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Email Polyurethane Finish

Polyurethane Finish

email question:

Our family recently purchased a beautiful shaker style solid cherry dining table. It is in constant use and we have found that it scratches very easily, no matter how careful we are.

A roll of electrical tape, left on the table over night ate completely down through the finish, and even the cat's claws scratch it. I tested with both alcohol and acetone, the acetone softens the finish. Is this lacquer?

We know we must remove whatever finish is on it and replace it with something much more durable.

For Those Who Like Polyurethane

Minwax® Fast-Drying PolyurethaneMinwax® Fast-Drying Polyurethane A durable protective coating, offers long-lasting beauty on both finished and unfinished wood. Recoat in 4 hours.


General Finishes Gel TopcoatGeneral Finishes Gel Topcoat This wipe-on gel won't drip or run and creates a uniform professional quality finish. Not necessary to sand between coats. No unpleasant smell!

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I know you do not like polyurethane, but what else can protect this beautiful table? We love the wood grain and will not put up with the fuss of a tablecloth. I need a product that is durable, waterproof, scratch resistant,and will keep this table looking good.

Thank you

Polyurethane Or Other Finish?

Hi, Acetone will soften lacquer, but it will also soften polyurethane and many other finishes. The cats claws can scratch polyurethane as well as lacquer and most other finishes. Generally electrical tape wouldn't bother lacquer, so I would venture a guess that your finish is probably an oil of some sort.

Oil finishes are very soft and easily damaged, but they're just as easily repaired. You can apply another coat of the same oil with 0000 steel wool, then buff and that will repair most damage. I'm not so sure how it would work with the electrical tape, that must be really potent glue on the tape, but you could try.

Lacquer Finish

My suggestion for the best and least fussy finish can be found at Email Lacquer Finish. It's an email answer to someone else with a lacquer finish question.

Big Cat

Our cat is quite large, 14 inches tall at the shoulder and 20 pounds. He has taken over the end of the table near the window to watch the birds on the patio and permits us to use the other end. (You need to be a cat lover, or owner, to fully appreciate that). Although he's an inside cat, he's never been declawed, just in case he should happen to go outside and he hasn't left a scratch in our lacquer finish since he was a kitten and then, only 4 one inch long scratches which were easily repaired.


My dislikes for polyurethane are varied. When we were in business our goal was to do a job that would last a long time. We didn't want the same piece in to re-do, but to do the kind of job that would make people bring in other pieces to have done. The following are some points about polyurethane.


Polyurethane is plastic. It hardens into a solid plastic sheet and most polyurethane sits on top of the surface and each coat sits on top of the previous coat. Three coats dry as three layers of plastic. ( Lacquer dissolves the top layer of the previous coat and intermingles as a continuation, so three coats of lacquer become one thick coat. )

Not For Antiques

You can't restore an antique using polyurethane, because there was no such finish way back when.

Natural Finish - Oils

When you use a natural finish, lacquer, shellac, oils and others, you can replenish some of the natural oil in wood through the finish by coating very heavy with lemon oil or, generally, with another citrus oil. A small amount of oil will work it's way through a natural finish to get into the wood, but it can't go through polyurethane, because it's solid plastic. I should note here that there are some furniture finishers who disagree about the oil going through a natural finish, but most of the old furniture masters believed it, so I choose to believe them.

Wood Changes Size

Wood is constantly changing in size as humidity changes. Each time you cook a meal, run the dishwasher, someone takes a shower or bath, the weather changes outside or any other reason for humidity change, wood will expand with more moisture or contract with less moisture. Electric heat is very dry and during the winter when electric heat is used, wood will contract considerably.

Wood is effected by heat and cold, too. expanding with heat and contracting with cold.

Plastic Does Too, But Not As Much

Plastic is effected by heat and cold, but not by moisture, so it expands and contracts throughout the day too, but not nearly as much as wood, so through the day the polyurethane spends a lot of time sitting like a bump on a log while the wood is doing a real boogie.

Hard and Infexible

Polyurethane is extremely hard and inflexible, so while it sits on the active wood it starts to loosen it's grip by teeny tiny amounts at a time, especially where there are two boards joined together edge to edge, because the density of the boards would be slightly different than each other, so would expand and contract differently. The wood is flexible, as are natural finishes, so they can generally contend with each other, but polyurethane just sits there kind of ho hum while it loosens up. If you've noticed furniture with cracks in the finish along a joint, or some of the finish is missing, or light areas like there may be a large bubble under the finish it's undoubtedly polyurethane.

Generally a table has a finish on it's top, but not underneath, so the top sits without much movement, but the exposed wood on the underneath of the top is in constant motion so a polyurethane finish could start to loosen and joints could start cracking at their ends at the edges of the table, due to uneven flexing and so on for many other dire circumstances.

Consequently I don't care too much for polyurethane as a furniture finish.

I'm sending you the long version, because I'm going to use this as a web page in our new email answers section. Your name and email address won't be used to protect your privacy.


Take a look at our kitchen cabinet refacing material at Kitchen Cabinet Refacing Material We're working on a do it yourself kitchen cabinet refacing section.

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