Looking for some recommendations on what finish to use for an interior maple stair rail and newel post. The wood is a very light-blonde very tight grain and we would like to keep that color... so we are not staining it at all and are looking for a crystal clear finish that will give a durable hard coating.
I have tried some test pieces with spar varnish...that imparted an amber color we do not want.
Also tried Miniwax water base polycrylic...liked the color, not too amber, but 3 coats did not seem to develop a thick enough surface (kinda looking for the "hard acrylic---plasticy" look) I will be trying more coats of this in the coming days on my test pieces but since the railing is up and being used , applying days worth of coats seems like an accident waiting to happen. Also, at this point the polycrylic does not seem to have a rock hard abrasion resistant surface.
Looking for something I can apply in place (brush or wipe), will be able to span the seems and corners well( not so hard it will crack) and that will be good for kids (we have a bunch), easy to clean, durable and again... clear. I recently saw some Maple benches in out local YMCA locker room that were done in a clear, thick very durable coating so i know something exists.
I am located in western NY so have access to Lowes, Homedepot, sherwin williams, and of coarse the web so any ideas are welcome.