They say you get what you pay for. With products, services, you name it. Well surfaces are no different. The first point of contact you’ll have with any materials you install or on any furniture you buy will be the finish on its surface. It’s all very well if that finish seems great for the product photos that get taken, but will it last? A charge that’s often levelled at wood is that it’s not durable enough for kitchens or work spaces, but is there any truth in it?
Well, here’s the tricky part. What works on a wooden guitar surface (a polyurethane or polyester lacquer polished like glass, as in the photos above) or a wooden garden shed (factory treatment and a coat of whatever varnish is lying around) won’t necessarily be any good for furniture experiencing daily use. Like so many things, the key is to start with a good material: hardwoods for worktops, say.
By instinct you might be inclined to want to seal a worktop, make it impermeable and hope the finish lasts, but that would probably prove counter-intuitive in most cases. What’s your biggest problem in a kitchen? Wear? Maybe, you might have a family member that dumps everything on the surface and scores it. It’s likely to be repeated wiping up of liquids, though. Let’s face it, spills happen, especially around the sink, and no amount of varnish will last forever. Once it starts to peel or flake, you’ve had it – either suck it up or sand it back.
The problem is that no material is perfect; the best you can hope for is optimal.
If you’re a professional chef you might only consider stainless steel, but if you’re a domestic cook then wood will serve you better than almost any material. It’s all about the care you give it.
We came across a solid wax oil which we applied to the bare walnut worktop after installation and found the surface to be glossy and smooth for a number of months, before it dulled back. The wood is still protected, as you can see in the top left photo, with no mould forming anywhere around the sink, for example.
Similarly, a typical wear area would be around the edge of a metal hob, where cooking residues could build up or liquids might pool unnoticed. Again, it’s faring well.
There are, however, small scores and worn patches in the key wear areas. The solution? It’s been two years, so time for a tidy up, a re-application of the wax oil and a good buff.
Imagine it’s the scale and polish you’re due for at the dentist. If you don’t want bad news about cavities, you’ve got to stay on it!
The good news? Wood doesn’t chip easily, it resists massive amounts of force without cracking, and scratches (however annoying) can be sanded out and re-oiled. You also have a phenomenal palette of colours and grains to work with, not to mention the natural variation caused by knots and burls. If you choose synthetic stone it may chip or crack with time, natural stone like marble will succumb to spilt lemon or lime juice, and metal surfaces are expensive and hard to tidy up once scored. Also, none of those materials grow on trees!