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The Ultimate Guide to Choosing the Best Bar Top Polyurethane


When selecting the bar top polyurethane, it’s crucial to choose a finish that not only enhances the aesthetic appeal of your bar top but also ensures longevity and durability. This choice impacts not just the look but the resistance of the bar top against scratches, moisture, and everyday wear and tear.

Whether you’re a contractor aiming to deliver the highest quality to your clients, or you’re handling the project yourself, understanding the properties of polyurethane will guide you to make an informed decision. Polyurethane stands out for its robustness and ability to protect wood from moisture, making it an ideal choice for areas like bar tops which are frequently exposed to spills and stains.

In this guide, we’ll explore why selecting the right type of polyurethane is pivotal for both the performance and appearance of bar tops. We delve into how this choice affects daily operations and long-term maintenance, ensuring that your bar remains a stunning focal point of your space. It’s not just about making the bar look good on installation day but maintaining that look through countless interactions and heavy use.

Detailed infographic illustrating the benefits of choosing polyurethane for bar tops, highlighting its durability, moisture resistance, and aesthetic preservation. - bar top polyurethane infographic step-infographic-4-steps

Understanding Polyurethane

When selecting a finish for your bar top, bar top polyurethane stands out as a versatile and resilient choice. Let’s explore what polyurethane is and why it might be the perfect option for your bar.

Types of Polyurethane

Polyurethane for bar tops comes mainly in two types: water-based and oil-based. Water-based polyurethane tends to dry faster and has a lower odor, making it ideal for indoor environments where ventilation might be a concern. Oil-based polyurethane, on the other hand, is renowned for its rich, glossy finish and exceptional durability.

Benefits of Polyurethane

Polyurethane offers several compelling benefits:
Durability: It withstands daily wear and tear, making it ideal for high-traffic areas like bars.
Aesthetic Appeal: Provides a smooth, professional finish that enhances the natural beauty of the wood.
Moisture Resistance: Creates a barrier that protects the wood from spills and stains, which are commonplace in a bar setting.

Durability and Scratch Resistance

One of the main reasons bar owners choose polyurethane is its toughness. It can handle the clinking of glasses, the occasional drop of a bottle, and other common bar activities without showing signs of damage. This durability extends to its scratch resistance. Although no finish is entirely scratch-proof, polyurethane provides a hard layer that helps minimize the visibility of scratches, keeping the bar top looking newer for longer.

Moisture Resistance

Bars deal with a lot of moisture from spills to humidity. Polyurethane acts as a shield, preventing water and other liquids from seeping into the wood and causing damage like warping or swelling. This characteristic is crucial not only for maintaining the bar’s appearance but also for its longevity.

In summary, polyurethane is a robust, attractive, and practical choice for bar tops. Its ability to resist moisture and scratches while providing a durable finish makes it an excellent investment for any bar. As we move on to compare polyurethane with other finishes, keep these benefits in mind to see how it holds up against alternatives like epoxy resin, lacquer, and oils.

Comparing Polyurethane to Other Finishes

When selecting a finish for your bar top, weigh the pros and cons of each option. Let’s dive into how polyurethane stacks up against other popular finishes such as epoxy resin, lacquer, hardwax oil, and tung oil.

Epoxy Resin

Epoxy resin is known for its superb durability and waterproof qualities, making it a strong competitor to polyurethane. It forms a hard, clear finish that offers excellent protection against spills and stains. The clarity of epoxy is unmatched, providing a glass-like finish that enhances the underlying material.

– Extremely durable
– Waterproof
– Crystal clear finish

– More expensive than polyurethane
– Can be complex to mix and apply


Lacquer is favored for its high-gloss finish and fast drying times. However, it tends to yellow over time, especially when exposed to sunlight, which can be a significant drawback for bar tops that are under natural light.

– High-gloss finish
– Quick drying

– Yellowing over time
– Less durable than polyurethane and epoxy

Hardwax Oil

Hardwax oil offers a natural look and is easier to apply and reapply than many other finishes. It doesn’t form a film on the wood’s surface like polyurethane but penetrates the wood to enhance its grain and color.

