Timber generally falls under two main categories: hardwood and softwood. Hardwoods are almost always from trees that lose their leaves such as Oak and Ash, while softwoods are from conifers which usually remain evergreen, such as Pine. Hardwood timbers have a tighter grain because they are slower growing, resulting in tighter growth rings, whereas softwoods have a softer grain. This makes them much easier to machine, but can be less durable in comparison to their hardwood counterparts.
So the answer to the question “is timber a durable material for my restaurant table tops” is yes. But there are a few critical factors that you want to take into account when choosing the correct timber top for your space.
In general it is better to choose a hardwood over a softwood for your table tops. For example, Pine will show a lot of dings and scratches over time, as opposed to a hardwood. While this may be the aesthetic you are after if you want an organic, outdoorsy look, opting for a hardwood will mean a longer-lasting surface. American Oak and American Ash have a smooth, clean look and can be stained a lot of colors, making them one of the most popular options on the market. They are also comparatively easy to work with as opposed to denser hardwoods, like Oak, which can be very tough to machine and manipulate.
The second factor to take into account is the lacquer finish that is used on the table tops. You want to make sure that this is not only going to protect the product from scratches and dents, but also from moisture and heat. Using a two pack lacquer finish on any top surfaces is always prudent. While it does cost a little more than a single pack option, it will ensure that over time the lacquer won’t wear off. You also want to take care that you follow the application process correctly. If any steps are missed, or not enough time is allowed in between coats, it can result in a substandard finish which won’t last as long.
An additional long-term benefit to timber is that it can be sanded back and re-lacquered after many years, bringing it back to it’s original vitality. This is often a lot more cost effective than replacing a top altogether. Compare this to a HPL top, which is initially more cost effective but is likely to be somewhat scratched after five years in a space and will have to be discarded.
To conclude, if the right timber and the correct finishing process is used there is no reason to believe that timber is not just as durable (if not more so) than any other material in the market.