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Best way to protect an oak table top – Patina?

Listed under Blog, hand-painted furniture Posted Apr 27 2013

It is a regular question, what is the best way to protect an oak table top. The same question can apply to any wooden table top really! This is a photo follow up to an article on preparation and protective coating – how to restore an oak table.

Best way to protect tables

water on oakNatural timber is a very enriching product for us humans. We do seem to have an affinity with a “nice bit of wood”. I don’t think it is just me who is unable to resist the lure of rubbing your finger tips over a polished timber surface! A positive experience, splinters permitting!

Once stripped and sanded back to the bare oak, a table top does need protecting so it can be enjoyed au natural. If not, any action around the table, unless it is covered with cloths and assorted place mats, could end on damage.

What do you do to protect oak tops?

I go to Patina, which is an alternative to one of the following 4 tried and tested options.

Clear acrylic varnish Clear acrylic will go on milky white and dry clear. Aesthetically, that is fine. It is practical, and easy to apply, fast drying. The oak would look like the top half of the photo.

Wax To add a bit of character and accentuate the grain, wax is one way forward, but see the limitations below.

patina tabletop

Wax A nice furniture wax will add a patina to the wood and is practical, to a point. What it won’t do is withstand a thorough beating with knives, or heat from hot mugs or plates. Character is good, and wax is easily touched up, but that may not be your style.

Danish oil A traditional linseed oil type coating, Danish oil is up to 50% tung oil with linseed oil and bits. The premise is to feed the wood and leave it usable in food areas, without a solid coating. It does need maintaining annually at least.

Tung oil

minwax tung oil Take oiling a bit further with Tung Oil to leave a polished, tough surface. The pros and cons are discussed on this forum thread where Tung oil is used to emulate a French Polished surface. This leads on to another contender for treating wooden surfaces.

French Polishing Shellac based button polish is applied, rubbed and and buffed layer after layer. The process of French Polishing is a classic table top treatment, the classic medium for perfectly formed mug rings and blooming from hot plates too. When you place heat on a polished table, it draws moisture from the wood which for want of a better word, hits the impervious polish. Character building.

Good and bad oiling ideas

By and large, wiping a table top with an oily rag is not oiling.

Good practice is to oil the underside of a timber worktop before installing.

Update There are trendy timber worktops sold for big money on the basis they have been dropped into drop into a hot oil bath and left for a week. I spoke to an oil manufacturer who said that was a really bad idea. You don’t want every pore of the worktop suffocated by oil. A simple super thin surface coating is just fine for the timber and the homeowner.

And then there’s Patina

It is a polyurethane gel that is as easy to apply as wax. Aesthetically it looks like an oil. The main difference is that it is moisture permeable. In other words, it outperforms conventional oil and polish by a country mile when around hot mugs and water.

hot mug on patina

Don’t forget Osmo Top Oil

And not forgetting Osmo Top Oil highly rated by TP Furniture Painters for its ease of use and performance on kitchen worktops, it would be suitable here too. Prepare and apply first coat. Leave overnight and top coat, job done. Simple information on tinting to an ebony colour, included! Apparently information that is not readily available in Germany, home of Osmo.

UpdateMylands Hard Wax Earth oil received a resounding thumbs up from Martin Dunn, Traditional Painter Staffordshire. Comparable to Osmo Oil, he used 2 coats on bare oak veneer, Martin is very happy with the application and a good price too.

What are your methods for reviving table tops?

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2 comments to “Best way to protect an oak table top – Patina?”

  1. Charles Budd

    A customer asked me a question about Patina recently as she was thinking about using it in her kitchen. Is Patina ‘food grade’. She was thinking of using it on a worktop on which she does a lot of food preparation, including kneading bread. She wanted to know whether Patina would be a suitable finish for that, or whether she should go for the oil (I don’t know which) she’d always used. Any comment?

  2. Avatar photo Andy Crichton

    Hot off the technical press, in answer to the question is Patina food safe?

    I was told it is “half and half!”

    Yes it is perfectly fine for normal food use, putting food and fruit and veg and bread etc on a worktop coated with Patina, but if you were to cut raw meat on the worktop and scored the patina and the blood seeped through the patina, the blood would start to degrade the patina’s bond to the surface, which isn’t ideal!

    I guess the next question is to ask a Danish oil supplier if their food safe coating would retain its integrity with similar treatment.

    I am reminded of a kitchen I painted where the oak tops were left natural. When I asked why, I was told it was the “Jamie Oliver approach”. Just scrape a top layer off when it gets “soiled”.

    I think the only two things wrong with that approach are that I’m sure Mr Oliver has help scraping back his worktops. (Like the butcher would do?) And I would think his worktops are probably end grain? ie able to withstand a lot of abuse compared to a regular oak worktop. But I may be wrong.

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