What are the wipe on finishes?

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Forum topic by Purrmaster posted 602 days ago 983 views 1 time favorited 22 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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774 posts in 677 days

602 days ago

I’m having a hard time getting decent results with brushing on finish. Even the more forgiving finishes appear to be beyond my skill.

The only success I’ve had so far is using the Minwax wipe on poly (oil based). It’s pretty hard to screw that up as you just wet a rag with it and wipe it on.

I’m wondering if there are other finishes available that have that same level of simplicity? I.e. Are there are other wipe on finishes?

I know that oil finishes can be wiped on and I just picked up some tung oil for that purpose. But I’d like to try some wipe on finishes that are more protective than oil or shellac.

Could someone please tell me what wipe on finishes are available? Can anyone recommend any?


22 replies so far

View Sergio's profile


399 posts in 1276 days

#1 posted 602 days ago

I am looking forward for the answers… I am a complete ” finishing dummy”

-- - Greetings from Brazil - --

View bondogaposis's profile


2413 posts in 935 days

#2 posted 602 days ago

I love General Finishes “Seal a Cell” and “Arm R Seal”. I also like a home made finish of 1/3 BLO, 1/3 varnish, and 1/3 mineral spirits. I apply all of them w/ a rag and it goes on easy and looks great.

-- Bondo Gaposis

View jap's profile


1224 posts in 638 days

#3 posted 602 days ago

wiping varnish, it will have the same durability of varnish, just more coats.
you can make your own by thinning aprox 50/50 with mineral spirits

-- Joel

View walden's profile


404 posts in 606 days

#4 posted 602 days ago

I agree with Bondogaposis. I use General Finishes “Arm a Seal”. It comes in satin, semi gloss and high gloss. Easy to put on and quick to dry. It looks amazing when you’re done. The Seal a Cell he mentioned is something you apply as a first coat to porous woods to seal the wood cell. This helps give a more even finish when you apply the arm a seal.

For Sergiozal: There is a great book called Flexner on Finishing written by Bob Flexner. It answers about every question you could have on finishing. I hope this is helpful.

-- "When and if the day comes a lion is on my roof, I am hiring a realtor." ShaneA

View Cosmicsniper's profile


2199 posts in 1743 days

#5 posted 602 days ago

Anything oil-based can be used for wiping if it is thin enough. There’s nothing magic about wipe-on finishes in that regard. The oil in an oil-based finish is mostly transformed in the actual creation of the varnish, but enough is left behind to both a.) provide that warmth of color normally associated with oil finishes and b.) help to lubricate when wiping on.

“Wipe-on” branded varnishes are just thinned versions of the regular stuff. So, yeah, this is why many people will create their own blends by using an oil, regular poly, and solvent in some ratio. Add some oil-based dye stain and you can create custom colors.

-- jay,

View Ripthorn's profile


728 posts in 1569 days

#6 posted 602 days ago

Popular woodworking just had a newsletter article written by Flexner on wiping varnishes: what they are, how to make them, and how to use them. I’ll see if I can dig up a link.

Here we go: link

-- Brian T. - Exact science is not an exact science

View Fred Hargis's profile

Fred Hargis

1612 posts in 1077 days

#7 posted 602 days ago

Wiping varnish is widely considered to be “fool proof”. So are the danish oils…someone mentioned making your own wiping varnish (50/50 varnish and MS), and you can make you own danish oil by mixing 1/3 each BLO, varnish, and MS. The “tung oil” finish you bought is likely just one of these (wiping varnish, danish oil) and almost certainly doesn’t have a drop of tung oil in it. Because these finishes have varnish, they are more durable than just an oil finish, and you can build the wiping varnish (figure maybe 3 coats of wiping varnish to one coat of brushed) to a good depth. This may not work as well with the danish oil, the BLO in it after too many coats may get gummy….it’s best used as a thin finish.

-- I long for the days when Coke was a cola, and a joint was a bad place to be (Merle Haggard)

View Purrmaster's profile


774 posts in 677 days

#8 posted 601 days ago

All right, I feel kind of stupid asking this question but… what do you mean when you say varnish? Specifically, what kind of varnish? Do you mean polyurethane?

The reason I ask is that I thought varnish was a catch all term for a resin that hardens by curing. It appears I was wrong.

View RussellAP's profile


2935 posts in 871 days

#9 posted 601 days ago

Are you talking about ‘application’ or the results of it? Are you getting blotch? You can spray, brush, wipe or use a foam brush like I do. I think foam brushes are the best due to their ability to reabsorb areas where it’s too thick and spread it to areas with too little. Foam brushes are also easier to control in tight places.

-- A positive attitude will take you much further than positive thinking ever will.

View Purrmaster's profile


774 posts in 677 days

#10 posted 601 days ago

I suppose I’m talking about the results of the application. In the sense that I keep getting poor results with brush on finishes (poly, lacquer). This isn’t the fault of the finish, it’s my fault. Even with the Deft brushing lacquer, which is a pretty forgiving finish, I’m getting brush marks, streaks, etc. I’ve tried sanding it down smooth and have not had success. I won’t bore you with the details.

I’ve used foam brushes with oil based stain. I’ve been told NOT to use foam brushes on anything else.

I just tried doing some research and I still don’t know what a “varnish” is. Even after reading the extremely interesting Popular Woodworking article. Thanks for that link by the way.

I’m going to go to the bookstore to get Flexner’s book.

View Clint Searl's profile

Clint Searl

1365 posts in 945 days

#11 posted 601 days ago

Listen to Jay aka cosmicsniper. It’s simple. Ain’t no magic formulae.

-- Clint Searl.............We deserve what we tolerate

View Purrmaster's profile


774 posts in 677 days

#12 posted 601 days ago

The tung I bought is real tung oil. It’s 100% pure tung oil from Woodcraft. I’m planning on thinning it and maybe adding a little Japan drier.

The boiled linseed oil (Klean strip brand, it’s what I could find) is, I am certain, not pure linseed oil.

I just got home with Flexner’s Understanding Wood Finishing. I’m sure I’ll have more questions after reading that.

One more thing: Thanks to everyone who replied. I appreciate it.

View Cosmicsniper's profile


2199 posts in 1743 days

#13 posted 601 days ago

When you brush on varnish, you have to thin it. I know, the label says not to thin it…of course it says that…the environment police doesnt want us buying solvents. THIN it anyway…about 1/3rd mineral spirits or so. It’s just too syrupy straight out of the can so you need the thinner viscosity to allow the varnish to flow better off of the brush and to self-level…otherwise, you see the ridges when you brush. Brush only in one direction and only with the brush tip.

Varnish, I suppose, is anything with resin, which technically makes shellac a type of varnish. But who really knows? Just because it has resins doesn’t mean there isn’t a ton of variance in how a particular varnish reacts. Oil-based, water-borne, and shellac resins all behave in very different ways. Marketing and product labels just confuses.

I associate varnish as an oil and resin that has been boiled together, thus forming a polymer that hardens once oxidized. This means it “cures” in layers and requires some mechanical means of adhering the coats (which is why you lightly sand between coats).

-- jay,

View Purrmaster's profile


774 posts in 677 days

#14 posted 601 days ago

Thank you. Other than polyurethane, what are the options for wipe on varnishes?

I’m discovering the need to thin the Deft brushing lacquer. When thinned it seems much easier to put on.

Boiled linseed oil is a varnish, yes?

View Clint Searl's profile

Clint Searl

1365 posts in 945 days

#15 posted 601 days ago

BLO is only good for starting fires.

Read my blog for some other thoughts on finishing.

-- Clint Searl.............We deserve what we tolerate

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