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Testing different finishes for table tops

There are hundreds of different oils, varnishes, and lacquers which are available to woodworkers for finishing their jobs. I have nearly always used what we used on my course in Waters and Acland four years ago - Danish Oil. It certainly is a fantastic finish which can give stunning results if used correctly. But there are situations where it really isn't suitable.

I have done some research and talked to my colleagues and decided to do some tests as I really couldn't get an answer about which product was best to use.

I first prepared 6 offcuts of beautiful brown oak. Sanded each down to 240 grit and prepared them for finish.

I identified 6 different finishes which I decided to test:

  1. Danish Oil (Liberon)

  2. Water Based varnish (Ronseal Interior Varnish)

  3. Polyurethane varnish (Ronseal ultratough Satincoat)

  4. Osmo Polyx oil

  5. Osmo Worktop oil

  6. AC Lacquer (Manns).

And applied the finish to each as recommended on the tin.

Reading the small print on the tin of the Osmo products, it seems that to get the best performance from them you should leave them to harden for 2 weeks. So I did this too.

The next step was to design some tests which are repeatable and consistent. So I can do a fair comparison. Here are my tests:

Screwdriver drop test

To establish how hard the surface is. I made a piece of wood which would allow me to consistently drop a quite heavy screwdriver vertically onto the surface. Here is a small video of a test being done.

Scratch test

This test is to show how resistant to scratches the surface is. In order to do this I gently ran a screwdriver over the surface.

Water drop test

This was done by dropping a large drop of water onto the surface and leaving it for 30 minutes.

Metal can test

This test was done by leaving a damp metal can on the surface for 30 minutes.


Danish Oil

Lovely finish, but poor all round in this test. Very poor protection of the surface in any of the tests.

Water based varnish

Excellent protection from water and rust. Hard finish too. Small imprints left from screwdriver tests.

Polyurethane varnish

Excellent projection from water and rust. Seems quite soft though especially as this varnish was sold as "Ultra tough". Perhaps a different type would work better?

Osmo oil

Quite surprisingly not very good. Especially with the rust test.

Osmo Top Oil.

Performed better than the Osmo Oil. The finish is more resistant to scratches and the screw driver drop. But still the rust test totally failed.

AC Lacquer

I don't have the facility to spray this, but I found a lacquer which could be applied by brush (Manns). The finish is simple to apply - three coats with two hours between coats.

It performed very well on the scratch test - no scratch from the screwdriver. Screwdriver drop left a small dent. Water and rust tests passed with honours. No mark at all.


AC Lacquer is certainly the best finish with the water based varnish a close second. Very strong and hardy finish and very simple to apply. The lacquer I used was also water based and low VOCs. So ideal.

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