Last Updated on August 27, 2023 by Ernest Godia
A workbench surface is the place for completing all kinds of woodworking tasks. This means it can take a lot of beating throughout its service life. However, the best finish for workbench can protect the surface and prevent scratches, dents, and all kinds of blemishes.
Such a finish can go a long way in prolonging the service life of your workbench. It should resist chemicals, moisture, scratches, and slipping, depending on how you use the workbench or what you use it for.
This article reviews the best finish for workbench and suggests the factors to consider when choosing such a finish.
Types of Workbench Finishes
Before discussing the best workbench finishes, it is important to understand the different types available on the market and their distinguishing characteristics. Below are the four different types:
A) Polyurethane Finish
This is the best standard finish for a workbench, especially the workbench top. It offers a durable coat that is completely watertight and easy to fix if damaged.
You can use a cloth or a brush to apply the finish since it is less sticky. After applying the first coat, it dries fast, allowing you to recoat in two to four hours. After twenty-four hours, you can use your workbench surface lightly.
The finish is simple to clean with soap and water in case of oily spills.
Although polyurethane finish can be used on most workbench tops, it is most suitable for plywood.
B) Water-based or Oil-based Finishes
You can also use water-based or oil-based finishes on your workbench. These are budget-friendly and easy-to-apply options.
However, between the two, experts advise using the oil-based finish for workbench tops. This is mainly because of the superior ability of oil-based finishes to penetrate wood pores, offering excellent protection against scratches, spills, and drips.
C) Wax Finish
Another fantastic choice for finishing a workbench is wax. It provides adequate protection and prolongs the beauty of the workbench.
However, you must use a wax finish in combination with oil-based products like linseed oil and turpentine for the best results. You can also apply a rejuvenating coat to keep the surface shining.
D) Varnish Finish
The last type of finish you can use on your workbench is varnish. This finish also offers protection to the surface of the workbench. Additionally, it provides the wood surface with a polished, professional appearance.
However, even though this finish may appear beautiful, it is unsuitable for a workbench top. You shouldn’t go for this finish if you have alternative finishing options. The finish is more suitable for the base and legs of the workbench.
Best Finish for Workbench Reviews
Choosing the appropriate finish for a workbench guarantees that your finishing project will go smoothly and that you will achieve the desired results. Below are the nine best finishes you can use on your workbench.
1. LinSheen Boiled Linseed Oil Finish– Best premium workbench finish
The LinSheen brand is reputable for manufacturing best-selling finishes. Their LinSheen Boiled Linseed Oil Finish features a natural oil derived from flax seeds. This clear finish deeply penetrates the wood to protect it from harsh conditions while also enhancing its appearance.
The product is easy to use on large indoor and outdoor surfaces. For proper application and preservation, the manufacturer recommends applying two to three coats at 12 to 24-hour intervals.
Boiled Linseed Oil isn’t actually boiled as many may assume. Drying additives are added to Raw Linseed Oil to create Boiled Linseed Oil. This makes a fast-drying finish. Once cured, the finish forms a layer of protection.
If you choose to use this product, LinSheen advises that you have your wood treated every six months to a year.
- Quality product
- Easy to use
- Protects the workbench from harsh conditions
- Enhances the natural appearance of the wood
- It can be used on both indoor and outdoor surfaces
- Dries quickly
- Some customers complain that the product produces a pungent smell two weeks after application.
- The product must be reapplied every 6 to 12 months.
2. Rust-Oleum 242057 Painter’s Touch Latex Paint – Budget-friendly
Rust-Oleum 242057 Painter’s Touch Latex Paint is an affordable finish that you can use on various outdoor and indoor surfaces, including wood, plaster, metal, masonry, and unglazed ceramic.
This water-based acrylic formula is low odor and available in 28 different colors. It is easy to apply and covers up to 120 sq ft.
After application, it dries to the touch in half an hour for quick project completion. This leads to the formation of a glossy finish that hides any blemishes on the workbench’s top surface and offers long-lasting protection.
The finish will not turn yellow over time due to its UV-resistant properties.
The drawback to using this finish is that you must apply multiple coats to achieve the desired coverage due to its thin consistency.
- Affordable workbench finish
- Easy to apply
- Offers excellent coverage
- Dries in 30 minutes for a quick project completion
- Low-odor product that is available in 28 different colors
- It can resist chips offering a long-lasting protection
- It’s a non-yellowing product
- Highly versatile; you can use it on various indoor and outdoor surfaces.
