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How to water proof a solid wood desk: polyurethane, lacquer, OSMO, wax & oil finishes

Some of our customers when researching their solid wood desk top purchase are keen to make it impervious to water damage. This post will discuss the finishing options with water resistance in mind.

Can you “water proof” solid wood?

We would never describe a piece of solid wood furniture, regardless of the finish we apply, as being “water proof”. Solid wood will always absorb water, any coating or finish that is put on top of the oak or pine etc, is acting as a barrier. Should that barrier fail over time for any reason, water will find a way to sink into the top. A truly water proof top needs be made out out of water proof materials, like plastic.

We do however use the term water resistance. All of the finishes we offer can provide varying degrees of water resistance. Wax and oil have been used for centuries to finish solid wood due to their natural water repellant properties, in the last century resin based finishes like lacquer have provided another option, and in recent times plastic based options like polyurethane have proved popular.

All finishes will not just add water resistant properties to the wood, but will also change how the wood looks. Just as adding any liquid onto wood will make it darker, adding an oil finish to wood will bring out the grain and that darker tone will stick around after the finish has set. Coloured pigments are often added to the finishes to alter the wood further, either darker or lighter. Adding a lacquer or poly finish will remove the wood somewhat from its natural look and feel.

Oil finish

Our standard finish for oak and walnut tops is to finish with Mylands finishing oil.

  • Pros: keeps the natural feel of the wood, easy to apply, easy to top up/refresh, can spot repair, food safe, can add colour pigments to lighten/darken, inexpensive.
  • Cons: will water stain more easily than other finishes, will wear over time (needs maintenance over the years).

Polyurethane finish

Customers can apply a poly finish onto any solid wood at home.

  • Pros: fairly easy to apply with a brush, can buy different finishes (satin, gloss etc), inexpensive, very robust.
  • Cons: it is possible to over apply and distort the shape of the wood, it will take away some of the natural look and feel of the wood, cannot spot repair.

Lacquer finish

We can spray a lacquer finish onto any of our solid wood desk tops.

  • Pros: good level of water resistance, very smooth application with our spray gun, limited colour alteration.
  • Cons: hard to apply, cannot spot repair (will need to be sanded back to apply a different finish), can wear over time, it will take away some of the natural look and feel of the wood.

Osmo finish

We can add an osmo finish to any wood. It is a combination of wax and oil.

Spot repair

Read more about how to maintain oil and OSMO finishes here.

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