This post shares what I used to finish my Ikea Gerton table top desk for my workspace. It’s a large butcher block style desk top that comes unfinished from Ikea. See how I sealed mine using polyurethane.
Ikea Gerton Table Top Desk: Polycrylic vs. Polyurethane to Seal
One of the first things I struggled with when I started dabbling in furniture building and refinishing was understanding the difference between polycrylic and polyurethane. I wasn’t sure when it was appropriate to choose one over the other, how many coats I’d need of either, or what finishes were best.
Today I’m going to share what I’ve learned with you, because I’m refinishing my beech Ikea Gerton table top desk! Here it is in a photo from our old apartment:
Do you need to stain or seal the Gerton table top?
Stain, no. That’s a personal choice. You could definitely stain it to change its color, but I personally love the light color of the beech wood on the Gerton table top. So I chose to just seal mine (also referred to as “finishing” it).
The Gerton table top comes unfinished, meaning the wood isn’t sealed. That means that it can easily absorb water, for example, leading to those circular water stains we’re all familiar with. It can also absorb stains from food if you’re a slob like I am and eat like a messy monster at your desk.
Let’s talk about polyurethane first.
Here are some quick facts:
- Polyurethane provides an extremely durable finish. It can be oil-based or water-based, and it comes in matte, satin, semi-gloss, and gloss finishes.
- Traditional oil-based polyurethane has a very strong odor and should be used in well-ventilated spaces only, while water-based polyurethane has a much lower odor.
- Water-based polyurethane dries much faster than oil-based polyurethane. However, oil-based polyurethane is more durable.
- Both water- and oil-based polyurethane can lead to yellowing, which is lovely when finishing a piece of richly pigmented stained wood—not as lovely when finishing a piece or furniture painted in a lighter color like white or wood with a lighter stain that you don’t want to yellow.
I use polyurethane 99% of the time when finishing stained wood projects. However, I did use a satin water-based polyurethane to seal the tree branches for my DIY cat tree made of a real tree project because I needed them to dry quickly and wanted them to have very little sheen.
Questions about applying polyurethane? I used semi-gloss polyurethane in a post on how to stain and finish wood. The process it pretty much the same for water- and oil-based polyurethane, as well as polycrylic.
And now let’s chat polycrylic:
- Polycrylic is a durable, water-based finish, which comes in matte, satin, semi-gloss, and gloss finishes.
- It dries quickly, with only a couple of hours required between coats.
- It is a thin, opaque liquid, but it does not yellow furniture, so it’s fantastic for lighter surfaces.
- Since all polycrylics are water-based, cleanup is easy and can be done using soap and water.
- It should be applied in quick, thin coats. Unlike polyurethane, polycrylic dries so quickly that you can’t go back and smooth out a spot right after you’d applied it.
- Since it dries so quickly, applying polycrylic with a small, smooth roller is a good option, especially on larger surfaces.
If I’m not using a specialized finish, I usually use polycrylic to add durability to painted pieces. I love that the cleanup is so much easier than it is when using oil-based polyurethanes, and polycrylic won’t yellow lighter pieces. The process for applying polycrylic is the same as the polyurethane process.
So what did I use to finish my Gerton table top desk?
Polyurethane. 🙂 When I purchased it, the directions said to oil it regularly with wood oil for protection. Guess what I didn’t do? Oil it regularly with wood oil for protection. It’s now full of stains since I can’t easily wipe it clean. I can’t even dribble water on it without it making a mark. I chose polyurethane because I didn’t mind a little yellowing and had a big can of semigloss on hand already.
HERE’S WHAT ELSE I USED:
- Minwax polyurethane in semigloss
- 220- and 320-grit sandpaper and rubber sanding block
- Small foam roller
- Tack cloth and rags
AND HERE’S HOW I DID IT.
Step 1: Sand
First I gave the entire top and sides a light sand with the 220-grit sandpaper to buff out any stains. I used this nifty little 3M sanding block.
You could also use an orbital or hand sander to do the job. It will be faster and more thorough. But I would only do that if you’re working in an area you aren’t worried about getting messy like a garage, workshop, or outdoors. They are definitely messier in terms of dust flying.
Step 2: Clean & Seal
I wiped the piece down with a rag to remove the excess dust, and then I wiped it down with tack cloth to remove every last bit of sanding residue. I used a small, smooth roller to apply the polyurethane to the entire top and sides of the desk.
Step 3: …And Seal Some More
After the first coat had dried (follow the instructions on your brand of polyurethane), I gave the entire top and sides a light sand using the 320-grit sandpaper to pop air bubbles and even out the finish. Then I repeated step 2 twice to achieve three coats of polyurethane.
And here it is finished before I put anything back on it.
This project was long overdue, and it would have been so much easier to do it had I bit the bullet when I brought the desk home nearly two years ago! But hey, better late than never, right?
I’m back to update this post about 2.5 years after refinishing my Ikea Gerton table top desk! So I’ve been using it as my workspace top for about 4.5 years and have had it finished for about 2.5 years. It has held up extremely well. There are a few minor scratches from having heavy plant pots on it, but otherwise, it looks exactly the same.
Here are a few updated pictures. If I were to sand this down in the future to refinish it again, I’d probably use my new favorite finish: Varathane water-based polyurethane in matte. My preferences for furniture have changed over the last few years and have trended toward a more natural, less shiny finish. The water-based matte does the trick, and it’s extremely durable. I have used it on my daughter’s wooden dollhouse bookcase build, the cat house side table build, the plywood planter with hairpin legs, and the raised dog feeder I just made.
But I don’t want to refinish this until I need it because it’s heavy and a beast of a project. 🙂
Pin my tips for refinishing a wooden desk top!
- Give the entire top and sides a light sand with the 220-grit sandpaper to buff out any stains using the nifty little 3M sanding block.
- Wipe the piece down with a rag to remove the excess dust, and then wipe it down with tack cloth to remove every last bit of sanding residue.
- Use a small, smooth roller to apply the polyurethane to the entire top and sides of the desk. Allow to dry according to manufacuturer's instructions.
- Give the entire top and sides a light sand using the 320-grit sandpaper to pop air bubbles and even out the finish.
- Repeat step 3 for 3 coats of polyurethene.
- And your done!