Picking a finish

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Forum topic by pariswoodworking posted 08-07-2014 09:31 PM 1457 views 1 time favorited 12 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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389 posts in 2786 days

08-07-2014 09:31 PM

For awhile now, I’ve used polyurethane, and I’m pretty much fed up with it. I have a hard time just getting a decent coat of it on small projects, no matter how well I prep. It’s like it can attract dust across a room. So what else could I use? I prefer a semi gloss or a high gloss finish on most of my project, and most of my projects are pretty small and do not work well with brush on finishes. I like to use a hard finish since the stuff I make usually see a lot of day to day use. Would automotive clear coat work? How durable would it be? How about clear powder coat? Lacquer tends to be too soft, and I haven’t had much luck with spar urethane.

How about this stuff?

-- Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former. -- Albert Einstein

12 replies so far

View JohnDi's profile


67 posts in 1735 days

#1 posted 08-07-2014 09:40 PM

Never had a bad result with Arm-R-Seal.

I use it for everything. Wipes on smooth, easy to build a finish.

View bobasaurus's profile


3563 posts in 3485 days

#2 posted 08-07-2014 10:51 PM

I’m partial to waterlox original for semi/high gloss. Natural once the solvents evaporate, waterproof, heat resistant, and long open/wet time to prevent streaking while applying.

-- Allen, Colorado (Instagram @bobasaurus_woodworking)

View jumbojack's profile


1685 posts in 2925 days

#3 posted 08-08-2014 05:11 AM

Lacquer. Rattle can is great for small.projects. With decent weather you can get eight or more coats in a day.

-- Made in America, with American made tools....Shopsmith

View TheWoodenOyster's profile


1317 posts in 2236 days

#4 posted 08-08-2014 11:34 AM

Shellac dries quickly as well, so less time for dust nibs to settle in. Just don’t spill your nightcap on it.

-- The Wood Is Your Oyster

View Fred Hargis's profile

Fred Hargis

5381 posts in 2794 days

#5 posted 08-08-2014 12:27 PM

My suggestion would be two fold: 1) use a varnish that’s not urethane and 2) try the wiping technique to apply it. The only 2 non urethane varnishes I can get are Sherwin Williams Fast Dry Oil Varnish (alkyd resin/linseed oil formula) and P&L 38 (alkyd resin/soya oil formula). Waterlox is also non-urethane (phenolic resin) and the Original is a wiping varnish in the can I think. Anyway, you can do this with a urethane as well if you like them….but thin it 50% (+/-) with MS and apply with one of those blue paper shop towels that are sold almost everywhere in the auto section. See how well that works for you before you give up on varnish. I don’t poo-poo any of the others, but for durability it’s hard to beat varnish. Bear in mind that wiping varnish is ma much thinner coat, so figure 3 or so coats of wipe on equals one coat brushed on (roughly), and you can apply it in sets of 2-3 coats an hour or so apart, let dry overnight and repeat.

-- Our village hasn't lost it's idiot, he was elected to congress.

View Roger's profile


20979 posts in 3105 days

#6 posted 08-10-2014 12:19 PM

Very interesting

-- Roger from KY. Work/Play/Travel Safe. Keep your dust collector fed. [email protected]

View Chad1172's profile


6 posts in 1892 days

#7 posted 08-11-2014 02:32 PM

You can always take a run-of-the-mill poly and dilute it 50% with mineral spirits…creates a wiping varnish that is a lot easier to apply than brushing it (and gives your twice as much product as one can of poly alone). General Finishes Arm-R-Seal is basically a wiping varnish…. Take three or four strips of t-shirt material and fold them over until you have a nice “pad” that you can grip in your fist (think of a boxing glove). I always grip the pad in a “fist” rather than having my hand open…otherwise the pressure from my fingers will imprint themselves into the finish…. wipe it on in broad strokes, making sure that you overlap the previous stroke to keep a wet edge. I also pre-wet my pad with some mineral spirits prior to dipping into the wiping varnish….I find that it helps the varnish flow better from my pad. Once I am done with that coat, I immediately walk out of the shop to stir up as little dust as possible…. Unfortunately, unless you work in a clean room often associated with computer chip manufacturing, dust will always be an issue…

View BinghamtonEd's profile


2298 posts in 2670 days

#8 posted 08-11-2014 03:57 PM

I almost always use Arm-R-Seal these days. I also wipe it on. I use a blue shop paper towel folded into a small square, and wipe with that. Sand with 400 after 2 coats, repeat. Final coats gets buffed out with paste wax and 0000 steel wool. Never had any problems and it leaves a nice satin to semi-gloss finish, depending on the number of coats and how much it is buffed out at the end.

-- - The mightiest oak in the forest is just a little nut that held its ground.

View Redoak49's profile


3844 posts in 2289 days

#9 posted 08-11-2014 04:40 PM

I think that the answer is in two parts.

First, no matter what you are using, you need to minimize/eleiminate the dust. I do finishing in my shop and there is dust on stuff. What I do is to get everything ready to finish and then leave for awhile to let the dust settle down. Then when I put the finish on, I do a quick wipe with a rag with some diluted poly to get all the dust off and then finish with a foam type brush and poly. It sounds like you have too much dust blowing around in the area.

The second is to get a finish which dries quickly and gives the dust less time to settle and stick. The rattle can lacquer will do that.

View pintodeluxe's profile


5883 posts in 3114 days

#10 posted 08-11-2014 04:59 PM

Wipe on finishes can be problematic if you plan to stain your projects. The topcoat application can lift off stain in areas, leading to an uneven appearance.
If you are finishing a small, unstained project, a wipe on finish would be ideal.
Since I usually stain my furniture, I spray a lacquer topcoat. It gives predictable results without brush marks or many dust nibs. Lately I have been using Rudd brand lacquer, but I have also had good results with Sherwin Williams, Valspar, and Magnalac.
Thin 10-15% with lacquer thinner, and spray with a gravity feed gun. Two coats is all it takes.

-- Willie, Washington "If You Choose Not To Decide, You Still Have Made a Choice" - Rush

View shampeon's profile


1900 posts in 2484 days

#11 posted 08-11-2014 05:20 PM

I’ve used a spray bottle with water to mist down the area a little bit before spraying or finishing. I hear that’s what auto body shops do before spraying paint.

-- ian | "You can't stop what's coming. It ain't all waiting on you. That's vanity."

View CharlesA's profile


3380 posts in 2098 days

#12 posted 08-11-2014 05:37 PM

You have lots of good ideas here. One more: I had sworn off poly for the reasons you mentioned until I tried arm-r-seal. It’s a completely different animal. I used to HATE poly.

-- "Man is the only animal which devours his own, for I can apply no milder term to the general prey of the rich on the poor." ~Thomas Jefferson

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