Finishing a Mahogany Bar Top

      Various suggestions for a bar top job. June 8, 2008

I am going to be staining and finishing a bar restaurant area, which will include a lot of solid mahogany and 3/4" mahogany veneered ply. The bar top will be solid mahogany. The recessed panels will be veneered mahogany ply with solid mahogany trim. I need a high quality, durable, smooth finish (especially on the bar top). I'm willing to put in all the labor and sanding required for this finish. I would like to use oil based, maybe Sherwin Williams or Minwax, just because they are local to me.

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor W:
Just what is your finish schedule?

From contributor C:
Sherwin Williams and Minwax may be local to you, but so is the bar owner and your business. Use the best products possible for a job like this, not just ones that are convenient. You will probably get a half dozen or more responses here as to what is the best product. Make sure everything is thought through - water and alcohol resistance, cleaning agent resistance, ease of repair, longevity of coating, etc. A bar top is not something you want to do twice, nor will your client want to have to suffer through a second attempt either.

From contributor B:
I wouldn't try to do this job with the products you're talking about using. If I can give you a bit of advice, find someone who produces polyester finishes and sub the job to them. Otherwise, look to be on this site nightly because of problems.

From contributor R:
I haven't used many of the Minwax products except for trying out a few of their stains. I found them to be quite oily and I frowned upon the drying time. That's just my opinion... and as we know, opinions are just like a chin - we all have one... and some have two.

I'm rather familiar with Sherwin Williams products, however. If you're able to talk with one of their reps who have hands on knowledge of the products, you might want to ask them about their catalyzed urethanes. Contributor C brings some good advice to the table - you don't want to have to do the job over in a year or so because the finish has failed. I don't care how civil a drinking establishment may be, a bar is going to get a good workout and the only thing you've got between the wood and the beer is the finish, so try and apply as good a finish as you can.

From the original questioner:
I have about two weeks from start to finish, and I am open to using whatever products are best suited. Minwax and others are a starting point. If better products and materials are available, I can look into that also.

From contributor C:
Is the solid mahogany a one piece top or laminated butcher block style? Quite a bit of movement in a wide board like that. Make sure the finish you choose has very good elasticity - one specifically for wood, not metal. Has the customer specified a solid mahogany top, or is this your thinking? You may want to consider a marine grade plywood instead. I did a bar top on a yacht that way, had it laid up like a random butcher block top, and then joined the pieces together by jigsawing them down to do a random fit between the pieces instead of a butt joint. When finished, you could not tell it was done that way. You can also have them lay it up so it's 1/8" thick veneer on front and back so there is plenty of room for sanding.

From contributor J:
I finished a bunch of these in my day. I finish using two part acrylic urethane. Same as I use when I finish exterior doors. I buy it from Milesi spa.

From contributor B:
Milesi acrylic urethanes are good for this job, but only one problem. The substrate is mahogany, which has deep grain. You can bet this customer wants a full fill finish. Another problem with this is we don't know how dark the finish is. If it's dark, which most mahogany bars are, there will be a clarity issue with the build of acrylic urethane coatings that are needed to fill this grain. At 18 mills thick it doesn't matter if the urethane is aliphatic or non-aliphatic - it will surely look cloudy over a dark finish. You could, however, add dye into the top coat to help eliminate some of the issue. The best solution is polyester.

From the original questioner:
The bar top is 35' long and 2' wide. Solid mahogany pieces, maybe in two 12" pieces or three 8" pieces - don't know how long they are going to be. That said, I'm not involved in that side of it - only the finishing. I have used Helmsman's spar urethane (Minwax) in the past on a bar top and it held up very well. I've gone back to view it and was happy with how much abuse (chemical and alcohol) it had taken (18 months +/-). This product is spec'ed for indoor/outdoor use. The down side is the 24 hour dry time and it's tough to sand. I can deal with that, but what I'm more concerned about is the veneered ply - how will it take the stain versus the solid, and how can I prevent fisheye on the finish?

From contributor J:
The urethane has a separate hardener when you aren't doing solid colors and need the finish to be crystal clear. IIRC it is the LNB 190 as opposed to the 99, but of course it costs more. And to close the grain on the mahogany, the urethanes are by far the best option - 2 maybe 3 coats and grain is closed. I would stain everything as close as I can get it. Seal it with the urethane 2 or 3 coats, sand the grain out with 220, spray a coat of clear on top. Using the sealer that I have left over, thin it out maybe 200 percent and add the correct amounts of 844's to tint it to the correct color. Tint it all in, spray another coat, scuff and top coat, maybe a second top coat for good measure.

P.S. I have never used polyesters. I have been warned about how ridiculously hard they are since they were forced to change in the 90's. Plus I have a customer with a showroom with over a million dollars of woodwork that turned white, like blushing, and polyester was the finish used.

From contributor C:
If the polyester has turned white, there is a compatibility problem. Probably no barrier coat was used. If you use a 2k barrier coat first meant to isolate contamination problems, then lay the polyester over it, this will not happen. I would not use it on anything but the bar top, though - too difficult on moldings. The rest could be finished with 2k polyurethanes. You can always use a grain filler for the bar top. We can all tell you approaches on how to do it with different products, but not knowing your skill level, we may lead you into something you end up having problems completing. You may want to stick with what you feel comfortable with. This is not a situation for on the job/over the web training.

From contributor C:
I find the easiest way to match up solids and veneers to be staining the hardwoods full strength, then diluting the stain starting at around 25 to 30% and doing the veneer, depending on the veneer you may have to dilute it more. Then you can tone dye the whole panel for any small or minor variations before sealing it in. I also use dyes for this, not pigments - pigment stain can be applied over the sealer to further unify if necessary.

From contributor J:
Are you suggesting that because he is not familiar with the products that the job requires, he use the products he knows instead, even though there is a great chance they wouldn't hold up?

From contributor J:
They sell in my local Ace Hardware a two part (something) - not really sure what it is, but you mix the two parts together and pour it on, let it dry overnight and voila - you're done... About 1/8" thick bar top coating that is extremely durable.

From contributor C:
I understand your concern over my post, and no, what I'm saying is, if he has used this Helmsman product before, and as he states, "It's held up well for 18 months plus," then it may well be a good enough product. Keep in mind that long ago all bar tops were done in oil varnishes here and abroad and held up well for years under the same circumstances. As good as polyester? No, but as well as bar top lacquers that I've done in the past and still look good 20 years later.

From contributor C:
Two parts are fine if you can level the bar so it's not puddling in areas or waterfalling off the back or front edges. Glue Products Plus sells some for this application for tops or bars. As I have said, we can give all types of answers we have personally used, but think - is this the job you want to start experimenting with new products with?

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