food safe finishes for tables

If you’re building a table, or refinishing one, it’s important to use a food safe finish. According to finishing expert Bob Flexner, all finishes are food safe when they’re fully cured.

The curing process can take around 30 days after your table is finished. We recommend you allow your finish to cure at room temperature, or somewhere in the 68-77°F range.

Best Food Safe Finishes

LED Hardwax Oil

This is our go-to finish for our tabletops. It cures instantly when it’s exposed to an LED light.

This finish is made by Vesting LED and gives tabletops a beautiful finish. It really brings out the wood grain and appears more natural than other finishes we’ve used.

We use Smelt’s LED Furniture handheld machine to cure the LED hardwax oil. After the oil is spread across the tabletop using a buffer, we cure the top with a few simple passes of the light.

If you use this finish type, you’ll want to be sure to cover your buffer pad and oil can so it doesn’t cure as your curing the wood top.

We typically apply at least 3 coats of this and lightly sand between each coat using at least 320 grit sandpaper. This leaves a smooth finish that looks beautiful for years to come.

Learn more about the LED hardwax oil finish here!


Polyurethane looks similar to the hardwax oil, just a little bit more glossy. Polyurethane is food safe and also water resistant.

When applying polyurethane, you’ll want to use a paint brush and evenly coat your tabletop with the finish. It’s recommended that you always keep a wet edge so it dries evenly.

Polyurethane will also require more than 1 coat. For polyurethane finishes, we typically recommend using 3 coats. This gives you a smooth surface and one that’s durable to withstand years of wear and tear.

When working with polyurethane, it’s important to do so in an area that’s well ventilated, but doesn’t have bugs, sawdust, or other debris. It’s sticky as it dries, and nobody wants to refinish a table because a few flies landed on it during the drying process. You’ll also want to be sure that you allow it to dry long enough before applying additional coats. Follow the manufacturers instructions for this.

When we do polyurethane table finishes, we use Minwax’s products. They are an industry leader in wood finishing products.


Epoxy finishes are a good choice when you’re looking for something that’s extremely glossy and thick.

Companies such as Woodright manufacture pour-over epoxy that is great for tabletops. This is a clear finish, that lasts is extremely durable when cured.

Every epoxy manufacturer has a unique process for pouring and sealing wood using their product. We recommend reading their instructions. Some epoxy resins can be poured thicker than others. Some also dry and cure faster.

The epoxy we use to finish usually takes at least 24 hours to harden to a point that it can be touched.

Marine Epoxy is a waterproof adhesive, unlike others that are just water resistant. When cured properly, epoxy is food safe. Some manufacturers will label their epoxy resins as “food grade epoxy coating” indicating that it’s in compliance with the FDA’s regulations regarding food-safe finishes.

Shellac Stain

Shellac is a product we don’t use very often as a table finish, but some prefer it. Shellac is a food safe wood stain that’s made from a resin from female lac bugs and ethanol. It’s available in clear or an amber tint. It’s known for bringing out the rich colors of the wood grain and can last for many years.

The brand we use is Zinsser. This line is owned by Rust-Oleum, who’s known for its spray paints among other things. It’s faster drying than finishes like epoxy and can typically be recoated in 45 minutes or less.

The reason we don’t usually use Shellac is because when it’s used alone, it is easily damaged by water and alcohol. For this reason, it’s recommended to use this product with a clear sealant over top if you want to put it on a tabletop.

Because we specialize in everything from bartops, to dining room tables, to coffee tables, having a finish that doesn’t at least resist water isn’t ideal for most of our projects.

Time To Get To Finishing!

Hopefully you found our guide on finishing tabletops helpful. If you’re interested in shopping our finished tabletops, click here. If you’re in the planning stages of building your own table, we can also help! We offer live edge slabs large enough to build your own table. We are also working with our suppliers so we can offer all materials needed for those building epoxy river tables. Shop our store online and contact us for a custom product quote.

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