What Finish To Use For Wooden Coasters: An Easy Guide

Wooden coasters are available in many designs. They are very aesthetic to look at too. But all wooden objects require a good finish to be attractive or durable.

So, what finish to use for wooden coasters? 

Oil, varnish, polyurethane, and lacquers are mainly used on coasters. For starters, oil finishes are the easiest to apply and they give a natural look. While polyurethane gives a plasticky look, it offers the most durability. The varnish offers the strongest water resistance. Then lacquer has the fastest dry time and can be coated multiple times. 

Anyways, that was only a quick sneak peek of the entire comparison. This is a vast topic and therefore, requires a detailed explanation. 

Keep reading if you want to know more about these oil finishes. 

Table of Contents

Importance of Finishes In Woodwork

Woodwork has two phases. They are cutting and finishing. The cutting phase involves cutting the lumber and making designs on them. 

But dry lumbers are colorless, dry, and can easily absorb water. Because of that, it requires a protective coating. 

Most coatings are made of either oil, plastic, or wax. They make the wood resistant to moisture and water. 

At the same time, these coatings can also give a rich and highlighted look. When it comes to luxurious woodwork, the coating is a must. 

There are mainly seven types of finishes. But only 4 of them are used most often because of their attributes. They are Oil, Varnish, Polyurethane, and Lacquer. 

There’s also one more finish; it’s called shellac finish. They are mainly used on antiques. Therefore, it is very rare to come across this. 

Finishes For Wooden Coasters: A Sneak Peek

What Finish To Use For Wooden Coasters

We’ve already mentioned that different finishes have different features. Learning them all at once can be a bit overwhelming. 

That’s why it’s best to look at the basic information before starting a comparison. For example, calculating wood equal to 1 ton of coal requires prior knowledge.

But don’t worry, we’ve tried our best to keep it simplified. This makes the comparison easier to understand.

Here’s a small table for you to look at- 

Finish TypeOilLayeredLayeredLayered
LooksMost NaturalArtificialPlastickyNatural
ProtectionLowHighVery HighHigh
Dry Time2-3 Hours24 Hours24-48 Hours5-10 Minutes
Applying ToolClothBrushBrushSpray
Water ResistanceLowHighestHighHigh

After having a quick peek which one do you prefer more? 

Wooden Coasters: Which Finish Should You Choose?

Finishes are a protective coating that can enhance looks and offers durability. Most finishes can’t do both. 

For instance, some finishes offer an artificial look and great durability. But there are also some finishes that provide minimal protection and a great look. 

Then there are finishes that are in between and offer something from both worlds. 

So, you’ve to set your priorities before you choose. To further help you out, we’ve discussed the finishes in detail- 

Oil Finish

Oil finishes are the easiest finish to apply. They are widely available and there are many types of oil to choose from.

When it comes to oil finishes, you’ll come across 3 types of them. Tung oil, Linseed oil, and Danish oil. Among these, Tung oil and danish oils are mostly used. 

Oil can be easily applied with a rag or a cloth. You can leave the finish to dry for 2 or 3 hours before putting on another coating.

Unlike other finishes, oil gives a warm color. They are the best when it comes to complimenting wood. It also gives your wood a very natural look, something other finishes can’t. 

Unlike polyurethane and varnish, the oil penetrates the wood. Because of that, it can enrich the color of the wood from the core. But it also doesn’t provide any protection or durability whatsoever. 

So, oil coatings are great for coasters that are meant to be used occasionally. They will look super good and coasters will have a very bold and enriched color. 

As for water resistance, oil doesn’t really bring anything to the table. Oil finishes have the poorest water resistance among all finishes. 

Tung Oil

When it comes to oily finish, tung oil is the route to go for. Tung oil has the least amount of resin or varnish in them. 

Because of that, Tung oil gives the most natural look. It’s super earthy and has the warmest color.

But low water resistance and poor durability may sway you from using it. Because of that, sometimes luxury coaster sets may not use them. 

