I was excited to try this stuff when I first saw it on the internet. My reasons? Well… since moving my shop to our home, I can no longer use “stinky” finishes, plus, I really like the smoothness of wipe-on finishes, and I especially like the look of clear water-based finishes on unstained wood–so this product seemed perfect for me. I searched for it at my local home and hardware store and I was surprised to find that no one carried it. I checked with Minwax and they told me it was only sold retail in California. That’s because of the state’s VOC emission limit requirements. But not to worry, they quickly added that it could be mail ordered. So that’s what I did and my testing began!
Following the application directions, I tested on both small and large pieces of wood and I made some 90-degree corner samples to test the finish, since my experience tells me I need to know how to apply a new finish to an inside corner. When I was done, I concluded the finish’s pros were: Very little odor, no concerns of spontaneous combustion, fast drying, recoat in 2 to 3 hours, water cleanup, and the resulting finish has a very delicate satin smooth appearance with great water resistance and durability.
OK, now for the downsides: It dries very fast (yes, this is good and bad), so you must get a coat on quickly, thin and even. That can be challenging, as your surfaces get larger and/or more complex. It raises the wood grain, which is common with water-based finishes, but that is manageable and lessens as you add successive coats of finish. And finally, achieving success requires A LOT of practice. In other words, there’s a large learning curve, so practice on scrap wood, and start by applying it to smaller flat surfaced projects. Always disassemble your project as much as possible before applying any finish. A good rule to follow is to never commit an unfamiliar finish to your project. That is a recipe for disaster. With all of that said, the results are well worth the effort. This stuff looks great when applied right and a finish can be built and completed much faster than with oil-based finishes, which typically have a longer dry time between coats.
Tools you’ll need:
Application: Work light, foam brush, 12″ x 12″ lint free rag, finishing gloves, squirt bottle, small plastic container.
An orbital sander with a 220 grit disc, and 220 and 320 grit sandpaper for raised grain, a chisel and 180 grit hard sanding block for runs, a fine grit sanding sponge and maroon Scotch-Brite pad for smoothing.
Final Touch Ups:
Gray and white Scotch-Brite pads and automobile polishing compound.
After extensive testing and practice, it was time for me to make the leap and finish two medicine cabinets I had just built. Doing so gave me a chance to learn even more. Here are the finishing steps and techniques I found worked best for me: I applied the first coat using a foam brush. That allowed me to go quickly and apply a relatively even thin coat. I was very careful on the inside corners to make sure no finish pooled there and so minimal finish was applied to the tangent surface. Much care needs to be taken when applying the finish on and near edges. THIN is the key. In fact, you can build thin coats on top of thin coats as soon as the first coat is dry. I found that method much more successful than trying to smooth out a thick coat. I would, at times, apply the finish to “sensitive” areas, stop, go work on another piece, then come back and finish the broader surface between the already finished areas. If the overlays are very thin, they hardly show. Also, excessive wiping causes more problems than dealing with a dried run, but you can wipe off a wet run once the surrounding finish has flashed over (first stage of dry). Keep that in mind.
After a few hours, the first coat was dry, very rough, and ready to smooth. I gave it a quick once over with an orbital sander and a 220-grit disc. I removed any runs with a chisel and 180-grit hard sanding block. I continued sanding by hand with 220-grit sandpaper. Next, I smoothed the finish with a fine grit sanding sponge and then a maroon (fine grit) Scotch-Brite pad. Then I applied the second coat, again using the foam brush.
The dried second coat was much smoother than the first. I sanded it more gently by hand, using 320 sandpaper and then the maroon Scotch-Brite pad. I made sure all imperfections were removed since I was preparing to apply the final coat. I applied the third coat using a 12″ x 12″ lint free rag. I saturated the rag with finish and wrung out the excess. I washed my gloves because I learned earlier that dried finish on my gloves would flake off and land in the wet finish. Not good! I kept the rag loaded evenly with finish by squirting more finish on it often. I third coated the inside corners first, let them dry, and then I applied the third coat very carefully to the rest using long with-the-grain strokes.
Even with all the care I took applying the finish, there still was a bit of unevenness on my rather complex door frames (see the photo). I smoothed problem areas gently with a gray (ultra fine) Scotch-Brite pad, then brought the sheen up with polishing compound, and then back down again with a white (light duty) Scotch-Brite pad.
Photos By Author
Scotch-Brite Pads and Sanding Sponges