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I often use a poly to finish my wood projects. It helps the grain pop, adds a bit of depth and even with a satin finish, you get a bit of 'sparkle' which always looks great.

But I now have a project where I'm using some reclaimed, weathered, distressed wood and I'd actually like to preserve the flat, muted look, yet still protect it (as it will be a table).

I've read one option is to go ahead with the poly, and then buff it with 0000 steel wool to knock back the sheen. That's an option, but I worry that will still darken the colors more than I'd like.

What types of clear finishes should I consider that would minimally change the look of the wood as it is now unfinished?

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Good question - doing this in a week or two making closet shelve systems with reclaimed wood and old tabletops. –  DMoore Oct 9 '13 at 5:05
    
Can you do a test patch on some unseen part? I'd consider an oil finish. –  Matt Oct 9 '13 at 8:26

2 Answers 2

It seems like a new finish of any kind is going to be somewhat at odds with a weathered, distressed look. That said...

A water based urethane finish should change the color less than an oil based one, but there will still be a change. A final coat of satin sheen finish over the initial coats might be simpler than the steel wool and less likely to change the texture of the distressed wood. You may want to use fewer than normal coats of finish, or thin the finish so that it doesn't build up as much as one might normally want on a "new" piece of furniture.

Some sample boards would definitely be the way to go here.

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We just put two coats of a Varathane Floor Finish over a painted floor. It's Satin, and suitable for wood as well. It might be worth considering, because 1) we had zero color change (even over metallic and multi-tonal base) and 2) the satin actually looks flat on our floor.

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