– Enhances natural wood appearance
– Easy to apply and maintain

– Less protection against spills and wear
– Requires more frequent reapplication

Tung Oil

Tung oil is well-regarded for its waterproofing abilities and aesthetic appeal, providing a warm, hand-rubbed look. However, it offers low protection against scratches and heavy wear, making it less ideal for commercial bar tops that see a lot of activity.

– Waterproof
– Enhances wood’s natural beauty

– Low resistance to scratches and dents
– Requires frequent maintenance


Each finish has its unique strengths and weaknesses. Polyurethane stands out for its balance of durability, moisture resistance, and aesthetic versatility, making it a solid choice for bar tops that need to withstand frequent use and occasional spills. It doesn’t require the frequent reapplication that oils demand, nor does it have the yellowing issue associated with lacquer.

When choosing the right finish for your bar top, consider the level of use, the desired aesthetic, and how much maintenance you’re willing to perform. Polyurethane offers a middle ground that makes it suitable for many bar environments, balancing performance with ease of use.

Application Tips for Bar Top Polyurethane

Applying bar top polyurethane requires attention to detail to ensure a smooth, durable finish. Here are practical tips on each step of the process.

Surface Preparation

Before you start, make sure your bar top is ready to accept the polyurethane:
Clean thoroughly: Remove all dirt, oil, and old finish. A clean surface ensures better adhesion.
Sand the surface: Use fine-grit sandpaper to create a smooth surface. This also helps the polyurethane stick better.
Wipe down: After sanding, wipe the surface with a damp cloth to remove any dust.


Thinning your polyurethane can make it easier to apply:
Mix with paint thinner: Typically, you’ll mix about 10 parts polyurethane to 2 parts paint thinner. This helps it spread more smoothly and dry faster.
Stir well: Ensure the mixture is well blended before application to avoid uneven textures.

Brush Application

Applying the polyurethane properly is crucial for a good finish:
Use a foam brush: These brushes help avoid brush marks and bubbles.
Apply in sections: Work on one square-foot section at a time, brushing in the direction of the wood grain.
Overlap sections: To avoid lines, overlap each section slightly as you move along the bar top.

Drying Time

Patience is key during the drying process:
Wait for it to dry: Typically, it takes up to 12 hours for each coat to dry completely. The surface should not be tacky or leave fingerprints when touched.
Ensure good ventilation: This helps speed up drying and avoids fumes building up.

Sanding Between Coats

Sanding between coats is essential for a professional finish:
Light sanding: Use fine-grit sandpaper and lightly sand the surface. This helps the next coat adhere better and removes any imperfections.
Clean up: Wipe down the surface again after sanding to remove all dust before applying the next coat.

By following these steps, you can achieve a beautiful, durable finish on your bar top that will protect it from damage and enhance its appearance. The key to a great finish is in the preparation and careful application. Take your time and be thorough at each step for the best results.

Maintenance and Upkeep

Maintaining your bar top polyurethane is crucial for keeping it looking great and extending its life. Here’s a simple guide on how to clean, reapply, and protect your polyurethane-coated surfaces.


Regular cleaning is essential. Here’s how to do it right:

  • Daily Cleaning: Use a soft cloth or sponge with mild soap and water to wipe down the surface. Avoid abrasive cleaners or pads that can scratch the finish.
  • Spills: Clean spills immediately to prevent staining. Polyurethane is resistant to moisture, but substances like wine or fruit juice can cause damage if left unattended.


Polyurethane is durable, but over time, you may notice the finish wearing thin, especially in high-traffic areas. Here’s when and how to reapply:

  • Inspect Annually: Check for signs of wear or dullness once a year.
  • Reapply as Needed: If the finish looks worn or scratched, apply an additional coat of polyurethane following the original application steps: clean, sand lightly, and apply.

Protecting from Heat and Scratches

Bar tops see a lot of activity and can be prone to damage. Protect your surface by:

  • Using Coasters and Mats: Always use coasters under drinks and hot mats under warm dishes to prevent heat and moisture damage.
  • Felt Pads: Place felt pads under heavy objects or appliances that sit on the bar top to avoid scratches.
  • Avoid Sharp Objects: Keep sharp tools or utensils away from the surface to prevent accidental scratches.

