When it comes to finishing a project there are literally 1,000’s of options. Take your pick. My pick for the last several years is Boiled Linseed Oil (BLO, on the web). I have used it on everything that I have built in the last few years. Workbench, tool cabinet, chest of drawers, chairs, benches, a table… In the picture is everything that you need except the rubber gloves: a can of BLO, a couple of cotton rags, and a wide mouth jar. There was an excellent article written on this in Woodworking Magazine (I think the one with a “tricky stool” on the cover). It is a great read.
Here is the process.
1 – Plane the surfaces clean (or sand them to 220 or so).
2 – Wipe on a good coat of oil.
3 – Wait ~10 minutes and wipe it all off. This is the most important step. Wipe all excess oil off the surface. Any thick spots remaining will gel up and not be nice.
4 – Wait 3 or 4 days or until the surface is dry to the touch.
5 – Repeat steps 1 thru 4.
Stop when you are happy with the surface. I have found that 6 coats looks real nice. The article that I mentioned suggested 12 coats. If you don’t have the patience for multiple coats, then do one coat of BLO and then use a mix of BLO, turpentine, and beeswax (equal parts of all three). That builds faster and leaves more of a matte finish. I like it almost as much as 6 coats of BLO.