- Thin consistency
- Multiple coats are required to achieve the desired protection.
3. General Finishes High-Performance Water-Based Topcoat – Most durable workbench finish
General Finishes High-Performance Water-Based Topcoat is today’s hardest, most durable consumer polyurethane top coat.
The low-odor product, suitable for indoor surfaces, is easy to use. After application, the coats dry in 1 to 2 hours, offering the surface long-lasting protection.
This finish also contains a UV stabilizer to prevent it from deteriorating and the underlying stains from fading in sunlight.
However, the manufacturer cautions against using clear topcoats over bright white paint because yellowing could result from a substrate reaction. A light color paint can also appear yellow over time, but the yellowing will be less noticeable.
Another drawback of this product is that it is more expensive than alternative finishes, making it unideal for individuals on a tight budget.
- It will provide a hard and durable coat when applied on a workbench
- Low-odor product that is easy to apply
- Prevents chipping
- Dries quickly after application
- It can be applied over painted surfaces
- Not the most suitable option for those looking for a budget-friendly finish
- It can experience yellowing when applied over bright white surfaces.
4. Rust-Oleum 331052 Milk Paint Finish – Low-odor workbench finish
You need a low-odor finish if you have respiratory issues or if your workbench is indoors. This Rust-Oleum Milk Paint Finish is low in volatile organic compounds and odor, with a formula that offers excellent coverage of up to 125 square feet per quart.
The product is available in six shades, is easy to use, and can be cleaned with soap and water. After application, it adheres firmly to the wooden surface, is touch-dry in 30 minutes, and is ready for a second coat in two hours.
Use this finish to get accent details after coating while ensuring the surface is durable.
The disadvantage to using this product is that it needs poly as a top coat. You must also recoat your workbench regularly to ensure it remains protected.
- Low-odor finish that does not require wearing of respiratory masks
- Adheres firmly to the wooden surface to create a durable coat after application
- An easy-to-use product that is available in six different colors
- Excellent for creating accent details
- Simple to clean with soap and water
- Requires poly as a top coat
- Requires regular maintenance
5. CARGEN 3 PCS Wood Seasoning Beewax – Best traditional workbench finish
Your search is over if you’re looking for a traditional, long-lasting workbench finish.
The CARGEN 3 PCS Wood Seasoning Beewax is made of 100% natural beeswax. This makes it safe and healthy to use because it contains no GMOs, paraffin, or unidentified ingredients. People also like the mild, natural honey scent that beeswax gives off.
Use this finish to remove dirt and wax buildup on your old workbench to regain its beauty and on unfinished and finished wood to amplify the natural appearance of the grain.
This wood polish forms a barrier that protects your wood from odors, stains, dampness, and other elements that could harm it.
The main drawback of using this product is how long it takes for the wood to absorb it. Also, the finish is not easy to wash after applying, so you must wear gloves.
- It is safe and healthy to use
- It helps remove wax and dirt buildup on surfaces, restoring their beauty
- Creates a long-lasting protective barrier
- It is an environmentally friendly and easy-to-use product
- It does not produce a foul smell
- It is absorbed into the wood slowly
- Not easy to wash off the hands with soap and water
6. Minwax Fast-Drying Polyurethane – Fast-drying workbench finish
Minwax Fast-Drying Polyurethane is a fast-drying oil-based finish that allows faster recoats within two to six hours. This lets you complete the job faster.
The clear coat finish can be used on both finished and unfinished wood indoors. Use it to make the most resilient and simple-to-maintain coating to protect your workbench from dings, spills, and other hazards while enhancing its beauty. You can also use it on furniture, cabinets, and floors.
This product is easy to use. However, you should avoid shaking it before and during use. Instead, thoroughly stir the finish to prevent settling on the can’s bottom. Apply two or three layers of the finish using a high-quality foam or natural brush.
The only issue with this product is that some customers complain about poor packaging.
- Fast-drying finish
- Manufactured by a reputable brand
- Offers a durable coat that protects a workbench against dings, spills, and other hazards
- Enhances the natural beauty of the surfaces it is applied to
- Easy to apply
- Available in different sheens
- Some users complain about poor packaging
7. Furniture Clinic Boiled Linseed Oil for Furniture – Best finish for kitchen workbench
If you want a finish for your kitchen workbench, try the Furniture Clinic Boiled Linseed Oil for Furniture. This low-VOC product is non-toxic when dry, making it pet- and food-safe.
