Laminated Top With Wood Finish
2016 May 18 Tech Workspaces & Tables
In another article, I wrote about some possible finishes for a workbench top.
Polyurethane is great for particle-board, but I had this laminated 2x4 top and wanted to use something different.
Let's take a look at one that's based on beeswax and linseed oil. Will it be any good for a work surface? Let's see.
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In This ArticleThe Laminated Top, Revisited
Planing or Sanding?
Wood Finish Necessary
Staining & Finishing The Wood
The Laminated Top, Revisited
Let's say you want to build a laminated top, perhaps to salvage some 2x4's that are sitting around.
The first step would be to rip the edges down on a table saw, because 2x4's otherwise have slightly rounded edges. Once you remove those edges, you should have planks that have nice square edges and can be glued together (if they're not warped). Without a table saw, there's no way I could have made this top.
The laminating will require some wood glue and some pipe clamps, at least three or four. See this article for more details. If you had a lot of 2x4's, you would probably want to glue them face-to-face for durability; instead I glued them edge-to-edge, for lack of enough lumber that wasn't warped.
So, after gluing everything up and letting it dry, you've got this laminated top that looks rugged. And maybe you'll nail up an equally rugged-looking table base for it. You could glue-and-screw the laminated top to the table base.
If you didn't plane the top first, you'll have this table where some of the top planks stick up higher than others.
This top looks rustic and cool, but it wouldn't be durable to spills. The alternating high-and-low surface would collect the spill and hold it there. And with no finish, the wood will soak up the water and probably warp.
On a plank-top with expansion gaps I wouldn't care. Here, though, warping could wreck the glue joints.
If you go to the length of making a laminated top, you'll probably want to plane it down and put a finish on it.
Planing or Sanding?
If you make a laminated top the way I did, there will be some boards that stick up higher than others.
Real woodworkers like to use hand planes. For this, you would want a bench plane that's long enough not to egg out the surface or create wavy areas. Right now I don't have a plane like that but wish I did. If you're into woodworking and you like vintage tools, get yourself one through this link. (Shopping through these links will help keep my website on-line.)
Some real woodworkers use electric hand-planers. This one would probably be good.
For this top I couldn't plane it at all; the blade would have hit the metal screw heads. That's because the table was already put together permanently (yep I know, should have planed the top first.....). So here was my solution.
Yes, I used a 4x24 belt sander. Mine was from a yard sale; last year I picked it up for cheap because it's missing a part. It still works, but it goes through belts faster than it should. (It probably won't be long until I need a new sander; I'd be wanting either this one or this one.) The rotary sander finally quit working, so I had to fire up the ol' belt sander with some fresh belts.
This top would have eaten a planer for breakfast. Ah, but a belt-sander... you could just sand right over the metal screw heads! If it was in the way, it would just get sanded down with the rest of the wood.
Yeah, I know: drywall screws. And to top it off, I didn't countersink 'em far enough.
Two sanding belts later, and the top was even for the most part. It was now much more usable than before. As pictured, I used these 80-grit belts. Even with my used belt sander that likes to eat belts, they actually held together for a long time. In fact only one of them ripped, and only on one edge after it was already worn down from heavy use. I would buy those belts again, for certain.
Wood Finish Necessary
After sanding, the laminated top had some undulations. Even the 4x24 belt sander didn't make it perfectly flat. I decided it wasn't that bad, though. Really for the intended purpose, any further sanding would be unnecessary. I didn't even use a finer-grit than 80. This was supposed to be a rustic work table, made from lumber that would have gone to waste.
Still, though, a finish was necessary. Otherwise, one good spill and it would warp. Or, I'd get a smudge of axle grease on it or something, and then it would never take a finish from then on.
Staining & Finishing The Wood
Before you put on the surface finish, you might want to stain the wood. I used Ipswich Pine by Minwax; This is my favorite wood stain for anything made of pine, fir, etc. It gives a nice golden-tan coloration to the wood. One coat doesn't really color the wood that much. It's kind of an understated thing; the furniture will still have a lot of that natural-wood appearance.
Elsewhere I think I've mentioned Tried & True Wood Finish. Maybe this is too classy a finish to put on something you're just going to pound on. But I said "Why not?"
A beeswax-and-linseed-oil finish does not produce the hard plasticky coating that you get with polyurethane. However, it will offer some protection against spills, as long as you don't allow liquid to sit on there for a long time. Linseed oil and beeswax are both oily or waxy materials that don't mix with water. With a few coats, you'll fill the pores of the wood so that water can't soak in there.
The trick with this finish is to apply each coat very thinly. Do this in a warm room; not 60 degrees F, but more like 72+. After it soaks in for an hour or two, use a lint-free cloth and wipe off the excess finish. Rub the remaining finish down to the wood and sort of buff it in there before it starts to dry. The drying takes at least 24 hours for a thin coat, so it should stay workable for a good couple of hours, at least.
If you do leave the finish on too thick, it will take much longer to dry. Instead of twenty-four hours, it could take many days to reach a non-tacky state. This happened to me, even though I didn't think the finish was all that thick.
Don't use steel wool on this stuff unless you're absolutely sure it's fully dried. Otherwise you will get little steel wool bits embedded in the finish, and then you'll probably have to re-float the whole thing with mineral spirits and maybe start over.
Other than that, Tried & True Original is actually quite easy to apply. It also smells great.
A picture can't really convey the beautiful golden glow of this finish; you really have to try it yourself. Just remember, to get that really warm-looking hue, you'll probably want to stain the wood first with Ipswich Pine as I did here.
You're not supposed to use a foam brush to apply Tried & True, but I did here, and it worked OK.
A lint-free cloth works better, though.
Either way, be sure to wipe off the excess finish before it tacks, or it could take months to dry.
This has been a look at finishing a laminated top with Tried & True Wood Finish. This finish might be a little too classy for a crude work-table top like this. Then again... anything that smells as good as Tried & True Original is something you'll want to find more reasons to use. And I think it does well for a work table, even if the table is now so nice that I can't do any real work at it.
Instead I'll just sit at my little table and read Ansel Adams books. And think of more ways to use this great wood finish.
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