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Advice on Polyurethane Brand (Tweaks? Alternatives?) for Kitchen Counters?

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Forum topic by Lovegasoline posted 09-10-2019 08:22 PM 861 views 0 times favorited 26 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Lovegasoline

82 posts in 519 days


09-10-2019 08:22 PM

It’s time to refinish my kitchen counter tops … all are hard maple (one is birch) butcher block.

Previously I’ve used:
a.) Conversion varnish sprayed. Satin. Lasted about 12 years. Strong finish, looked great, however after an accidental exposure to this stuff (mistook one respirator filter for another) I decided I do not want to use it due to its toxicity and some chemical sensitization. For that reason I’m ruling this out.
b.) I’ve used Minwax Satin Polyurethane (‘Fast Drying’) in the past on a couple counter tops. It seems to have been durable enough although those counters were not extremely high wear areas. I’m not especially thrilled with the look. It’s a little too much sheen for my tastes and looks plasticky.
c.) On common recommendation for a flatter finish, I bought a quart of General Finishes High Performance Water Based Top Coat, Flat (expensive). I did some tests and I find it’s too flat. I’m not a fan of this look. (Maybe the paleness of the wood contributed to the displeasure … no grain popping whatsoever and ‘flat’ in all respects). I do have a collection of water base and aniline dyes… perhaps I could have applied these under the finish and got a more pleasing look? In addition to not liking the look and dismissing it on that basis, I also wonder about how tough and durable this finish is over the years in high use areas …. I’m skeptical despite the glowing claims.

For this application durability and performance comes first: I’m not a fan of countertops that require special care or treatment and I don’t want to have to be worrying about the counters. I want them to have the ability to withstand wear and tear, to take abuse by folks who will not be as careful with wood counters as I am (potential exposure to mindless dolts who could care less about ‘wood or finishes’), not needing delicate handling or special care in order to not damage it, to be easily/effortlessly cleaned & maintained (no maintenance finishes of oils/waxes/etc.). But I still want it to look nice.

I’ve pretty much accepted that I’ll use a solvent based polyurethane brushed on (unless there’s some other suggestions) due to acceptable ease of application, performance, and familiarity. I’ve done this before. Are there any differences in various brands of solvent based polyurethanes or are they all pretty much the same as the Minwax?
Are there any satin polyurethanes with a little less sheen than the Minwax?

Which ever finish I use I’ll likely use the same product for all the coats (rather than a base of gloss followed by a coat with less sheen) because if the finish wears to reveal the lower coats I’d want to prevent glossy areas from appearing.

Any ideas?
Or should I just resign myself to using the Satin Minwax and live with the look in exchange for the durability?

Oh yeah … is there any aesthetic benefit to using a coat of oil finish first under the polyurethane for grain popping? (OK, I realize maple doesn’t have much grain to pop). Or will it be redundant under the poly?

Thanks a bunch for any input!


26 replies so far

View Lazyman's profile

Lazyman

3877 posts in 1868 days


#1 posted 09-11-2019 02:02 AM

I really don’t have enough experience, especially with a wood countertop, to make a brand recommendation but to answer your question about whether solvent based polys vary by brand the answer is yes. I think that the solids content for one thing may be different from brand to brand so they will likely perform differently. I know that General Finishes for example provides both solids content and durability in their specs that you can see here. BTW, did you look at the GF Enduro line of finishes? I also wonder if the GF Pro Image floor finish for example would work on a countertop? It seems like a finish designed to be walked on would be about as durable as you can get in a one component finish.

I can also tell you from a recent experience that the Minwax and Varathane brands are very different. The Varathane poly not only took longer to cure but also seemed much softer to me than the Minwax once it did. It might even out after a few weeks but after a few days, I was still not happy with the Varathane.

Also, I don’t think that a coat of an oil finish is compatible under most water based poly. If you use an oil based poly that should not be necessary anyway. You could try to do a trace coat with a dye to pop the grain under a WB or oil based poly but unless you have a piece to practice on, you might not like the results.

-- Nathan, TX -- Hire the lazy man. He may not do as much work but that's because he will find a better way.