Additionally, it has a milder smell and is simple to clean with soap and water.
The finish is offered in several sizes and comes in 12 hues that range from dark to light. You can use this on any other indoor and outdoor wood surfaces besides the kitchen workbench. It will provide even color penetration and outstanding coverage.
The manufacturer suggests combining it with Furniture Clinic Wood Varnishes, Wood Oils, or Wood Waxes. These enhance the stain’s color, improve the protection, and may be used to change the finish to gloss or satin.
- Less-toxic hence a suitable option for a kitchen workbench
- Available in 12 different colors that range from dark to light
- It offers even color penetration and excellent coverage
- Easy to use and can be cleaned with soap and water
- Creates a durable protective coat
- It must be used in combination with Furniture Clinic Wood Varnishes, Wood Oils, or Wood Waxes to enhance its color and improve protection.
8. Watco Rust-Oleum Danish Oil Finish – Best beginner-friendly workbench finish
If finishing work is something you have never done before, you will need a simple-to-use product.
Watco Rust-Oleum A65741 Danish Oil Finish is a finish that offers excellent coverage of up to 170 sq ft and can easily be applied with a brush on a workbench.
After applying two or three coats, your workbench top will look brand-new and be protected from spills, abrasion, chipping, and peeling.
The finish takes six hours to dry to the touch after application.
It is also perfect for use on different indoor wood surfaces, such as those that have been stripped, sanded, or left bare. It is, however, not recommended for use on floors.
Since this product emits strong fumes, always use it in a well-ventilated space.
- Easy to use, even for beginners
- Simple to clean with water and soap
- Offers excellent coverage of up to 170 sq ft
- Enhances the natural appearance and feel of the wood by creating a rich, warm glow
- Protects the workbench and other indoor wood surfaces from spills, abrasion, chipping, and peeling
- Only suitable for indoor use
- Emits strong fumes
9. Rust-Oleum Diamond Urethane – Best non-yellowing workbench finish
If you plan on placing your workbench outside, you need a finish that will not turn yellow due to exposure to sunlight. Rust-Oleum 250241 Diamond Urethane finish has great weather and UV resistance, ensuring it will not turn yellow over time on your workbench.
Besides wooden workbench, this formula is also easy to apply on other exterior woods such as doors, windows, furniture, trim, and more. It offers excellent coverage of up to 87 sq ft per quart, dries to the touch in half an hour, and can be recoated after two hours.
It is important to note that this finish can turn milky if rained on. If this happens, use a soft cloth to wipe it, and it will dry faster, regaining its great look again.
This finish is a perfect choice if you want a product that is not shiny and will not add a yellow tinge.
- Non-yellowing finish
- Easy to apply; no brush strokes
- Low odor
- Fast drying finish
- Easy to clean with soap and water
- More expensive than most comparable finishes available
- Turns milky when rained on
Factors to Consider When Selecting the Best Finish for Workbench
Workbenches are often used to complete tough tasks. Thus the most suitable finish should be able to protect it from dings, spills, and other hazards.
Consider applying finishes that provide sufficient protection without detracting from the wood’s inherent qualities.
Some finishes, like mineral oil, wax, and oil/varnish finishes, offer protection while allowing for easy maintenance and refinishing.
- Non-slip Surface
A workbench’s surface should be non-slippery to ensure that your workpieces remain in position when completing various tasks. Wax and oil finishes offer adequate friction. Film finishes, on the other hand, can make the surface slippery.
- Wood Type
Different types of wood respond differently to the various types of finishes. It is, therefore, vital to ensure that the finish you select is compatible with the wood used to make your workbench.
For instance, maple is a hardwood with tight grains that can benefit more from wax and oil-based finishes, offering protection and enhancing its natural aesthetics.
- Ease of Application and Maintenance
If you are a beginner or want to complete the finishing task effortlessly, it is essential to consider the ease of application when buying a finish. Some finishes, like Watco Rust-Oleum A65741 Danish Oil Finish, are easy to apply even for beginners, while others may require an expert.
Additionally, consider how easy the finish is to repair or renew after damage. Wax and oil-based finishes are the easiest to repair and renew.
