Do you need a top coat?
When painting a piece for yourself. Top coating is a complete preference call. While there is an added protection element, it can also make touching minor dents and dings a bit trickier. We top coat every piece of furniture we custom paint, but for some pieces in our own homes we have chosen not to top coat.
Questions to ask yourself:
Will this piece be heavily used?
Do I prefer the look and feel of topcoat?
If it gets scratched or dinged to I mind the extra step of also applying top coat to that spot?
Which Product should I pick?
We highly recommend any of the General Finishes High Performance Top Coats and also Minwax topcoats are all tried and true! We currently use Minwax Water Based Helmsman Indoor/Outdoor Spar Urethane on all our pieces.
More importantly than which brand you choose, is making sure you read the label and follow the application, dry times, cure time, and use recommendations. Majority of products don't fail because the product was a bad product, 99.9% of the time it is because of user error.
What Sheen should you choose?
Sheen is both a preference and protective decision. The higher the gloss the sheen, the more protective your top coat will be. For Kitchen and Bathroom surfaces we wouldn't recommend anything less than a Satin Finish.
Keep in mind what you are painting when selecting a sheen. The darker and glossier a piece the more "blemishes" you will see on reclaimed pieces. The lighter and flatter you go those "blemishes" will be also be less noticeable.
We use a satin finish on all of our pieces unless otherwise specified. It is a great middle of the road option with a good amount of protection and also just the right amount of sheen to add that extra touch with out highlighting any problem areas.
How do you apply?
Depending on the brand, you may be able to choose from several methods including rollers, foam brushes, bristle brushes, lint free rags, and spraying to apply your top coat. Check the label and see which methods are recommend for your product.
We prefer foam brush or spraying. You can't beat the streak free look of spraying, but applying with a foam brush also leaves limited brush marks and streaks. Lightly sand with a 300 grit sand paper between coats and you will have a clean clear finish.
I've applied a top coat, my piece is fully protected and good to go right?
Not so fast there friend. Make sure you look at that label and find how long the cure time is for the top coat you used. You'll want to make sure the surface is completely hardened before placing large heavy items on it for extended periods of time. Also keep in mind that while the top coat adds an extra layer of protection; scratches, dings, and dents can still occur. You'll also want to protect the piece from any standing water - so make sure to use those coasters under water glasses and place protective waterproof trays under plants to keep water off of the furniture surface.