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Wooden Table Tops: Finishes & Effects

wooden table tops in restaurant with bandsawn surface effect finish


Wooden table tops have become widespread across the hospitality industry, and in recent years they are becoming increasingly customised with various finishes and effects to get a desired feel. As well as oil, stain & lacquering, certain surface effects are now applied  to achieve an impressive & unique style which helps set a venue apart from the competition. 

Standard wooden table top oil colours

Wood can be oiled (which permeates into the timber, unlike a lacquer, which sits on top of it), giving a natural look and feel. Oil offer little protection to a wood surface and will require regular re-application to avoid marking and a weathering. Oils can also be specified to deliver particular effects, as these examples show:

wooden table top oil colours

Standard wooden table top stain colours

Wood can also be stained using a wide range of standard colours, many of which mimic other, more expensive wood types. These examples are just a small selection. 

A stain on a wood requires a lacquer protection to reduce fading and to protect the surface from heat and staining. Lacquer cannot be added to oiled surfaces due to the viscosity of the oil and therefore offers no, or very little, protection. A stained or oiled surface can be sanded away and the wood re-oiled or stained should there be a need.

TIP: Never stain a wood lighter - the grain won’t be convincing.

wooden table top stain colours

Applying lacquer (paint) to wooden table tops

Wood can be lacquered (a term sometimes used interchangeably with varnish and/or paint), which is a layer that sets on top of the surface. Lacquer gives a very even layer, smoothing out imperfections, protecting the timber from heat and staining, making it easier to maintain.

Coloured lacquers are sometimes used when a colour match is required, although coloured laminate surfaces are a more robust alternative. This is because colour lacquers can be scratched and chipped easily, and are then difficult to repair.

Typically MDF is used for the core under coloured lacquers, although ash or beech can be used if a subtle grain pattern is wanted. Fewer layers are applied to achieve this.

Wooden table top sheen levels

Lacquers have differing sheen levels ranging from very glossy to very matt as the diagram below shows.


When lacquers are made they all begin life as high gloss and matting agent is added to reduce the sheen level. But the more matting agent is added, the weaker the lacquer becomes so we try to avoid 5% dead matt.

Typical sheen we use ranges from 60% (high gloss) to 10% (matt); our default choice is 40% (satin).

Beyond 60% high gloss is a finish known as burnished or piano lacquer which is a very thick covering. It requires a laborious process which can take up to 2 weeks to achieve and is correspondingly expensive.

It is a frustrating irony that a glossy lacquer makes scratches more visible even though it’s more hard wearing overall.

Surface effects on wooden table tops

band sawn

Band sawn

Gives an uneven surface texture. From our experience a bandsawn table is one of the most dramatic effects you can achieve for a low price. So it’s well worth considering if you’re on a tight budget. Note that character oak can’t be band sawn as ithe blade tends tol get stuck in the knots.
wire brushed oak

Wire brushed

Gives a subtle texture and depth to the grain. A wire brushed effect should be oil finished rather than lacquered as lacquer will fill any texture created on the surface. But also note that if you oil surface effects they will appear much darker as the exposed lower layers soak up the oil.
shot blasted

Shot blast

Gives a deeper texture to the grain than wire brushed. Only one pass is advisable or the effect becomes plastic-looking.

fumed american oak


Fumed wood Is achieved by exposing the timber to ammonia giving it a slightly charred effect.


Partially charred

Exposing heat to the surface giving it a charred look.



Will give the surface a whitewashed look.

Further furniture reading

You can also give a wooden table top a unique feel by adding an edge profile. Read more about wooden table top edge profiles on the blog or read about the pros and cons of different types of wood for use in table tops.  We have many solid wood table tops and samples on display at our Hammersmith furniture showroom. Please get in touch with our team by calling freephone 0800 8494 135.

Topics: Tables, Furniture knowledge

By Paula Stanbridge-Faircloth Paula Stanbridge-Faircloth on 02/10/17 10:20
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