View Lovegasoline's profile (online now)

Lovegasoline

82 posts in 519 days


#2 posted 09-11-2019 07:03 PM


I really don t have enough experience, especially with a wood countertop, to make a brand recommendation but to answer your question about whether solvent based polys vary by brand the answer is yes. I think that the solids content for one thing may be different from brand to brand so they will likely perform differently. I know that General Finishes for example provides both solids content and durability in their specs that you can see here. BTW, did you look at the GF Enduro line of finishes? I also wonder if the GF Pro Image floor finish for example would work on a countertop? It seems like a finish designed to be walked on would be about as durable as you can get in a one component finish.

I can also tell you from a recent experience that the Minwax and Varathane brands are very different. The Varathane poly not only took longer to cure but also seemed much softer to me than the Minwax once it did. It might even out after a few weeks but after a few days, I was still not happy with the Varathane.

Also, I don t think that a coat of an oil finish is compatible under most water based poly. If you use an oil based poly that should not be necessary anyway. You could try to do a trace coat with a dye to pop the grain under a WB or oil based poly but unless you have a piece to practice on, you might not like the results.

- Lazyman


I haven’t looked at the GF Enduro or their floor finishes.

What you write about solids content makes sense. My background is in fine art painting and regarding linseed oils alone there’s an enormous range of products based on ingredients, chemical and/or heat processing, refinement, additives, acid content, color, film hardness, sheen, leveling, darkening over time, solvents, driers, drying rate, etc., etc. I was hoping some might have experience with other manufacturer’s blends of polyurethane suitable for countertops.

I do have a large part of a gallon can of polyurethane that a flooring guy once gave me after refinishing some floors and those floors had darkened so much over the years that I’ve never dared use it for anything else (and those floors have been refinished once again since with a medium-darkish stain plus Bona Traffic waterborne finish … which gives about the same tone as the aged poly).

Good to get your feedback on Minwax vs. Varathane, thanks. In fact that was the initial incentive to post this thread as my Home Depot only sells Varathane (no more Minwax) so I bought a quart of satin … but was reluctant to use it only insofar as it’s an unknown entity.

Regarding a coat of oil under water base poly, for ex. the Bona Traffic waterbase finished floors I mentioned above were treated first with Bona DriFast Stain (oil-modified resins + mineral spirits + pigments) liberally applied & allowed to penetrate then wiped off, allowed to dry overnight … and the next day the first coat of water base poly went on. All products by the same manufacturer and recommended for use together.

Anyone whave experience with other solvent polyurethanes they can recommend?

View LesB's profile

LesB

2169 posts in 3924 days


#3 posted 09-11-2019 07:17 PM

Since you are “refinishing” a counter that has already had a hard finish applied to it it is too late to just go with an oil finish (on butcher block). So I go with the idea of using one of the water based polyurethane floor finishes. About 4 coats should do and in my experience is it best applied with a brush at temperatures close to 70 degrees to give it time to level out before it starts to dry and cure.
Good luck

-- Les B, Oregon

View Lovegasoline's profile (online now)

Lovegasoline

82 posts in 519 days


#4 posted 09-11-2019 07:22 PM

Hi Les,
The butcher block counter tops will be removed and thoroughly sanded on all surfaces to remove all previous finishes. I don’t understand your comment regarding the prohibition of it being ‘too late’ for oil finishes can you elaborate please? For ex. many solvent based polyurethanes include oil in the formulation. And if the wood is prepped carefully/sanded completely why would it not successfully accept a finish with oil in the formulation either as a penetrating finish or surface coating? I’m not following … am I misunderstanding something?

I really don’t want to use a water base poly, I’m skeptical that it’ll have the qualities I need for the heaviest used surface in my home except for the workbench (it’s a shoeless home so the floors don’t get the same abuse as my main countertop):

-scratch resistance
-water resistance
-chemical and alcohol resistance (acidic foods, wine, beverages, etc)
-resistance to cleansers

At this point I’m leaning towards the use of Minwax satin polyurethane brushed on. I’m going to return the Varathane which I’d planned on doing when I posted this thread and based oil your input Lazyman.

