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Metal Table Tops Test: Waxed v Lacquered


Zinc, brass and copper table tops have surfaces which quickly tarnish when exposed to air, forming a distinctive matt layer, or patina. The patina increases over time and reacts with acidic liquids like vinegar, sauce, fruit juice and other materials to create a distinct aesthetic or marks.

Traditionally, metal tops are supplied in natural or pre-patinated finish, with beeswax applied, to help moderate the rate of patina developing.

In the current market, users of live metals (which typically react with exposure to air) are requesting that the finish (whether it's natural or pre-patinated) be preserved rather than allowed to develop naturally.

This is particularly problematic in bars and restaurants where the product is continually washed and cleaned, the wax will get washed away and patina will change and develop more quickly.

One solution is to apply a clear matt lacquer to offer an extra layer of protection. However, if the lacquered surface is scratched a patina will start to develop in the scratched areas which looks arguably worse than a patina that has been allowed to naturally develop across the whole top. So which is best?

Waxed metal table tops vs lacquered metal table tops

We undertook a scientific experiment to test which finish provides the best protection.

We took two brass table top samples & placed different foods on them, then waited overnight to see which stains were most noticeable. We also performed a scratch test on both surfaces to gauge the strength of protection provided by each finish. Here are the results.

Stains L-R are: glass spray, lemon, Flash degreaser spray, wine & balsamic vinegar.

Metal Table Top Stain Test

waxed brass table top

Waxed brass table top

Waxed metal table top test

Waxed brass table top test

Waxed brass table top test results

Waxed brass table top test results

Lacquered brass table top

Lacquered brass table top

lacquered brass table top test

Lacquered brass table top test

Lacquered brass table top test results

Lacquered brass table top test results

Metal Table Top Scratch Test

metal table top scratch test on waxed & lacquered brass table tops

As you can see, the lacquered top performed much better in the stain test, while the waxed top provided more protection from scratching.

Conclusion: Pros and Cons of waxed and lacquered metal table tops

Waxed Metal Table Tops


  • Cheaper
  • Patina forms quicker (which can be a plus on certain projects)


  • Scuffs easily
  • Marks quicker
  • Requires regular waxing to moderate the rate of patina as regular cleaning in a restaurant will wash away the wax

Lacquered Metal Table Tops


  • Seals the surface and finish - preventing the natural patina from developing
  • Offers better protection against marks than waxed


  • More expensive
  • Still marks but less than waxed
  • Once the lacquer is damaged it will cause air to enter and patina that particular area which may make the top look worse
  • Can only be applied to flat surfaces (more details below)

Note: Lacquer can only be applied to flat surfaces

  • Patchwork tops - we can lacquer the top surface but not the edge or nails. This is because the lacquer sitting between the edges and nails will start to split and peel away in use.
  • Edging applied on other tops cannot be lacquered because there is a risk of damaging the top surface.
  • Mirrored and Hand Beaten tops are kept natural, nothing is applied to them and Brasso can be applied to polish them up.

Metal table tops for outdoor use

Metal table tops such as Brass, Copper, Zinc and Aluminium are non-ferrous metals (contain no iron), and therefore suitable for outdoor use, with either waxed or lacquered finish.  The most important thing to remember when using metal tops outdoors is that they will get hot in direct sunlight and may be uncomfortable to use.  Also, the core needs to be made from Marine Ply and is not glued to the metal as it will cause movement when the metal heats.

Metal Table Top Summary

Neither finish is perfect so extra care must be taken when specifying metal tops.  Metal table tops will tarnish, stain & patina. There is no escaping this.

If you are specifying metal table tops for a restaurant or hotel, make sure your client knows that metal will patina, that's part of its charm. It can complement the look and feel of a space, particularly in industrial or rustic spaces, but if you need something that is going to retain its initial look for longer, metal table tops may not be the right material. While we're here neither is marble! (Read more on acid etching here).

A synthetic table top, such as laminate, will be much more hard-wearing than a natural top. For more help selection the correct table top read our guide: What top? For other guidance on using metal as a table top material read our post: Never Fix Metal Edging to Solid Wood Table Tops.

Topics: Tables, Specification tips

By Paula Stanbridge-Faircloth Paula Stanbridge-Faircloth on 28/08/18 10:30
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