I recently purchased a Beech butchers block from homedepot to use as my standing desk surface. I am trying to understand how to finish it. I've read through a some articles and watched a couple of videos, but I am still a bit confused with how it all works.

Before looking into finishes, I figured I would first stain it (would like to do a cherry color) and then use something like lacquer (a top clear coat) to protect it from liquid spills, hot surfaces, etc. I will not be using it as a cutting board, so food safe isn't a necessity, but is still preferred. I'd rather not just dump toxic chemicals into something that I am going to be using everyday.

What I am confused about is do I stain it and then use a top clear based product, or do I just use an oil based product. I am a bit confused about what the combination is if I want to color it to my liking?

  • 2
    I don't know what you mean by "laminate"--that usually refers to a plastic sheet. There are two approaches to butcher block... if you want to treat it like a chef would you'll just oil it because you're going to inflict damage with your knives. If you want it to look pretty and pristine you'll varnish it. It's up to you.
    – isherwood
    Jun 24, 2021 at 14:34
  • I think I missed used that word. I was thinking that after you stain something, you would apply a clear top coat of something that would protect from liquid spills and such.
    – Binx
    Jun 24, 2021 at 16:15
  • 1
    Ok. Please revise your post to correct that and avoid further confusion. :)
    – isherwood
    Jun 24, 2021 at 16:51

2 Answers 2


I'm not sure what country you're in, but "laminate" in the US generally refers to a sheet product with brand names such as Formica.

You might be referring to a solid surface finish such as Varathane or Urethane. If you go that route be sure the stain and the finish are either both water based or oil based. Don't mix and match.

If it were me, I'd use a penetrating oil, soak it, wipe it down, let it dry. If the surface gets damaged, it's easy to sand it down and reapply.

If you want a really solid surface finish, Pre-cat lacquer or something like Varathane (water or oil based, BTW, water based is pretty dang good these days). Again, don't mix oil and water based finishes for your stain and final finish, they both need to be the same.

EDIT: One more thought, if you go with lacquer be sure it's a pre-cat (pre catalyzed). You might have to go to a paint store to find it. They'll catalyze it for you. The kind I get has to be used within 6 months.

I know product comments are OT here but products like Deft Lacquer are awful. I've had terrible results with Deft, I couldn't get a glass of water with any condensation on it within a foot of a side table without leaving a white ring! But Pre-Cat Lacquers are easy and fast to apply and very durable. They stand up well to hot coffee cups and cold glasses of whatever with condensation.

  • I think I missed used that word. I was thinking that after you stain something, you would apply a clear top coat of something that would protect from liquid spills and such. I was thinking of lacquer, but couldn't remember what it was called.
    – Binx
    Jun 24, 2021 at 16:16
  • So to understand, I can do a stain of my choosing and then use a pre catalyzed lacquer to finish it? And I'll need to make sure that the stain and lacquer are both either oil or water based? Do not mix them.
    – Binx
    Jun 24, 2021 at 16:18
  • Lacquer is pretty agnostic as to water or oil based stains. I've recently begun using wood dyes, rather than stains. Google Wood Dyes, Transtint is one I've had good luck with. It's pricey, but you only need a tiny bit. Mix with denatured alcohol, apply to the wood until you get your desired color, then you'll need to sand very very lightly bc the alcohol will slightly raise the grain, but not nearly as bad as water, touch up any areas that need it, and shoot a couple of coats of lacquer on it, sanding very lightly between coats. I've done this exact same thing with great results. Jun 24, 2021 at 16:33
  • I know I could google this, but what's the difference between dyes and stain. Why did you recently switch? When you sand, do you not remove the dye/stain? Or does it penetrate the wood enough to not need to worry? Why are you also sanding between the coats of lacquer?
    – Binx
    Jun 24, 2021 at 17:25
  • 1
    I like the flexibility of mixing the dyes with denatured alcohol to get the desired coloring. Also dyes go into the wood whereas stains tend to sit on top of the wood. I only sand the first coat of lacquer VERY lightly because often times, the first coat transfers any imperfections to the second if not lightly sanded. I normally only do 2 coats of lacquer unless I anticipate the piece will be subject to pretty hard usage. Jun 25, 2021 at 2:32

Use floor stain for color and floor polyurethane for durability. If it can withstand foot traffic then your measly elbows don't stand a chance.

If you convert it to a cooking counter then sand it down and prep it like a cooking counter.

See my other post about oil versus water poly

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