Hot Serving Dishes and Wood Finishes

No wood finishes are proof against hot pans straight from the stove or oven. But here's a discussion of the educated choices that customers can make. April 21, 2008

I have an interesting question, but first some background. I was recently commissioned to build a dining table, and the client's greatest concern was the ability to place hot dishes on the table without marring the finish. In my experience there is no such finish, which led me to ponder on a finish that could be easily touched up. I was thinking of a rubbed Danish oil. Any suggestions?

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor A:
The most heat resistant coatings I know of for this purpose are either epoxy or polyester. Cured oil finishes can withstand a good deal of heat but since I don't know how hot the plates would be, there's always the risk of damage. Remember, with an oil finish the plates will be sitting extremely close to the wood surface itself. My money is on a thick finish for overall best heat protection.

From contributor B:
Requirements like this from potential customers drive me crazy. People have been using trivets, saucers, mats, etc. under hot dishes since the dining room table was invented. Ask them if you can put a burning hot dish on the hood of their new $80,000 BMW. If not, then why would they expect to do it on their dining table? Just a different perspective, that's all.

From contributor A:
You're right. There's no way you can guarantee tops from heat damage. In one particularly hot fire I once saw a glass top distorted – and I've also seen many laminate products ruined by heat. It's always wise to warn and disclaim any liability that they may want you to claim in your contract - that is until some coatings company is willing to guarantee their product against it first.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for the input. The client has no problem with using a mat or saucer, but if something were to happen, we need the ability to make the blemish go away. Does that possibility exist with the epoxy or poly finishes? I have just started using poly finishes on my cabinetry, and it seems to be fairly forgiving to work with.

From contributor C:
I had a similar request years ago. The customer liked to bake pies, soufflés, etc. and serve them right out of the oven on her oak harvest table. You can imagine what it looked like. We gave her the option of tiles, either inlaid right into the centre of the table top, or inlaid into a revolving, lazy-susan kind of thing. She picked the direct inlay. It looked OK as it was in the breakfast nook and fit with her decor, and I guess it worked as I never got a complaint.

From contributor D:
Inlaid tiles can go wrong if you don't seal beneath them. A local TGI Friday's used them on veneered MDF table tops, but water from cleaning and condensation from pitchers got in and swelled the MDF like Weetabix!

From contributor E:
I just have to ask, what the heck is "Weetabix"?

From contributor A:
It is a very popular cereal resembling Nabisco Shredded Wheat that the English are very fond of.

From contributor A:
With the poured type finish, as in the restaurants, epoxy or otherwise, your best bet is to take your client to one and show them the look and also the damages that occur in the left of the poured tops. Let them make that choice. Most restaurants like Friday's or others have these types of poured finishes.

From contributor C:
The guy that did the tiles for me sealed them in with a coloured epoxy to prevent food and liquid getting in the area. It looked real sharp. And as this was solid oak, no Weetabix, unless she served them hot for breakfast!!

From contributor F:
In this situation I typically use Waterlox, as it is easily repairable. I have used it on kitchen counters as well, and in fact have had it on my own counters for the past two years. It will show light scratches, but is very easily touched up when needed. As far as the heat goes, I think any finish will not like having something hot put on it.

From Bob Niemeyer, Finishing Forum technical advisor:
Here is what I tell both finishers and customers: the best finishes out there are the 2K urethanes and polyesters for wood finishing. With either of those finishes you can duplicate almost anything from hi-gloss to dead flat, low build open pore to deep thick polyester systems.

As for heat, I tell customers "If you can't hold it in your hands then don't set it directly on the finish." As for coasters under a glass, no need during normal dinner parties or 4-5 hours. As for over night, I have seen most 2K PU's and PE's handle this with no problems. As for CV and precats it's hit or miss if they can.

From contributor H:
I've done many restaurant tables with 2k PU with great results. Specifically, I used the 2 component poly from Chemcraft called Milesi. Furthermore, I used it on my own dining room table. I have 5 kids - eating 3 meals a day with hot plates, cold drinks, spilled drinks and hot pans - and there's no sign of heat or water damage.