Before selecting a finish for your woodworking project look at inspiration photos of other project and use this as a starting point. Also consider the amount and type of use the piece will get and also its exposure to light. Woodwork in direct sunlight should be treated differently than something not exposed sunlight constantly.
1. By far the most durable clear finish one can get would be a conversion varnish. This is mixed from two separate components and must sprayed in a spray booth. Its is extremely durable and often used for tables, bars and another surface that requires durability. Conversion varnish can also be a solid color paint in a variety of colors. It is also the most expensive finish to use for your project.
2. Water based poly urethane is another great product I like to use. It applies much thinner than an oil based product but the ease of clean up and lack of vapor or smell is a big plus for me. It can be satin, semi-gloss or gloss.
3. Water based Milk Paint. This finish is a newer one but provides amazing results in a multitude of colors. In most cases it can be top-coated with a UV resistant poly-urethane to help with yellowing and fading over time. A good voice where a solid color is decided.
4. Water based stains are a good choice if you are using a lighter colored or cheaper wood that you would like to tint a darker shade of brown or black. They penetrate quickly and are easy to apply and clean-up. They must be top coated with a varnish or poly-urethane as they are not meant to be a top coat.