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Forum topic by Vicsguy posted 10-02-2008 04:15 PM 1874 views 0 times favorited 15 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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10 posts in 3809 days

10-02-2008 04:15 PM

Topic tags/keywords: question

My lovely bride wanted a certain table she saw at a friend’s home so I offered to build it for her. It was my first woodworking project! Everything has been fun and the project has come together nicely. I read books, studied all the helpful information here on Lumberjocks and got the table finished. I made a few mistakes along the way but none more frustrating than the polyurethane finish application on the tabletop.

The table was made of maple with a maple plywood top and maple edge banding. I chose maple because our kitchen is maple and intended to match the color. Of course, she told me she wanted it stained darker AFTER I had invested in the maple. I found out maple was a difficult wood to finish dark so I spent much time studying the proper method of finishing maple..

I ended up using Transtint dye after sanding with 150 grit. I also used a shellac over the water based dye and applied a coat of pigmented stain to alter the color. All went fine to this point.

The poly application, however, has not been so well. I assume I failed to sand between coats or something because there remains what look like brush marks in the poly (although I used General Finishes Arm-R-Seal and a cloth to apply it). I tried using rubbing compound to remove these marks but to no avail.

My wife loves the table. Me, I’m disappointed. Any suggestions short of stripping the top and starting over? Thanks in advance for your suggestions!

15 replies so far

View NY_Rocking_Chairs's profile


528 posts in 3863 days

#1 posted 10-02-2008 06:21 PM

Sanding…lots of sanding. Not sure there exists a stripper for poly, though if there is, someone on here will know about it.

-- Rich, anybody want a peanut?

View Gregh11's profile


17 posts in 3791 days

#2 posted 10-02-2008 06:50 PM

I’ve always wet sanded with 800 grit between coats of poly for a nice finish. Sand each coat until it’s dull, but i’ll be very smooth.

-- Greg, in Ozark, MO

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27250 posts in 4088 days

#3 posted 10-02-2008 06:53 PM

You can use a paint/varnish stripper to remove the poly but it will take it all the way down to the bare wood and I would only use this as a last resort. A better approach, if you can’t live with the table as is, it to do as Rich said and sand it. Don’t sand through the finish but just enough to scuff up the top coat. Arm-r-seal is a wipe on poly and is much more forgiving than brushing on straight poly. You should be able to build the finish to the point where you can eliminate the marks.

Try some scrap first before you tackle the table unless you want your next project to be a big doghouse since your wife is happy with the table as it is now. :)

By the way if you want to go the route of a wipe on poly don’t buy it just make your own. Cut straight poly to 50 to 75% of its original strength with mineral spirits. Pour some in a container and use a clean cotton cloth or rag to wipe it on. Wipe-ons dry much quicker so you can put on several coats in a days time and are self leveling so you don’t end up with brush marks and they also are much less prone to runs and sagging. You will have to put on several coats to get the same film thickness as the regular poly but the benefits are well worth it. And, of course, you still have to do a light sanding between coats and remove the dust as well.

Hope this helps.

-- Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful- Joshua Marine

View Kindlingmaker's profile


2658 posts in 3792 days

#4 posted 10-02-2008 07:03 PM

With poly, of which I always mess up on, I sand until smooth then apply a good paste wax and the finish is rather amazing. Try it on some fall off wood and see how you like it first.

-- Never board, always knotty, lots of growth rings

View Vicsguy's profile


10 posts in 3809 days

#5 posted 10-03-2008 03:07 PM

Well I certainly appreciate the suggestions each of you provided. I’ll get busy sanding pronto and post completed pictures in the projects forum.

I actually used the underside of the tabletop and leaves as my “prepared scrap”. For some reason, the poly application seemed to go smoother on the underside.

This site is fantastic! What a source of expertise and inspiration.

View Dick, & Barb Cain's profile

Dick, & Barb Cain

8693 posts in 4565 days

#6 posted 10-03-2008 04:39 PM

I’d also be very careful not to sand through the veneer, because it’s very thin.

Good luck!

-- -** You are never to old to set another goal or to dream a new dream ****************** Dick, & Barb Cain, Hibbing, MN.

View Vicsguy's profile


10 posts in 3809 days

#7 posted 10-03-2008 05:03 PM

Chip…I already learned how thin the veener is….the hard way!

