I have a job to do a 60" diameter slab top. The customer wants a next-to-the-wood finish, like on antiques. She does not want a plastic look. The wood may be a South American type. What would you use for this - a wipe on poly/varnish? They said that they don't mind a little maintenance.
From contributor L:
Well, polyurethane is plastic and too many coats of varnish will look plastic. They said they don't mind the maintenance? In that case, you can use an oil finish (tung oil, linseed oil, etc) and then wax and buff. They will need to wax it 2 or 3 times a year and put some elbow grease into it to make it work.
day 1 - Danish oil
day 2 - wipe on poly
day 3 - Danish oil
day 4 - wipe on
day 5 - Danish oil
Sand between coats to your liking. I like to sand the last coat of wipe on up to 2000, then put Danish oil on. Wiping off the excess is key with the oil - the more you rub, the better it'll be. You're essentially polishing the top. You'll get a fairly durable finish that's low to the wood and doesn't require a whole lot of maintenance. Give it a shot of lemon oil once or twice a year.
I like Deft. I'm usually satisfied with 10 coats. Sometimes more, sometimes less. That's two a day for five days. Follow the directions on the can. But on the last coat of the day, really, really, really rub it down good. I just use those Scot box-o-rags paper towels. The more elbow grease you put into it, the better the finish is. That's where the wipe-on poly comes in. (Minwax satin is pretty good stuff.) It alleviates some of the elbow grease. By putting on a thin coat of wipe on, you're basically cutting out a few of those coats of oil. The part involving the elbow grease, anyway, since you leave the poly on. The reason I like to finish (final coat) with oil is because you wipe it/rub it dry. When you walk off, nothing is going to land in your wet finish and make you cry the next morning. It's kind of like polishing. You stop when you're satisfied with how it looks. Avoid too much wipe on, too thick or too many coats. It takes really thin coat(s) to avoid the plastic look of a film finish. But doing this kind of gives you a finish that's in the wood, like an oil finish, but also has some film finish qualities. The key is the wiping, rubbing off the oil completely.
You can also make your own wipe-on finishes by mixing varnish/poly, linseed oil, turpentine/mineral spirits. But the already made kind do just fine.
To avoid the plastic look (all synthetic finishes are a type of plastic), keep the finish thin. You can use whatever you want as long as you don't build a significant film.
I would not alternate coats of oil/varnish blends (Danish oil) and varnish/poly. Oil/varnish blends are soft compared to varnish. Never apply a hard finish over a soft finish.