Professionals and Amateurs Together

Water Based Finishes


Is it possible to get good results with a water based clear finish? If so, how? The quick drying and low oder benefits sound good, but how can you get smooth results? – Peter James


Bruce Hamilton replies: I don’t have much experience with waterborne finishing materials but they have come a long way since they were introduced maybe twenty years ago. Andy Charron, who was a presenter at the recent Wood Finishing Symposium and a member of the Guild, wrote an excellent book on waterborne finishes in 1998 called Water-Based Finishes, ISBN 1-56158-236-0. I think it is a great place to start for anyone contemplating using waterborne finishes.

I recently had an occasion to use a waterborne finishing material when repairing the finish on a white, antiqued table. I needed a finish that was water clear and would not turn yellow. I called my local Sherwin Williams store and they had several products available. I chose their Wood Classics Satin Interior Polyurethane Varnish.

I followed the instructions on the can. This material sprayed very well but it can be brushed or padded on too. It dried moderately fast with a uniform sheen. Drying times are not as fast as regular furniture lacquer and will vary depending on the humidity in the air. I suggest that you take the same precautions regarding dust as you would with any varnish. It will raise the wood grain when applied to unfinished wood. You have to follow the same steps as you would with a water stain by lightly wetting the wood to raise the grain, letting it dry and then sanding it lightly on a slight diagonal to cut the raised fibers off.

If you spray waterborne finishes, you must use a respirator so as not to breath the fumes. The material may not be flammable but it is still toxic to breath. As always, experiment on some scrap wood first.

Tags: Finishing