If anyone has experience with a solvent based satin brush-on polyurethane which they have reason to believe is superior to Minwax, please post up your recommendation/experience.

View CaptainKlutz's profile

CaptainKlutz

1762 posts in 1975 days


#5 posted 09-12-2019 12:13 AM

IMHO – Stop shopping at BORG or local wood working for serious finishing supplies.
When your house was built did your builder go to Walmart to buy house paint?

Visit a commercial wholesale wood finishes supplier.
Don’t know any?
Look for local distributor of Mohawk, Sherwin Williams, Sikkens, ML Campnell, Bona, PPG, AkzoNobel, Gemini, Milesi, etc. Everyone of these folks makes/sells commercially used, KCMA rated finishes for kitchen environment.

There are so many new water based (WB) polyurethane clear finishes in market, it is impossible to know what is current ‘best’. Your local commercial supplier will know what all the local EPA compliant shops are using in WB materials, and can provide a plethora of choices in KCMA rated finishes for your kitchen counters.

Note:
I asked the ‘most durable counter top finish’ question to my local finishing supplier 3-4 years ago, and they said none of the water base finishes were capable of protecting a kitchen counter as if it was a commercial bar top. There were a couple of 2 part WB finishes that might be OK for lightly used home kitchen, but WB is not as durable as solvent systems. Period.
At time, they recommended an old school Lorchem 2K Poly bar top finish. It’s nasty stuff. Requires full body overalls, filtered mask and googles, IE Maximum PPE; but it’s extremely hard to damage and top of line protection for counter top, like in restaurant or bar. Gave me a wonderful finish on a commission table.

Was chatting with same folks a couple weeks ago about latest advancements, and was informed some shops are switching to latest water based conversion coatings. Claiming the durability has increased to 99% as good as EPA unfriendly solvent systems. Maybe your local wholesale supplier will have same recommendation?

Once last comment: Picking the right finish is only half the challenge. Surface prep, proper sealing of grain, and application method are a big part of creating a durable finish.

Best Luck.

-- I'm an engineer not a woodworker, but I can randomly find useful tools and furniture inside a pile of lumber!

View Lovegasoline's profile (online now)

Lovegasoline

82 posts in 519 days


#6 posted 09-12-2019 12:43 AM


IMHO – Stop shopping at BORG or local wood working for serious finishing supplies.
When your house was built did your builder go to Walmart to buy house paint?

Visit a commercial wholesale wood finishes supplier.
Don t know any?
Look for local distributor of Mohawk, Sherwin Williams, Sikkens, ML Campnell, Bona, PPG, AkzoNobel, Gemini, Milesi, etc. Everyone of these folks makes/sells commercially used, KCMA rated finishes for kitchen environment.

There are so many new water based (WB) polyurethane clear finishes in market, it is impossible to know what is current best . Your local commercial supplier will know what all the local EPA compliant shops are using in WB materials, and can provide a plethora of choices in KCMA rated finishes for your kitchen counters.

Note:
I asked the most durable counter top finish question to my local finishing supplier 3-4 years ago, and they said none of the water base finishes were capable of protecting a kitchen counter as if it was a commercial bar top. There were a couple of 2 part WB finishes that might be OK for lightly used home kitchen, but WB is not as durable as solvent systems. Period.
At time, they recommended an old school Lorchem 2K Poly bar top finish. It s nasty stuff. Requires full body overalls, filtered mask and googles, IE Maximum PPE; but it s extremely hard to damage and top of line protection for counter top, like in restaurant or bar. Gave me a wonderful finish on a commission table.

Was chatting with same folks a couple weeks ago about latest advancements, and was informed some shops are switching to latest water based conversion coatings. Claiming the durability has increased to 99% as good as EPA unfriendly solvent systems. Maybe your local wholesale supplier will have same recommendation?

Once last comment: Picking the right finish is only half the challenge. Surface prep, proper sealing of grain, and application method are a big part of creating a durable finish.

Best Luck.

- CaptainKlutz

I know a commercial paint and varnish store that handles the brands you mention. But I’m not sure what advantage their brushable polyurethane will have. ... which is why I was asking here.

