Protect Your Piece
There are several choices in this category. There are clear and colored waxes. You can also make your own by mixing a bit of paint in your clear wax to make a unique wax any color to match your vision.
There are also different types of wax - natural and chemical. Be sure to read the ingredients before committing to buying them if you are concerned about VOC and odor.
Though the directions say on most to re-apply every 6 months, many choose not to reapply and are happy with the results.
Wax is not recommended for: Kitchen cupboards, table tops or outdoor pieces. Heat and oils will affect wax finishes, so most suggest poly for those areas.
- Apply a small amount of wax with a lint free cloth, t-shirt or waxing brush. It's best to put a bit of wax on a paper plate and grab your wax from there rather than taking it straight out of the can.
- Work in small sections in a circular motion to sort of "scrub" the wax into the paint. After application, sweep your brush across with the grain to smooth it out and remove any stray bristles.
- Remove the excess wax after its applied by wiping it off with a clean lint free cloth. Be sure not to apply too much because it will be difficult to get the excess off.
- Let it sit and dry over night or at least a few hours before you go on to the next step.
- (Optional extra step) Take steel wool and gently rub the waxed areas to even out the wax so it looks even across the whole piece.
- Buff with a polishing cloth (a microfiber or synthetic wool pad works well) if you want more of a sheen.
- Let it cure.
TIPS: If using a brush to apply your wax, you can use odorless mineral spirits to dissolve the wax in your brush if the wax product directions suggest something other than soap and water. Read the label on your wax container. Let your brush sit it in for a few hours and then clean it out with warm soapy water.
Some waxes can be cleaned out of brushes using mild soap and water. I use Blue Dawn and very warm water.
Before using a color wax, apply clear first to give you more work-ability. Be sure to buff (not to a shine, but rather to make sure it's just a light coat) the clear before adding a color. You can apply wax over poly if you desire a waxy sheen.
When waxing hard to get to details like the video below, I have found a regular brush works better. BUT, when waxing any flat or rounded surfaces, I like to use the rounded flat or nearly flat, slightly oval brushes.
Water-Based Poly/Varnish - This can strike fear in the hearts of many flippers because of its temperamental behavior.
- If you put it on too thick, it can dry milky.
- It is made to dry quickly and if you put it on too slowly, you can see drag where you overlapped your passes.
- Technique matters. Humidity and temperature matters. Application matters.
There are many tools you can choose from to apply poly and there are many brands you can use.
My preferred method for hand application:
- Use a detailer's sponge: Get it wet and squeeze out so it's just a little damp.
- Pour your poly into a paper or styrofoam plate and let your sponge rest in the poly for a minute to soak up just a bit. Don't dip your sponge right in the can because of possible contamination.
- Swipe right to left in a straight even pass with the grain.
- When doing the next pass, overlap the first pass just a little bit to smooth out any ridge. Do not go back and fix any misses. You will avoid drag and you can get it on your next coat.
- Carefully coat your edges being mindful of drips and any ridge you may create on the top by pressing too hard.
- Check for drips and ridges.
- After it is dry, lightly sand with 400 grit or higher to take off any nubbins.
- Wipe down and re-coat.
Oil Based Polyurethane - Same method but realize whatever you use to apply will need to be of a material that can be cleaned out with chemicals or thrown away. My favorite application method on small pieces is a folded up t'shirt. Easy to use and then just throw away. My favorite brand is General Finishes Wipe on Poly - it's a gel and easy to work with. A lesser priced product that works well is Minwax wipe on poly I like the gloss. I had trouble with streaking when I used the matte.
The video below on the left shows how I used a detailer's sponge to apply Minwax Crystal Clear polycrylic. The one on the right shows how I used the detailer's sponge to apply CrystaLac's water-based polyurethane, matte.
Other application tools recommended:
- Terry cloth covered sponge typically used for staining holds the poly well and is a smooth application. Be sure to buy high quality staining sponges and bang the lint off before using. Use this damp also.
- Cover your hand first with a nitrile glove, then with a nylon dress sock, and cover both with panty hose. Swipe on by hand.
- Cover a paint pad with panty hose.
- Spray - either by spray can or paint sprayer (see video below)
- Use water based polycrylic on white and light colors. If you are concerned about bleed through (you should have already prepped trouble pieces with a shellac or oil based primer), one option is to mix a small amount of your paint (10-15%) in your first coat of poly. This technique layers additional coats of color over your piece as well as providing the protection of a topcoat. If you prefer not to measure, just add enough paint until you can see a bit of the hue in the topcoat. This method works with brush or a spray gun.
- You can mix High Performance topcoats to adjust sheen. For example, you can mix HP Flat and HP Gloss to obtain a different sheen. But do not mix the flat out flat with any of the High Performance Top Coats - they are not compatible.
- Humidity makes a difference. When my house is dry through the winter, I put a pot of water on the stove to put water in the air. You have to work quicker when working on dry, hot days because it dries quickly.
- Adding General Finishes Extender helps increase open time.
- Don't topcoat when you have people or pets walking around, especially if you are applying an oil based topcoat - they stir up dust and fuzzies as well as hair that can stick to your finish as it dries. This is especially true when using oil based varnishes.
- You can apply water-based poly over oil-based if you are sure the oil-based topcoat is completely dry - wait at least 72 hours, or longer if it is humid. Oil-based poly can be applied over water-based poly after the water-based poly is completely dry.
- If the finish feels cool to the touch, its not ready for another coat (not dry enough). When you can sand it to a dry powder, it is ready for the next coat. Dry times will be longer if it is raining, cold, or humid. When in doubt, waiting longer is always better.
- Apply a thin layer of topcoat before glazing.
- Wrap shrink wrap around the can when done to keep the can air tight.
- For a great article on white finishes, topcoats & possible yellowing, check out this one by Christine Adams: A Tutorial On Water Based Top Coats Yellowing Over Bright White Paint
Spraying Water-based Poly/Varnish Using a Paint Sprayer
Water-based topcoats are usually thin enough to spray through a paint sprayer without thinning, but if it needs to be thinned, just use the viscosity cup to measure by timing how quickly it drains out of the cup in the same way you would if you were spraying paint.
- Pour poly in the container. Make sure the feed tube is pointed in the right direction.
- Assemble and practice spray pattern on a piece of cardboard before spraying your piece.
- Start off the piece, spray one full length and spray off the other side before doing another swipe.
- Apply a thin coat.
- Let dry at least two hours before re-coating (read instruction on the can). Lightly sand with 400 grit or higher to remove dust or fuzz and wipe down with a damp cloth.
- Re-coat as many times as needed.
- Clean out your sprayer well by spraying warm soapy water through the sprayer. Clean all the parts.
There are many to choose from and highly recommended by many. My go-to is Hope's 100% Tung Oil for when I want an oil as a finish on my Old Fashioned Milk Paint.
- Once paint is completely dry, wipe the tung oil on with a brush or rag, wait an hour and wipe off whatever didn't soak in.
- Wait 12 hours and reapply another coat.
- Repeat #1.
- I apply 3 coats on legs and sides, 6 on tops.
To the right you can see the satin finish created by the tung oil on my "Pepper" table >>>
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- Alma Gluck