When you’ve invested in the perfect solid wood table top for your restaurant, you want them to always look exactly the same as the day they were installed. How do you do this, though? As a natural material, wood tends to lose its luster over time and is prone to scratches, knicks, and breaks.
However, the oldest multi-story, all-wood building in the world: the 221 foot Pagoda of Fogong Temple in China built in 1056, shows that it is entirely possible to preserve wood for centuries. Keeping your table tops in great condition will likely be much easier than doing the same for the Pagoda of Fogong Temple, but it’s best to know these key maintenance tricks.
The Best Sealants For Solid Wood Table Tops
The best way of ensuring that a table top lasts for generations is to protect it with a good sealant. An effective sealant is tough, transparent, and serves to highlight the beauty of the wood. It should also be food-safe, as you will be regularly serving meals on it. These sealants are extremely effective at preserving wood table tops for years while allowing the table top to shine through. Make absolutely sure, though, that you know what health codes and state environmental laws that you have to follow, so you can choose or substitute accordingly.
- Traditional Shellac: Since the American Colonial times, people have used shellac as a sealant for solid wood table tops. This finish allows you to see the wood detail with amazing clarity, and amber shellac adds warmth to light-colored woods. You can apply shellac with a brush or wiping cloth in three thin coats. That said, in some states (like California) you may not be able to use shellac. In that case, we like to use a substitute of a coat of wax and several coats of water-based urethane.
- Tung Oil: Tung oil is a favorite among woodworkers. This sealant gives the wood a subtle visual warmth that doesn’t become darker as it ages. By applying about six coats of tung oil to the wood’s surface with a wiping cloth, a table top will be sufficiently water-resistant. To protect the table legs, you will only need two or three coats.
- Carnauba Wax: While you can apply this sealing wax directly to unfinished wood, it is most effective when used in combination with a shellac finish or other thin varnish. Carnauba wax is typically rubbed onto the table top as a paste and works to improve a surface’s water resistance as it combines with the base varnish coat.
- Polyurethane Finishes: This sealant is one of the toughest in terms of being water-resistant and scratch-resistant. The downside to polyurethane finishes is that the coating tends to form a film over the wood that may yellow as it ages. However, if you are mostly concerned about protecting the solid wood table top from frequent spills that can seep to the wood beneath, this is the ideal sealant.
The Dos And Don’ts Of Caring For Your Wood Table Tops
Beyond your choice of sealant, there are many care tips to note. When you’re aware of the things that you should and shouldn’t do when caring for your wooden tables, you’re more likely to have high quality for decades to come.
- Dust frequently. This is an important step in maintaining wood. Dust weekly with a soft, lint-free cloth dampened with water, or with a microfiber cloth that clings to dust particles on its own.
- Think about table placement. Placing a table next to a radiator or roaring fireplace may seem cozy, but proximity to heat can easily cause wood to warp or split. Be sure to store extra leaves near to or on the table itself, as the leaf can warp or swell differently than the table top over time if it is exposed to different conditions.
- Reach for the mayonnaise. While typically just a sandwich condiment, mayonnaise is also extremely effective at getting watermark rings out of solid wood table tops. If your guests keep ignoring the coasters you put on the tables and leave multiplying watermarks next to their bills, you’ll want to have a jar of mayonnaise handy. Rubbing the marks with just a bit of mayonnaise lifts the stains out of the table’s wax and leaves you with a flawless table top.
- Use products with silicones. Many dust polishes sold in stores contain harmful silicones that soak into the grain of the wood and permanently damage it. Be sure to check any product you apply to your solid wood table tops for silicones, or stick with trusty and true water.
- Set hot pans or dishes directly on the table. While you probably want to serve your customers the freshest food possible, you don’t want to leave burn marks on your table in the process. Always make sure there is a hot pad under the dish or outfit your serving dishes with cork trivets or other devices that set the dish slightly above the table top.
- Remove wax spills with a knife. There is nothing more picturesque than a dinner laid out on a reclaimed wood table top with a beautiful candle burning in the center. However, candle wax can cause problems. If it drips on the table, never use a knife, scissors, or anything metal to get it off. Instead, use something plastic, like a credit card, to scrape off the wax clumps. Then, cover the remaining wax with a cloth and run a slightly warm iron over it. Leftover wax will cling to the cloth and you won’t have damaged your table top in the process.
- Use strong chemical cleaners if you don’t absolutely have to, as they can break down the finish on a table top over time. Even sanitizers may cause the tops to become sticky over time. We recommend using a mild detergent and warm water, instead, and then quickly drying off your table with a towel.
Caring for the tables in your restaurants should be on your list of daily chores, along with tasks like sweeping the floor and cleaning the kitchen. The tables in your restaurant will be the primary feature that your customers see, and you want to make a great impression with them. Use these tips to properly care for your table tops, and you’ll have stunning tables for years to come.