Danish Oil

Since oil finishes have durability issues, Danish oil tries to equalize the balance. It’s a mix of oil and varnish. 

It gives a moderate amount of warmness and earthiness. Definitely not as close as tung oil. But since they contain varnish, it offers far better protection. 

That’s why danish oil is great if you’re looking for some durability. It still provides a good oil finish. So, many people prefer them on wooden coasters.

Polyurethane Finish

Polyurethane is the most popular and widely used finish nowadays. They are famous due to their extremely great durability. 

Unlike oil, polyurethane offers a layered finish. In easy words, it adds a protective layer on the wood. There are two types of polyurethane; water-based and oil-based. 

But there is a downside to polyurethane. It gives a very artificial look to the wood. It also has a very plasticky feeling when applied. Because of that, a lot of people don’t like them. 

Applying polyurethane is moderately easy and should be done with a brush. They take the longest time to dry, roughly about 24 to 48 hours. 

It depends on the temperature and humidity. The oil-based polyurethane takes even longer to dry. 

The water resistance of polyurethane is extremely good. This lets you use wooden coasters every day without worrying about any damage. 

The way to apply water-based and oil-based polyurethane is a little different. With water-based, you have to put at least 4-6 coatings. The removal also differs. 

For example, Polyurethane and Polycrylic are almost the same. But the removal of Polycrylic is quite different than Polyurethane.


Varnish is a little bit older than polyurethane. Before polyurethane got popular, it was widely used on tables and chairs. 

Varnish is a lot stronger than oil finishes and has a decent durability. They are also moderately easy to apply and should be applied with a brush. It’s less plasticky than polyurethane but more artificial than Lacquer. 

Usually, it takes a whole day to apply a varnish coating. Usually, 3 coatings of varnish are enough. Make sure to sand the varnish before applying a new coat. 

Varnish has the highest water-resistance capability out of all 4 finishes. Since wooden coasters always need to be washed, it’s very helpful.

It also gives a higher UV protection than polyurethane. This makes it great if you like your tea or coffee served outdoors. 

Varnish has a warmer color and a glossy finish. Because of that, varnish has a lot of similarities to shellac. Shellac is a very glossy finish and is only good for antiques. But still, varnish is different than shellac despite similarities. 


Lacquer is slowly gaining attraction. It’s mainly due to how fast you can apply them. 

It takes only 5 to 10 minutes to apply a lacquer coating. On top of that, you can apply it with a spray can. With lacquer, you can finish a project within a couple of hours. 

Since it takes only 10 minutes to apply, multiple coatings can be applied. All within a few hours! And the best news? It can be polished to make it super glossy.

Like varnish or polyurethane, lacquer is very durable. It’s also very resistant to water. This makes it perfect to use on things like guitar or tabletops. 

If you’re a complete beginner, you should go for a lacquer finish. You can easily apply it with spray and it doesn’t even need any sanding. 

Finally, always remember to test the coating before you apply. Get a small piece of the same wood and check how it looks after finishing. 

Check our latest guide about: How To Fix Uneven Polyurethane Finish On Wood.

Also read this latest guide: Wood Glue Vs Construction Adhesive (Which One Should You Pick)

Question: What do you use to seal wood coasters?

Answer: Without waterproofing capabilities, sealing a wooden coaster is impossible. Varnish is the best finish to use if you want to waterproof your coaster. They have the most solid components out of all finishes. 

Question: What is the best finish to protect wood outside?

Answer: Protecting wood outside requires high UV protection. Polyurethane and varnish are the best when it’s about UV protection. But varnish has higher UV protection than polyurethane. 

Question: Does polyurethane make wood waterproof?

Answer: Polyurethane doesn’t make wood waterproof. Rather, it makes the wood more resistant to water. It’s a layered finish. In easy words, it’s harder for water to penetrate through the layer. 

Final Words

That was all we could gather on what finish to use for wooden coasters. Hopefully, we were able to answer what you were looking for! 

Finally, have a nice day! 

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