I want to be clear that I’m not in the least interested in using a finish that produces toxic vapors or off gassing more hazardous than petroleum solvents no matter how superior they are in durability, cure time, water/scratch resistance, etc. whether they be solvent or water based.

I’ve no issue using a solvent base finish. Brushing solvent base poly is a known entity and I have the brush skills to lay down a smooth finish without the more involved production of having to engage my spray rig. Brushing would require much less than a quart of product.

The ML Campbell conversion varnish I’d used on a previous counter top (as well as other furniture including my kitchen table where it lasted a little over a decade) looked great (satin), shot easy, cured quickly, and was durable (and like many such finishes not easily repaired). I hope to never use it again due to toxicity. There’s a lot of great finishes available with the downside of toxic chemistry … I hope to avoid ever using them (even with my supplied air rig). No thank you. From a single exposure I’ve become sensitized to a degree … sometimes I can smell chemistry/off gassing for example inside a drawer and it registers in my lungs. I just don’t need those chemicals in my life as there’s other ways to finish a kitchen counter.

Walmart didn’t exist when my place was built. It was painted with lead in oil … which btw I wish one could buy at Walmart. A one quart can of basic lead carbonate paste in linseed oil with a little titanium white pigment and some white chalk (artist grade ground or ‘primer’) goes for $80-$90 or even much more. In the 80s it could be had for $15 or less. IMHO no pigment can rival basic lead carbonate, the best stuff made in the traditional stack process for ex. using horse manure (these days stack lead white cost significantly more than the industrially produced lead carbonate):

View Rich's profile

Rich

4823 posts in 1070 days


#7 posted 09-12-2019 12:58 AM

Since the tops can be removed and you have spray equipment, I’d go with a pre-cat lacquer. Sherwin Williams or Mohawk are good choices depend on availability and price.

It’s durable, easy to spray and will be low odor enough to bring back into the house in a few hours or the next day.

-- There's no such thing as a careless electrician

View Lovegasoline's profile (online now)

Lovegasoline

82 posts in 519 days


#8 posted 09-12-2019 01:43 AM



Since the tops can be removed and you have spray equipment, I d go with a pre-cat lacquer. Sherwin Williams or Mohawk are good choices depend on availability and price.

It s durable, easy to spray and will be low odor enough to bring back into the house in a few hours or the next day.

- Rich

Are we talking formaldehyde here?

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Rich

4823 posts in 1070 days


#9 posted 09-12-2019 01:57 AM


Are we talking formaldehyde here?

- Lovegasoline

No formaldehyde. Lacquer—pre-cat, CAB or NC—will give off very little odor after a day or two. As you probably know, poly, and other urethane finishes, give off odor until they are fully cured—often several weeks. They also aren’t fully hardened for use until then.

Pre-cat lacquer will be hard enough to do light work on, like setting up dishes, etc, in just a couple of days. The product data sheet for Sherwin William Hi-Bild pre-cat says maximum cure and chemical resistance is achieved after 10 days of air drying.

-- There's no such thing as a careless electrician

View Lovegasoline's profile (online now)

Lovegasoline

82 posts in 519 days


#10 posted 09-12-2019 02:02 AM

Is it superior to solvent Polyurethane as regards:

-scratch resistance
-water resistance
-chemical and alcohol resistance (acidic foods, wine, beverages, etc)
-resistance to cleansers

???

I have temporary countertops (2 already installed in use) so hardening time isn’t critical … of course speedier full cure time is desirable but not at the expense of the above listed qualities.

View Aj2's profile

Aj2

2430 posts in 2278 days


#11 posted 09-12-2019 02:05 AM

Rich you must be in a good mood. Very patient.
I thought the Op comes across as pushy and demanding.

-- Aj

View Rich's profile

Rich

4823 posts in 1070 days


#12 posted 09-12-2019 02:09 AM


Is it superior to solvent Polyurethane as regards:

-scratch resistance
-water resistance
-chemical and alcohol resistance (acidic foods, wine, beverages, etc)
-resistance to cleansers

???