I think at some time I will rebuild the top for the table but for a first attempt at furniture making I’m satisfied.

My engraving on the table reads “Made for Victoria with much more love than talent.”

View Loren's profile


10477 posts in 3914 days

#8 posted 10-06-2008 04:46 PM

It’s not lack of talent my friend… it’s experience. I built a lot of bad
stuff and made most of the mistakes in the book before I was able to
consistently produce polished work – even then I never
built anything where in retrospect I haven’t wished I handled
some aspect of design or construction differently.

Woodworking is about understanding cause-and-effect as much as
anything. This time you learned about what the effect of too much
sanding in on veneer. You’ll do it again. Believe me, you will – it’s
more a problem with the way veneer is made than it is with sanding…
the stuff is just too darn thin.

View Vicsguy's profile


10 posts in 3809 days

#9 posted 10-10-2008 08:00 PM

Loren…thanks for your words of encouragement.

I’m ALMOST done with the finish. I chose a semi-gloss poly and I’m finding the finish to be streaky after it dries. I’m wondering if this condition will disappear after I let it harden then apply paste wax. I see now I should have used a gloss poly and buffed it to semi-gloss if that was wanted I wanted. Too late for that approach!

All advice is taken with gratitude!

View CharlieM1958's profile


16281 posts in 4484 days

#10 posted 10-10-2008 08:40 PM

Gloss or satin…you can switch any time. It is really only the final coat that determines the gloss level.

As far as looiking “streaky” I assume you mean that the level of gloss is uneven on the piece (some areas appear shinier than others). If that is the case, you just need more coats. When wiping poly on a tabletop, I put on so many coats that I lose count.

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View Vicsguy's profile


10 posts in 3809 days

#11 posted 10-10-2008 09:36 PM

View CharlieM1958's profile


16281 posts in 4484 days

#12 posted 10-10-2008 10:05 PM

It’s kind of hard to tell what I’m looking at without both close-up and wider-angle views, but the finish looks kind of milky and opaque if I’m looking at it right. I’ve never seen that result from polyurethane. Maybe somebody else has a clue?

How about posting a couple more photos as well.

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View Vicsguy's profile


10 posts in 3809 days

#13 posted 10-10-2008 10:50 PM

Here are a couple more pics. Thanks for your help!

View CharlieM1958's profile


16281 posts in 4484 days

#14 posted 10-11-2008 04:39 PM

That IS kind of odd. I have a couple of guesses, but that is all they are….guesses.

1) Maybe you tried to leave too much poly on the surface when you were wiping it on, because it should not be thick enough to leave wipe marks like that.

OR, more likely:

2) I went back and re-read your finishing process, and I’m wondering if the poly didn’t partially dissolve the shellac, then dry before the shellac had a chance to harden properly again. I’m definitelty leaning towards the idea that your problem is being caused by a reaction of some sort between different finishing elements.

I’d get some scrap and start experimenting. As for the table, I’d try one more thing before I gave up: Use a pad-type or random orbit sander, and sand the whole surface well using 320 grit. This should not go through your color, but should level out the poly on top. Change paper often, as it will clog quickly. When you are done, the surface will look milky and ugly, but it should feel very smooth to the touch. Now wipe on about 3 more coats of poly, just lightly buffing with #0000 steel wool between coats.

If the streaking is still there, I’d say you either have to live with it, or sand it down to bare wood and start over.

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View Vicsguy's profile


10 posts in 3809 days

#15 posted 10-11-2008 05:24 PM

Charlie…thanks for your help!

I’m going with number 2 as the likely culprit. I’m not sure why poly would partially disolve shellac but it seems the most likely cause.

Earlier today I sanded the top with 220 on the ROS, then 320 by hand until nice and smooth. I vacuumed, wiped with mineral spirits, tack clothed and then applied a VERY thin coat of poly. Same result.

The table legs and aprons are fine. I think my initial problem was number 1 (too heavy an application). After I sanded the poly off to start again I ran out of Arm-R-Seal and pcked up some poly at HD. I was thinking Poly varnish is poly varnish. Wrong. I’m off to get some Arm-R-Seal and some paint and varnish stripper. Hopefully, I can strip off the poly without affecting my stained wood.

I really appreciate your advice!

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