Although functionality is essential, you might also prefer a finish that improves the overall look of your workbench.
Oil finishes, such as linseed or Danish oil, can amplify the wood grain’s natural appearance and enhance your bench’s overall look. In addition, wax finishes can give the wood surface a light gloss without changing its color.
Some finishes could include solvents or chemicals hazardous to human health or the environment.
Selecting a finish with natural ingredients or low levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can help reduce these dangers.
How to Finish a Workbench in 5 Easy Steps
Finishing a workbench shouldn’t be a complex task. Here is how to do it the easy way:
- Your select finish
- Soft cloth
- Vacuum cleaner
- Clean water
Procedure for finishing a workbench
Here are the steps to finish your workbench once you have the required tools and equipment handy.
Step 1: Sand the Workbech’s Surface
Start sanding with a coarse 80-grit sandpaper and work your way up to 120-grit sandpaper. This will ensure that you have a smooth surface.
Step 2: Clean the Surface
After sanding the surface of your workbench, you should clean it using a damp piece of cloth if you are using a water-based finish.
For an oil-based finish, just vacuum the surface with a vacuum cleaner to remove the dust.
Finally, use a fine 220-grit sandpaper to smooth the workbench surface and avoid getting a rough final finish.
Step 3: Apply Your Select Finish
Once the workbench surface is smooth enough, apply your selected finish using a quality synthetic paintbrush. Depending on the workbench size, you may also use a roller or the applicator recommended on the product label.
For optimal results, carefully follow the manufacturer’s instructions on the can. For good measure, read our guide on how to apply polyacrylic without streaks or bubbles.
Also, keep an eye on the weather, as it can change drying times and significantly impact the outcomes. Between applications, certain finishes call for minor sanding while others don’t. So be on the lookout for this instruction on the product label.
Step 4: Reapply the Finish
Apply a second layer when the first one has dried. Applying several thin layers rather than one thick one is advised for professional-looking results.
Before concluding the job, apply two to three layers, depending on your individual taste.
Step 5: Allow the Workbench Time to Cure
Before using the workbench, give it enough time to cure.
The general rule is to wait twenty-four to seventy-two hours before applying pressure to the surface.
How Long Does it Take for a Finish to Dry?
There are no set guidelines for how long a finish should take to dry. It mostly depends on the product, how it is applied, and the local weather.
For water-based finishes, the drying time ranges from four to eight hours. Wax finishes require up to twenty-four hours to fully dry.
Finishes made using tung oil might take anywhere between 24 and 48 hours to dry. The typical drying time for water-based polyurethane is twenty hours.
It takes 48 hours for oil-based polyurethane finishes to dry. For information on the recommended drying time for the finish, consult the manufacturer’s instructions on the product’s can.
Best Finish for Workbench: FAQs
What is the best finish for an MDF workbench?
Most individuals use oil finishes such as boiled linseed oil finishes and tung oil finishes on an MDF workbench. However, since MDF workbenches are more prone to water damage, it is advisable to use varnish.
What makes a good workbench surface?
Maple makes an excellent workbench surface because it holds its shape without warping or splitting. The wood has a dense grain and a durable surface resistant to the scratches and dents associated with heavy woodworking tools and equipment such as vises and clamps.
What is the best waterproof finish for wood?
Polyurethane finishes are known to be highly water resistant, making them a suitable option for waterproofing wood. Varnish and lacquer finishes can also be used to waterproof wood.
What are the two major types of wood finish?
The two major types of wood finish are penetrating and surface wood finishes. Penetrating wood finish absorbs deep into the wood, while surface wood finish creates a protective layer that sits on the wood surface to offer protection.
What is a polyurethane finish?
Polyurethane is a highly durable finish formulated in a way that its small chains of resin molecules bond firmly with one another as it dries. This results in a final finish that is highly resistant to impacts, chemicals, water, and abrasion than standard varnishes.
What type of finish softens the wood surface?
Shellac, a popular finish before 1920, is known for softening wood surfaces. The finish can also be a little bit sticky after it has cured.
Best Finish for Workbench: Final Take
Workbenches are often the place for tough woodworking tasks. This exposes them to scratches, spills, and other hazards.
However, buying the best finish for workbench can protect the surface from all this while enhancing its appearance.
This article has reviewed the nine best finishes for a workbench that you can buy. We hope that this information will make your workbench finishing job nice and successful.