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I have a beech plywood ("Multiplex" in German) sheet that I want to use as a desktop. This is currently raw and untreated, and like this not suitable yet.

I want a clear, non glossy and robust finish. I would not mind if the wood darkens somewhat, some darkening would even be preferred. It needs to be skin safe once properly cured and must not be sticky at all.

Parts of the desk will be used as electronics workbench, so a heat resistant finish that is not immediately damaged by short contact with a soldering iron tip is preferred. Similarly, the finish should resist spills. Obviously water, but also isopropyl alcohol and common electronic fluxes should not immediately damage the surface. Bonus: If it allows me to stick an ESD mat to the desk with double sided tape that can be removed after years without major damage, this would be a big plus.

So my question is: What can I use to treat the wood, and how should I do it?

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  • The soldering iron, alcohol, and fluxes are what makes life difficult. Instant on/off should be okay, but if they sit for a time is the problem.
    – crip659
    Commented Aug 16, 2023 at 14:47
  • Of course protecting against long exposure will be difficult or even impossible. (Oops, ENTER sends the comment :D) But this needs only to be protected against short contact. If i am not in the room, stuff will be turned off and stowed away safely. I just do not want the finish to char or melt immediately.
    – Ranayna
    Commented Aug 16, 2023 at 14:52
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    Honestly, this seems like a "unicorn hunt" - seeking that which does not exist. If you're going to put a soldering iron tip on a wood surface, It Will Burn/Char. There isn't a finish that will prevent that, unless "a sheet of tempered glass" is your idea of a finish. As for the ESD mat, mine has been sitting flat on my oak workbench for decades with no tape needed. I probably did have to backroll it from the way it was shipped in the beginning.
    – Ecnerwal
    Commented Aug 16, 2023 at 15:05
  • Most finishes are ultimately some sort of plastic, which won't handle concentrated heat well. I would lean towards an extra surface placed on the desktop where the electrics takes place. Another board you would not care about getting damaged by the soldering iron and that you could replace easily. Commented Aug 16, 2023 at 15:06
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    A poured concrete top would be pretty abuse-resistant.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Aug 16, 2023 at 15:15

4 Answers 4

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If you want heat reisitant clear paint try an auto-parts store or paint specialist.

when I need a heat-proof surface for soldering I just use a large ceramic floor tile.

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I built my workbench out of plywood and finished it with several coats of wipe-on polyurethane. I can confirm that this finish will burn and blacken from the heat of an angry stare, let alone anything actually warm. The hot particles from metal grinding are enough to speckle this surface. Nonetheless, for a cheap workbench that sees vigorous use, and isn't meant to be pretty, the wipe-on polyurethane gives a fairly decent wipe-off finish. Really easy to reapply more coats too. How important is it that you prevent all marks and discolouration? Personal opinion: a work bench is for work, not beauty.

Metal top tables will resist heat very effectively and would be the usual recommendation for a heavily-abused work surface. They will also short your electronics very effectively which may not be ideal.

Some varieties of epoxy resist fairly high temperatures and chemicals once cured. Acetone will soften it, but it should be pretty resistant to isopropyl. This may get expensive, but probably not overly so if you keep the finish layer thin.

You could lean into the burn and do some variety of shou sugi ban. Perhaps sealed with epoxy to smooth it out (and not rub charcoal on your things)? That way any burn marks will just blend right in.

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Stain will darken the wood to whatever degree you're looking for. You could even make it red with a cherry stain or any other color that's offered at your local store.

Every finish is "skin safe" once it's cured - heck, they're even "food safe" once cured. It's not recommended to drink the finish straight up, though.

Most epoxy finishes (based on some recent internet research) are heat resistant to ~350°F (~175°C) and there are high temp epoxies that are resistant to temps significantly above that (1000°F/540°C or above if necessary). You might find that you can get a clear epoxy finish that you can apply over your stain to preserve the look of your previous efforts or you can color the epoxy and apply that directly. You'll probably want to wear gloves when working with the wet epoxy. Check the labeling - some are reasonably safe for skin contact (when wet) others aren't, but in either case, you probably don't want to deal with cleaning it off your hands.

I'm not sure how well some double-sided tape would clean off an epoxy finish after a number of years, but a light sanding and buffing should remove any tape residue and bring back the sheen, should there be any left. Of course, you could "stick" the ESD mat down with a rubber layer in between so that the ESD mat won't move but isn't really "stuck".

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  • Many of the high temperature epoxies are not clear, and a layer thick enough to prevent charring of the wood under it will be more than seems compatible with a satin finish.
    – Ecnerwal
    Commented Aug 16, 2023 at 16:26
  • That may be true, @Ecnerwal. I've never done the research to know, as I've never been that interested. I just know that high temp epoxy finishes are available. OP wants a colored finish anyway, so maybe he can find one in the right color of "brown"...
    – FreeMan
    Commented Aug 16, 2023 at 18:26
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You can take your beautiful beech plywood and cover it with beautiful beech wood grain Formica. It's a pretty durable surface, resistant to alcohol, easy to clean, won't cause contact allergies and withstands brief contact with hot solder.

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