- Lovegasoline

Yes, yes, yes and yes. Here is a bit from the data sheet for the SW product:

Performance Tests:
Household Chemicals Test
Using ANSI-KCMA A161.1-2012 test procedures, panels were cured by air drying and allowed to age 10 days at ambient conditions before testing. Tests were conducted on self-sealed (2 coat) finished panels at 2.0 mils total DFT. Materials were washed off with clear water after 24 hours and allowed to recover for 10 days then the finish was examined and the following results noted:
Vinegar…................................................no effect
Lemon Juice…........................................no effect
Orange Juice….......................................no effect
Grape Juice….........................................no effect
Tomato Catsup …...................................no effect
Coffee @ 115° F ….................................no effect
Olive Oil …..............................................no effect
100 Proof Alcohol…................................no effect
Water & Detergent …..............................no effect
Mustard (1 hour) ....................................no effect
Cold Checks 20 cycles…............................. Pass
Edge Soak …............................................... Pass

-- There's no such thing as a careless electrician

View Lovegasoline's profile (online now)

Lovegasoline

82 posts in 519 days


#13 posted 09-12-2019 02:27 AM

Rich,
Have you used the Sherwin William Hi-Bild pre-cat? Would you use it for a bar top or high use tabletop?
If it’s water white what sort of stain do you use under it?

Btw I’m seeing this on the SDS:
Isobutylated Urea-Formaldehyde Polymer

View Rich's profile

Rich

4823 posts in 1070 days


#14 posted 09-12-2019 02:37 AM


Rich,
Have you used the Sherwin William Hi-Bild pre-cat? Would you use it for a bar top or high use tabletop?
If it s water white what sort of stain do you use under it?

Btw I m seeing this on the SDS:
Isobutylated Urea-Formaldehyde Polymer

- Lovegasoline

Send me a link. The SDS I’m looking at mentions no formaldehyde. The link is below. It’s not for the Hi-Bild, but their regular pre-cat. Just as durable, but lower solids.

https://www.sherwin-williams.com/document/SDS/en/035777709146/US/

-- There's no such thing as a careless electrician

View Lovegasoline's profile (online now)

Lovegasoline

82 posts in 519 days


#15 posted 09-12-2019 02:58 AM


Rich you must be in a good mood. Very patient.
I thought the Op comes across as pushy and demanding.

- Aj2

Hi Aj2,
I’m from NYC, lol.
I don’t think I’ve been pushy: is anyone here feeling pushed?

Demanding … umm …maybe … (?)

demanding | dəˈmandiNG |
adjective
(of a task) requiring much skill or effort: she has a busy and demanding job.
• (of a person) making others work hard or meet high standard.†

What’s the point of having a forum and sharing info if we’re not going to expect a high standard in the intercourse, from ourselves and others … and ask what questions arise in the process?
If one doesn’t have something to contribute or the inclination to post, then that’s perfectly fine with me (covers about 99.99% of the members regarding this thread).
If one has exhausted the quality or quantity of their contributions, that too is fine (some people drop out and others drop in, until it goes idle and perhaps unexpectedly revisited in the future … normal).
If members have the technical knowledge and/or experience and wish to share … that’s part of the core value of the forum. Anything that encourages or contributes to high standards is valuable.
Otherwise – if I’m undemanding – and don’t push for a quality answer I can always go to Home Depot and ask a clerk what finish I should use.

I’m grateful for all the replies and appreciative too for the criticism of being demanding.

I don’t ‘demand’ that anyone post up. Just to be clear, everyone is free to bail out of this thread whenever they wish, no demands are being made by me, no one is obligated to talk finishes here, there’s no pressure so don’t feel yourself being pushed (I am trying to stimulate the discourse however) ... if you are offended and feeling pushed about, please don’t. I don’t intend this in a pushy way … so don’t let me push you into feeling unpushed. This thread welcomes with open arms and solicitude those who feel pushed. I might even be able to push some folks if that’s their thing please request (some folks like an agnostic interchange).

† PS: keep an eye out for when I (re)post about sourcing hinges ; )

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