How many coats of finish?

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Forum topic by richgreer posted 04-23-2011 06:51 PM 6313 views 2 times favorited 8 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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4541 posts in 2495 days

04-23-2011 06:51 PM

My standard approach to finishing calls for 5 coats of wipe-on poly. I sometimes use other approaches, but this is my standard.

With respect to the 1st and 2nd coat, I finish everything, including areas that no one will ever see. For the 3rd coat I skip the areas that no one will every see but I include areas that will only get occasional looks . The 4th and 5th coat are limited to the focal points of the piece (e.g. the table top).

I lightly sand (400 grit) before applying coats 3, 4, and 5.

FYI – I like to use a 50/50 mixture of glossy and satin MinWax wipe-on poly. IMO, the glossy is too glossy and the satin is too dull. The 50/50 mix seems to be just right.

I deviate from this standard for 2 reasons. If I need to get it done fast (hate that), I will use a spray on shellack
because it dries so fast. I often buff the smaller pieces I make. If I am going to buff, I use a Danish Oil. I think Danish oil provides a better base for buffing waxes. I’ve experimented with lacquer, but have yet to find it preferable.

I’m curious about other LJs and their standard approach to finishing.

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

8 replies so far

View bhog's profile


2234 posts in 2111 days

#1 posted 04-23-2011 09:02 PM

I like to use minwax tung oil finish 3-4 coats followed by 3-4 coats of wipe on poly, of corse sanding /buffing in between coats.I like the finished look of the 2.

-- I don't drive a Prius.

View Cato's profile


693 posts in 2733 days

#2 posted 04-23-2011 09:07 PM

Rich, I have been playing with shellac flakes a lot recently since I had several walnut projects.

The amber shellac really does justice to the walnut, and then I have polished with paste wax and that seemed to turn out well.

I used shellac and 3 coats of spar urethane,sanded with 320 between coats, for a couple of outdoor porch tables, but have not tried the Minwax wipe on poly yet.

I have used the Watco Danish oil with good results but have heard some say that the Deft Danish oil yields a better looking finish but I have not tried that yet either.

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27251 posts in 3243 days

#3 posted 04-23-2011 09:13 PM

Rich, when I use poly 5 coats is usually in the ballpark for me. I will keep applying it until I get the build that I want on the finish. Usually I reach a point where I am satisfied with anywhere from 5 to 10 coats. As you said it really boils down to how much time I have got to spend on finishing (or until I get bored with it). :)

-- Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful- Joshua Marine

View cabs4less's profile


235 posts in 2183 days

#4 posted 04-23-2011 09:43 PM

If i spraying 2 coats of gemina laq and depending on the type of wood i might rag on a coat of BLO a couple days before.

by hand i do the same with wipe on poly or waterlox but i just use the gloss and then let cure a few days and buff it with a paper bag or white buuf pad and wax to satin sheen

-- As Best I Can

View Steven H's profile

Steven H

1117 posts in 2481 days

#5 posted 04-24-2011 02:27 AM

How are you applying it ? brush? Wipe on?

I learned fron a wood finisher he said that ( i think 4 coat is limit or 5) I need to check my notes.
If your applying it by brush DO NOT apply more than 4 coats. It becomes brittle and will crack.
400 grit is to high. Use a beat up 320 or 220 is fine.

ALWAYS use GLOSS as first coat.
If you use satin as first coat, if you look down it will look cloudy.

I usually apply 3 coats,

First coat is GLOSS
Second is Satin
Third is Satin.

View RogerBean's profile


1598 posts in 2374 days

#6 posted 04-24-2011 03:45 PM

I now use French polish on all my boxes. Super blonde shellac over Liberon Spirit Sanding Sealer. The pad is scaled down to fit the size of box work. It takes a bit of practice, but the resulting finish when fully filled and brought up to a mirror surface is difficult to describe. But it’s not for quick projects.

For most furniture pieces I use an approach much like Dan Mosheim describes in his blog (accessible thru his LJ home page). This is a layered finish using one or more water based dyes, followed by several coats of varnish (WaterLox is my all time favorite), then perhaps a glaze and a final wipe on of linseed or WaterLox for a satin smooth result.

I hardly ever use poly. It is a bit more wear resistant, but if damaged, a chip is very difficult to repair and may require a complete stripping and refinish. IMO the benefits are not worth the potential risk. I much prefer WaterLox as it is both forgiving and durable, though it does add a bit of warm color. I also seldom use oil finishes as the protection is very little, but they can look very nice on the right item.

As with all, preparation is everything. I’ve accustomed myself to the reality that hurrying the finish process is really a false economy. The surface prep is critical, and nothing looks worse than a coat or two of poly over a poorly sanded and filled surface. A fine finish can take as much or more time than building the item. But then, if one doesn’t really care what the finish looks like, then any process is just fine. Even in a furniture factory, about 40% of the labor is in the finishing process.

You probably already know how to do all these things, but this is how I generally finish my projects.

-- "Everybody makes mistakes. A craftsman always fixes them." (Monty Kennedy, "The Checkering and Carving of Gunstocks", 1952)

View Dark_Lightning's profile


2620 posts in 2530 days

#7 posted 04-24-2011 06:09 PM

Depends on what I’m finishing. I made a couple of totes, one for wood and one for my small cans of stain, putty, etc. I used some old Varathane, just to use it up. It took days to get good and dry, but the finish is nice.

Since I don’t like to brush, I spray both shellac and lacquer. I like both. Shellac is for inside stuff that has to have a low odor. I reframed and refinished a closet door for my mother, who had emphysema and couldn’t stand petroleum distillates. Dry in minutes, low odor, a win-win. But I use lacquer when I want a harder finish.

All are satin.

Number of coats? With spray, I can chase the finish around the item as it flashes, and add more. With practice, you can build the finish without sags or dry spots. I’d say three coats, but those have several layers, so I’m not sure how to really quantify that.

-- Random Orbital Nailer

View GMman's profile


3902 posts in 3118 days

#8 posted 04-24-2011 06:34 PM

I use 3 to4 coats except the top of a dresser, desk or table I go to 5 to 7, this is water base that is all I use.
You know that they have water base for floors.

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