We employed the same measurement techniques that have proven successful for bulk damage thresholds measurements to measure damage thresholds of bare silica surfaces polished using various methods and to measure damage thresholds for antireflection coated silica, again for various surface polishes. Light in a single transverse and longitudinal mode, from a Q-switched Nd:YAG laser is focused to an 8 ÃÂµm spot on the front and rear surfaces of silica windows polished using ceria, alumina, or alumina/silica to find the damage threshold. We repeated the exercise for the same surfaces anti reflection coated with silica/hafnia film stacks. We used surface third harmonic generation to precisely place the focus on the surfaces. Key findings include: 1. The surface damage threshold can be made equal to the bulk damage threshold. There is a large difference in single-pulse damage thresholds of bare silica surfaces polished using ceria, alumina, and alumina followed by silica. The ceria polished samples have a statistical damage threshold ranging from 50 to 450 GW/cm2. The alumina polished surfaces damage at 200-500 GW/cm2, with half the spots damaging at the bulk threshold of 500 GW/cm2. The windows polished by alumina followed by silica damage almost universally at the bulk damage threshold of 500 GW/cm2. 2. There are strong conditioning effects for these surfaces. The ceria polished surfaces have reduced thresholds for multiple pulses. The alumina polished surfaces attain the bulk damage threshold at most locations using multiple pulse annealing. 3. The underlying polishes strongly affect the damage thresholds for the AR coatings. The alumina plus silica polished samples have the highest thresholds, with statistical variations from 150-380 GW/cm2. The alumina polished samples damage at only 50 GW/cm2, but with annealing the threshold rises to 200 GW/cm2, while the ceria polished samples damage at 50-200 GW/cm2 with no strong multiple shot effect. 4. We found there was no beam size variation of the damage threshold irradiance for the bare alumina/silica polished samples. 5. We showed that air breakdown does not limit the surface irradiance, silica breakdown does. 6. We recorded damage morphologies for the different surfaces.© (2008) COPYRIGHT SPIE--The International Society for Optical Engineering. Downloading of the abstract is permitted for personal use only.