Water-based varnish

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Blog entry by bigfoot11 posted 06-17-2015 02:39 AM 1755 reads 0 times favorited 7 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Last week I finished an outfeed/assembly table and decided that it wasn’t slick enough even after hitting it with 220 grit paper so I decided to finish it so I could sand it higher and give some protection since it will also become a main work area.

Traditionally I’ve always used some type of oil-based polyurethane (the yellow stuff) and i’s tough as nails but I didn’t want to make this thing yellow. I used Purebond plywood over the cheap rubbish from Lowes because it has a much nicer face (and no voids) so the extra 70 miles would be just thrown away if I used the yellow stuff.

I’ve seen a lot of people using a water-based varnish (it’s practically all that Matthias Wandel uses) so I tried some Varathane satin floor finish and I cannot rave how much I love this stuff. I know it won’t be as durable as the yellow poly but I don’t mind to redo the finish in a year.

In what usually took two or three days to do, I was able to do in an evening. So far three coats and I’ll let it set overnight and sand it tomorrow and add another coat to see how it turns out. Cleanup is stupid simple and no worries if I get it on my hands, it wipes right off.

I had sticker shock at nearly $50/gallon but after looking at prices of other finishes, the normal yellow poly is nearly the same and it ends up being much more expensive when buying quart or pint sizes.

For anyone on the ledge deciding whether to use the water-based varnish over oil, try it…you’ll be surprised!

7 comments so far

View stefang's profile


17039 posts in 3940 days

#1 posted 06-17-2015 12:59 PM

Sounds good to me. A lot easier clean-up, which is a major advantage.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View ChuckH's profile


70 posts in 2372 days

#2 posted 06-17-2015 01:07 PM

I had the sticker shock too, and I’ve been avoiding purchasing for that reason but I’m certainly ready to try now.

Does it seal up well? No matter how in clean the can up my oil poly always seems to dry up by the time I use it again. That’s one reason I hate to buy suck a big expensive can, cause I use small amounts infrequently…

View Earlextech's profile


1162 posts in 3296 days

#3 posted 06-17-2015 02:37 PM

“I know it won’t be as durable as the yellow poly but I don’t mind to redo the finish in a year.”
It amazes me that this incorrect assumption is still floating around. I’ve used water based finishes for thirty years and never had one call back for a worn out finish. As a matter of fact, all NBA courts have been finished with water based since 1985. I’m glad you broke through the naysayers and tried it for your self, I’m sure you will be happy.

-- Sam Hamory - The project is never finished until its "Finished"!

View AndyPitts's profile


122 posts in 1683 days

#4 posted 06-17-2015 05:50 PM

I used a water based varnish (can’t remember the brand) on my Unisaw auxilliary table 20 years ago, and have never refinished it. It looks terrible because I use that table for about everything … lots of paint drops & glue drops that have been scraped off … but the finish is not worn down and probably has another 20 years left in it.

-- Andy Pitts, Heathsville, Virginia,, YouTube AndyPitts1000

View bigfoot11's profile


81 posts in 2288 days

#5 posted 06-17-2015 09:11 PM

My only gripe is that its a big more difficult to see where you’ve brushed if the wood doesn’t change significantly (in my case, Purebond plywood did not). A quick glance with the light shining on it is easy.

Even if I use only half of the bucket before it turns to muck, I’ve still got my value out of it since it’s about half the price buying it in that quantity. I just picked up a HVLP gun today so no doubts I’ll use it before it turns sour.

View Rayne's profile


1298 posts in 2145 days

#6 posted 07-12-2015 07:32 PM

bigfoot11, have you used the HVLP gun with this varnish yet? I just finished my Table Saw cabinet with oil-based urethane and the smell sucks, drying time is quadruple that of this varnish, and applying with a pad on birch ply is horrendous. I’ve sanded the thing down to 220 grits and there are still enough voids on the surface to “catch” on to the pad/cloth applicator, so I’m ready to try something new and came across your post. I also have a HLVP gun (HF…) and definitely would like to see your experience with it on this varnish.

View bigfoot11's profile


81 posts in 2288 days

#7 posted 07-12-2015 08:18 PM

Yes I’ve used it and it works great (sans the slowness due to my small compressor). Unless there’s a specific reason for me to use a urethane I’ll stick with the Varathane for everything I need a finish on but don’t need a specific stain.

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