Types of Varnish to Use on Wooden Tables

Updated February 21, 2017

Varnish is a clear finish that protects wood and the wood stain from scratches and nicks as well as water damage. Varnish will eventually wear off, so it needs to be reapplied periodically to high-use furniture such as kitchen and living room tables.. There are several different ways of classifying varnishes including by their composition and the way they eventually look when they dry. Choose the right varnish for your home's decor and for your type of furniture.


Oil-based varnish is the most durable type of varnish that is accessible for the average homeowner. Other, more durable varnishes need to be professionally applied. Oil varnishes are more elastic and softer than other types of varnish. This prevents them from cracking if used on wooden tables or other high-use furniture.


Polyurethane offers the best resistance to heat, solvents and abrasives. This means that you can use rubbing alcohol or acetone to remove stains from the polyurethane-coated wood without worrying about dissolving the finish. Because it does not melt when it gets hot, polyurethane varnish is convenient for use on wooden kitchen tables.


Shellac in its purest form is a resin that is naturally secreted by an insect. The manufacturing process involves harvesting these secretions and mixing them with alcohol. Shellac comes in a variety of colours. It dries very hard and has a high gloss sheen that is makes it an attractive choice for use on living room or bedroom tables.


Lacquer is an evaporative finish that dries very fast. Lacquer is moderately durable type of varnish, but it gives wood a depth of colour and texture. Lacquer is sensitive to heat. Therefore, never use it to varnish kitchen tables or any area that might be exposed to flames or excess heat. Most lacquer is slightly orange or yellow.


Acrylic varnish is very similar to lacquer. It has the same properties except that it dries completely clear. This allows you to maintain the colour of the wood or your wood stain. Acrylic varnish will not turn yellow over time.

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About the Author

Kaye Wagner has been working in the fields of journalism and public relations since 2006 and is a recipient of a National Hearst Award. She is particularly interested in home-and-garden projects, as well as beauty and fashion writing. An avid traveler, she also writes travel reviews and guides. Wagner earned a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Brigham Young University.