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I've used three coats of a thinned (i.e., penetrating) epoxy over wood, with several coats (usually 4 or 5) of polyurethane over that. The combination seems to wear very well, and resists peeling far better than any conventional varnish. Basically, the epoxy bonds to the wood, and the urethane protects the epoxy. Every couple of years I very lightly scuff up the surface and then apply a thin coat of urethane.
However, compared to varnish, it does have a slightly "plastic" look to it. I love the way conventional varnish looks when fresh, but I'll trade the durability of the urethane over epoxy combination for that slightly better look of conventional varnish any day.
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Last edited by SlowButSteady; 09-18-2011 at 01:40 AM.