamut from A to B. Oil for open grain like Mahogany, varnish for closer grained like Walnut and your Sapele. I could probably give you better advice on chasing away daughters of which I have three. Two of them still talk to me though.

    Lately I’ve overcome my resistance to the plasticky look of urethane with General Finish Armor Seal, and for a high wear use like you’re building, I would recommend it. It’s tougher than varnish alone but looks almost as natural as oil.

    Greg Sarsons

    Bill, my plan was to slowly fill her room with furniture thus encouraging the move 🙂

    Seriously thanks for the comments, I’ve pondered a wipe-on urethane finish but truth be told they make me a little uneasy. Not sure if I’m more worried about repairability or risk with the application. I wonder how long I’m going to torture myself with indecisiveness.


    Another vote for General Finishes Arm-R-Seal for a table top that will have heavy use like a kitchen table or coffee table. I’m not sure if it will match your needs for low odor, which it isn’t. For finishes that cure upon exposure to air, like this one and some of the others you listed, get the smallest can that will handle the project and I’d suggest a can of Bloxygen. Otherwise, you will likely throw out a lot of unused, gunky finish. Arm-R-Seal likes to run on vertical surfaces, so use thin coats. It’s actually pretty easy to apply.

    If low stink is an absolute requirement, my next choice would be General Finishes High Performance, which is a water born finish. I’d want to look up others’ experiences with this on a kitchen table. I used it for a desk.


    I’ve just started using the Arm-R-Seal and I’m really impressed. As a new woodworker, getting a good finish seems harder than the building of the project. The self leveling properties of the Arm-r-seal really helps with my inexperience. I didn’t find it over smelly to use also. I like to wait a few weeks after the final coat of satin and then buff it out with 000 steal wool and paste wax. No plastic look. Looks more like buffed out shellac than anything to me. Very natural. The paste wax buffing really is what gave me the final look I was after.

    Greg Sarsons

    Thank you all for the comments. It has been more stressful thinking about the finish then building the project and getting tight joint fit. Well I decided to try something different, I’m going to try a wood floor oil.

    Fingers crossed.

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