I just completed a simple workbench using dimensional lumber. The top is 3/4" plywood. What is a good—preferably clear—finish that would harden it and protect it from dings and scratches?
I found an epoxy glaze on Lowes.com that looks interesting.
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I, too, would be leery of making too nice a table to work on. I recommend a layer of Masonite for a top. It is cheap, takes paint well, and easy to replace when you spill glue or paint on it. Truth be told this is my plan, but I haven't quite gotten there. My workbench is covered by cardboard. Too busy working to make a workspace.
I would not put any finish on a bench top. You should think of the top as replaceable and sacrificial. You don't want to worry too much about your tools, focus on the work you want to do with them and move on. Workbenchism is for gentlemen with lots of time on their hands.
In other words, don't be a tool nerd.