By incorporating these simple maintenance steps, your polyurethane-coated bar top will continue to look its best and remain a durable part of your space. Regular care not only enhances the appearance but also ensures that your bar top stands up to daily use and enjoyment.

Frequently Asked Questions about Bar Top Polyurethane

What Makes Polyurethane Ideal for Bar Tops?

Polyurethane is a preferred choice for bar tops primarily due to its durability and resistance to moisture. This type of finish forms a hard, protective layer that shields the wood from spills, stains, and scratches, which are common in high-traffic areas like bars. Additionally, polyurethane doesn’t yellow as quickly as some other finishes, such as lacquer, maintaining its clarity and aesthetic appeal over time. Its ability to withstand various elements makes it an excellent option for both residential and commercial settings.

How Often Should Polyurethane Be Reapplied?

The frequency of reapplying polyurethane on a bar top depends on the level of wear and tear it experiences. For bar tops in commercial environments, where there is high traffic, you might need to reapply a new coat every one to two years. However, in a residential setting, polyurethane can last much longer, potentially requiring a new coat only every three to five years. It’s important to check the surface regularly for any signs of wear or damage and reapply sooner if the finish begins to look dull or worn out.

Can Polyurethane Finish Be Applied Over Existing Finishes?

Yes, polyurethane can be applied over existing finishes, but the underlying surface must be properly prepared to ensure good adhesion. If the existing finish is another type of polyurethane or a similar varnish, lightly sand the surface with fine-grit sandpaper to roughen it up and provide a key for the new polyurethane to grip onto. Always clean the surface thoroughly after sanding to remove any dust or debris. If the existing finish is something more exotic like epoxy or a different non-compatible finish, more extensive surface preparation may be necessary, potentially involving stripping the old finish before applying a new coat of polyurethane.

By understanding these key aspects of bar top polyurethane, you can better maintain and enjoy your investment, whether it’s in a bustling commercial bar or a cozy home setting. Make sure to follow the specific instructions provided by the polyurethane manufacturer for the best results.


When considering the best finish for a bar top, bar top polyurethane stands out for its combination of durability, aesthetic flexibility, and ease of maintenance. Let’s break down why it’s such a popular choice and how Rubcorp can help you make the right decision for your needs.


Polyurethane is renowned for its long-lasting properties. Unlike other finishes that might require frequent reapplication, polyurethane offers a durable layer of protection that withstands the daily rigors of bar usage. This includes resistance to water, scratches, and even UV light to some extent, ensuring that your bar top remains in pristine condition for years. Our discussions and comparisons with other finishes like epoxy resin and lacquer have shown that polyurethane provides a balance of durability and ease of maintenance, making it an ideal choice for both commercial and residential bar tops.

Aesthetic Appeal

One of the most appealing aspects of polyurethane is its versatility in aesthetics. Whether you prefer a high-gloss finish that makes your bar top shine or a more subdued satin finish that complements a rustic decor, polyurethane can be applied in various sheens. This flexibility allows you to enhance the natural beauty of the wood without compromising the wood’s texture and color. It’s a perfect choice for those who value both appearance and functionality in their bar spaces.


At Rubcorp, we understand the importance of choosing the right materials for your projects. Our detailed comparison of polyurethane and other finishes, available on our service page, provides you with all the information you need to make an informed decision. We recommend bar top polyurethane for anyone looking for a reliable and attractive finish that lasts. Our experts are always here to guide you through the selection process, ensuring that you get a product that not only meets your needs but also exceeds your expectations.

In conclusion, if you’re looking for a finish that combines longevity and aesthetic appeal, look no further than polyurethane. It’s a cost-effective, durable option that will keep your bar top looking great for years to come. Trust Rubcorp to provide you with the best products and advice in the industry. Let us help you make your bar top a centerpiece that you can be proud of.

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Creative Director, Rubcorp Distribution, LLC

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