What Is The Best Finish For Wooden Coasters?

I’ve learned over the years that the final touch to any project can significantly impact its functionality and longevity. This is especially true for wooden coasters, a seemingly simple project that requires careful consideration of the finish used.

In this article, I’ll guide you through selecting the best finishes for your wooden coasters, ensuring they are not only aesthetically pleasing but also durable and waterproof.

Choice of Durable Finishes for Wooden Coasters

When it comes to wood finishes, I will exclude stains from the discussion; we have two very basic categories:  those that penetrate the wood fibers and those that simply provide a film finish.

In the former category, I’m talking about finishing oils; in the latter, we are talking about finishes (both oil-based and water-based) that will coat the wood with a protective film.

Oil Finishes For Wood Coasters

We have three to consider in this category:  linseed oil, tung oil, and Danish oil.  I’ve used each of these, but admittedly, not on wooden coasters.  However, their use of wood is consistent no matter the project on which they are used.

Linseed Oil

Sunnyside Corporation 87332 Pure Raw Linseed Oil, Quart

We know it comes from the flax plant, its seeds, and stalks.  While it is used for its nutritional value in a raw state, we know it as a preservative for wood and rope. 

It will fully penetrate wood and provide strong protection against the elements.  It should be used only on bare wood or wood that has already been oiled.  It’s easy to apply with either a brush or a cloth and will bring out the natural color and grain of the wood.  

However, it takes a long time to dry, which is the biggest knock on using raw linseed oil.  Boiled linseed oil was developed to speed up the drying time.  Raw linseed oil is mixed with oil with hot air forced through it and then further processed by adding metallic thinners that enhance drying time, reducing it from 1-2 months to 1-3 days, depending on the surrounding environment.  

This boiled linseed oil will penetrate deeply into the wood fibers and provide protection to them.  That protection, though, does not extend to water, as boiled linseed oil does not add a waterproof quality.  Since wooden coasters are susceptible to spills and sweating glasses, we can cross-lined oil off the list for us today as a standalone finish.

Tung Oil

The use of tung oil dates back at least 2500 years in China, which is where the tung tree grows as a native plant.  It was used to waterproof ships, and we noted in a previous piece of tung oil being used on oil-paper umbrellas because of its waterproofing quality.

It’s a food-safe product that can be used on kitchen-type items.  Wooden coasters would fall in that category, we suppose. 

Tung oil penetrates deeply; at least 3 coats are advised for that penetration depth.  When exposed to air, it will harden, a process referred to as polymerization.  That process will offer great water resistance, and thus its use on ships historically and on wooden boat decks today.

As a result, we can keep tung oil in consideration for a durable finish for wooden coasters.

Danish Oil

Danish Oil and Coaster

Linseed oil is from flax seed and was once commonly called flaxseed oil; tung oil is from the seed of the tung tree, but Danish oil does not come from Danes (yes, we know – a bad joke).  Actually, there is no generally accepted formula for the blend that is called Danish Oil.

It is often made of tung, rosewood, or polymerized linseed.  Again, there’s no definitive formula, and its constitution varies from manufacturer to manufacturer. 

It dries to a hard finish that builds up with each subsequent coat.  It is resistant to liquids but not waterproof. When thoroughly dried, though, it is resistant to chipping and cracking.  It dries to a satin or semi-gloss finish and will tend to darken wood when used.

However, we’re not as apt to recommend its use on wooden coasters because it is not waterproof.  Resistant to liquid spills, yes, but not fully waterproof.  So, we’ll cross its use off the list in this instance.

Non-Oil Finishes

Moving on from oil finishes, we will now consider a couple of other finishes that will provide a durable film finish to protect wooden coasters.

Polyurethane Finish For Wood Coasters


We’re all familiar with polyurethane, and most of us have used or continue to use it as a finish material for our projects.  

Oil-based polyurethane is one type of it, using oil as the medium in which the polymers and urethane are suspended.  It smells, is toxic, and needs protective gear like a respirator when being used, as well as a well-ventilated room with lots of good air circulation.  It also takes a very long time to dry and cure.

But, it will provide a film finish with a plastic look and feel to it that is waterproof, hard, and durable.  Many wood floor installers will choose oil-based poly to finish their work. That waterproof finish from an oil-based finish is of interest to us when it comes to protecting a wooden coaster, so we’ll keep it on the list.

Water-based polyurethane is the other type of product, using (as you might expect) water as the medium to support the polymers and urethane.  It doesn’t have anywhere near the noxious odor of its oil-based cousin, is not as toxic (although we would not drink it), dries and hardens much faster than oil-based, and offers a durable and hard film finish that is waterproof.  

Its application is much less dramatic in that no safety gear is absolutely necessary, although good air circulation will speed up the drying process so that you can get a second coat applied on the same day as the first coat.  Speaking of coats, the water-based poly will require more coats, anywhere from 4-6, to be most effective.  

Again, it dries to a hard and durable finish, a film of plastic protecting the wood, and so it stays on the list for wooden coasters.

Lacquer Finish For Wood Coasters

Lacquer is another common and popular type of finish often found on high-end furniture.  It’s fast-drying, dries to a clear and transparent finish, and is impervious to water.  It does not yellow with age and requires little to no maintenance.  You can even buy it in a spray can for easy application. 

There are a number of lacquer types, and although we will not go into great detail, we will mention them: 

Nitrocellulose was originally used as a car finish in the 1950s and is now often used to finish high-end musical instruments.  It dries to a high gloss finish and gives some woods a rich luster and patina.

Acrylic, also developed in the 1950s, is used on lighter-colored woods like maple and ash.  It dries to a water-white color and does not color with age.

Water-based, fewer hazardous chemicals, less toxic, odor-free, and more durable than the other types of lacquer.  It lasts longer than acrylic lacquers and is cheaper.  It’s very environmentally friendly and repairs easily when damaged.  Resistant to chipping and waterproof, it remains on our list for wooden coasters.

Varnish For Wood Coasters

Liquitex Professional Gloss Varnish, 237ml (8-oz)

The last type of finish on our list is varnish.  It is made from resins, oils, and solvents and is highly resistant to scratches and abrasions on wood.  It usually has a yellowish tint to it because of the way in which it is made.

It waterproofs wood, too, in addition to protecting it from scratches.  It’s a hard film coating on the wood, very durable, and well-suited for outdoor and indoor uses.  The solvents evaporate during the drying process, leaving behind the constituents that oxidize and polymerize to form that durable film coating.

Waterproof and durable obviously mean we leave it on the list of finishes for coasters.

The final word we will offer is that coasters can end up being good uses for scrap wood after a larger project.  Don’t throw or toss those scraps in the fireplace – make coasters out of them.  

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What Is The Best Finish For Wooden Coasters

Last update on 2024-06-14 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API