Tips for wiping polyurethane on bookcase

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Forum topic by BinghamtonEd posted 05-29-2012 03:45 PM 6817 views 0 times favorited 12 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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2297 posts in 2334 days

05-29-2012 03:45 PM

I’m refinishing an old bookcase for my wife. Her grandfather made it out of red alder back in the early 40’s, and over the years it was abused by everything from markers, water stains, indentations from writing, etc. I’ve stripped everything, sanded, and dyed the piece. I plan on wiping on a 50/50 mix of MinWax poly and mineral spirits. I feel that doing several light coats this way will help prevent runs and unwanted buildup in corners (the bookcase is still assembled, minus the back, so I have to work around the inside corners).

Any tips/tricks, especially when dealing with inside corners where it may be difficult to go with the grain?

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

12 replies so far

View Tennessee's profile


2860 posts in 2479 days

#1 posted 05-29-2012 03:53 PM

My experience over the years with wiping clear finishes on assembled pieces with tight corners has been less than steller. I like you are cutting the mix, but it will dry slowly. The other issue is you probably will need a brush to dab in the corners.
Use a cloth that is smooth, not rough, and doesn’t hold much of your mix at a time.
Personally, I’d think about spraying it since you have the back off. Even with rattle can, you should be able to put down a thin wet coat of Minwax Poly pretty easy.

-- Tsunami Guitars and Custom Woodworking, Cleveland, TN

View Bill White's profile

Bill White

4902 posts in 3925 days

#2 posted 05-29-2012 04:03 PM

Why have ya got to use MinWax?
If ya use rattle cans, you’ll spend a fortune ‘cause it is mostly propellant and thinner.
I use a wiping poly gel from Old Masters. Hasn’t failed me yet.


View BinghamtonEd's profile


2297 posts in 2334 days

#3 posted 05-29-2012 05:08 PM

MinWax (and the other big box store brands) is all I have available locally and the wife really wants the bookshelf done this week to finish off the nursery.

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

View Loren's profile


10260 posts in 3612 days

#4 posted 05-29-2012 05:17 PM

Poly isn’t especially forgiving to apply and it won’t be cured in a week
and will probably smell up he room, if that matters to you.

If you do it right, brush marks won’t be a problem. Foam brushes
make it easier for some people. Don’t try to use a synthetic
bristle brush. Use natural or foam…. or thin it out and pad it
on like a wiping varnish. It takes a lot of coats to build it up
this way but the results are nice. You can mix poly or varnish
with oil and wipe that on, then as soon as it starts to get tacky,
vigorously wipe of the excess. Later coats can also be wet sanded
which sure gums up the paper but the result is nice.

View BinghamtonEd's profile


2297 posts in 2334 days

#5 posted 05-29-2012 05:34 PM

I did have good luck using a foam brush with polycrylic, I just don’t know how else to do a piece like this where it’s not possible to not have corners and vertical surfaces to coat.

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

View Fuzzy's profile


298 posts in 3953 days

#6 posted 05-29-2012 09:52 PM

#1 … If at all possible, use a better poly … Minwax just doesn’t have the feel of many other brands … if you have an ACE nearby, I’ve found even their house brand to be easier to work with than Minwax …

#2 … thin with VM&P Naptha … dries faster than mineral spirits …

#3 … keep a brush handy, wet it with finish, but keep it on the dry side by blotting it on a rag every so often … use it to pull the finish out of the corners as you go …

#4 … thin the first few coats of finish more to the tune of 70% Naptha / 30% poly, and apply it with a piece of old t-shirt material folded into a nice wad. For the first few coats, apply the finish liberally … let it soak in for a few minutes … then wipe back any excess. Let the pores absorb all they want during this early phase. After 3-4 coats of ultra-thin finish, start wiping on heavier coats and use the rag to smooth them out as you go.

Don’t be afraid about the 3-4 coats of ultra-thin taking too long to do … you should be able to do it them all in a day or so, depending on conditions. Nice thing about the ultra-thin … it drastically reduces surface tension, so it will flow into the pores, displacing any air trapped in them, so you don’t wind up with those pesky air bubbles trapped in your finish.

-- - dabbling in sarcasm is foolish … if you’re not proficient at it, you end up looking stupid … ... ...

View CharlieM1958's profile


16274 posts in 4183 days

#7 posted 05-29-2012 10:46 PM

I’m going to go against the grain here. It seems like most folks are making this harder than it really is. I use Minwax wipe-on poly a lot, and find it to be the easiest, most foolproof finish around.

If I’m doing a fairly large piece, like your bookcase, I’ll pour a puddle of finish out onto the surface and start spreading it out with a soft cloth, or even a blue shop paper towel. You want to wipe it out very thin, just trying to wet the surface….not leave a coat on like you would if you were brushing. Use a corner of your rag to get into the corners, and everything will be dry enough for another coat by the next day.

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View gfadvm's profile


14940 posts in 2654 days

#8 posted 05-30-2012 02:15 AM

+1 on Charlies comment but I mix my own wipe on and vary the amount of MS (but it will not be cured by next weekend and will still be giving off odors). Shellac, on the other hand will dry much faster but not as durable if subjected to much rough treatment.

-- " I'll try to be nicer, if you'll try to be smarter" gfadvm

View jumbojack's profile


1674 posts in 2588 days

#9 posted 05-30-2012 02:30 AM

You don’t say how big the case is, but I would use rattle can lacquer. Two cans should do the job. At about 7 bucks a can you are in $14. You can get most of the coats on in one day, leaving time for the odor to flash off. I like very thin coats with a light 320 grit sand between coats 4 and 5. Deft lacquer, most likely available at your box store in satin would be my choice. After the last coat is on let it sit for a full day and then hit it with some 600 grit and finish it off with a good paste wax. You will not be sorry with the result. The feel of a lacquered finish can be compared with the softness of your new babys bottom.

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

View Woodknack's profile


11479 posts in 2344 days

#10 posted 05-30-2012 08:45 AM

Ditto on the lacquer finish. Poly can be a real pain, never looks as good as shellac or lacquer and is harder to sand. I spray rattlecan lacquer and hit the first coat with a light 320 sanding to smooth it out then just start building. Lacquer dries very fast so you can recoat in 30 minutes or so. The only thing I use poly for are tabletops and stuff I don’t really care how it looks.

-- Rick M,

View Fuzzy's profile


298 posts in 3953 days

#11 posted 05-30-2012 01:15 PM

There is no reason that a GOOD poly, PROPERLY APPLIED can’t look as good as a lacquer/shellac + it is far more durable.
Since the original post was in regards to wipe on poly, it would appear the product has already been chosen based on the OP’s criteria. Lacquer is better for some projects … and for some people … this is probably not one of them.

-- - dabbling in sarcasm is foolish … if you’re not proficient at it, you end up looking stupid … ... ...

View BinghamtonEd's profile


2297 posts in 2334 days

#12 posted 05-30-2012 01:58 PM

I chose poly for durability. I do not have the equipment or space right now to spray (too many ongoing projects in the garage). So far, I’ve applied a washcoat of shellac followed by 2 applications of aniline dye. I plan on wiping the first coat later tonight.

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

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