Wood table project from hell! (it's actually easy I just suck) Could use some help

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Forum topic by mattme posted 04-07-2015 05:46 PM 1583 views 1 time favorited 15 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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4 posts in 1205 days

04-07-2015 05:46 PM

Topic tags/keywords: question pine

I’ve got a simple pine table that I have stripped, sanded, applied a sanding sealer, sanded (lightly) and applied a polyurethane one twice now. When the table is stripped and sealed it looks almost perfect. My problem is the polyurethane stage…

What is the best way to apply a clear satin polyurethane to a table that will leave minimal brush marks? Regular soft brushes and foam brushes and it always looks horrible after the 2nd coat.

Thank you for any help you can provide.

Sanded and Sealed


15 replies so far

View Fred Hargis's profile

Fred Hargis

4999 posts in 2518 days

#1 posted 04-07-2015 05:53 PM

Assuming you mean oil based finish, have you tried the wipe on technique? It usually solves problems with brushing. To the question: usually thinning is the biggest thing you can do for varnish. The can will say “do not thin” which is legal BS to keep the VOC low. Thin away, start with 15% or so and see if it works, don’t be afraid to add more. If you’d like to try wiping varnish, thin it 50%. Then take a lint free cloth folded into a pad (I use those blue shop towels in the auto dept. at Walmart) dip into the varnish and wipe away. Be aware that it will take many more coats, but you can apply them more quickly. Now, if you’re using a waterborne finish (“polyurethane” isn’t very descriptive) skip everything I suggested.

-- Our village hasn't lost it's idiot, he was elected to congress.

View bbasiaga's profile


1234 posts in 2020 days

#2 posted 04-07-2015 05:54 PM

So the bottom picture is before sanding and sealing, the top picture is sanded and sealed, and you don’t have a picture of the poly with the brush marks? I’m just making sure I understand.

Try thinning the poly and applying it with a rag. Or go buy wipe on poly which is basically just pre-thinned. You’ll need an extra coat or two to get the same thickness, but I like working with the wipe on version much better. I think the wipe on stuff is thinned by 15% or something. Not sure though, hopefully someone will chime in.


-- Part of engineering is to know when to put your calculator down and pick up your tools.

View Ripthorn's profile


1458 posts in 3010 days

#3 posted 04-07-2015 05:55 PM

If you are having a lot of troubles with it leveling, use a thinner cut of the finish. You could buy wipe on poly for this, or just use some mineral spirits mixed into some regular poly. The extra thinner helps it level better, but leaves a thinner film and is more prone to runs, drips, and sags. Wipe on poly is great for a great many things, I use it on most non-instrument projects. I also really like shellac.

Edit: Also, light sanding with 320 between coats helps. I like to do a final rub down after the last coat with a brown paper sack.

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

View mattme's profile


4 posts in 1205 days

#4 posted 04-07-2015 06:06 PM

I have not tried any wipe on techniques. I have also not tried thinning the poly at all. I am using this typical clear satin poly:

The bottom picture is before I started and the top picture is after sealing. I apologize as I do not have photos of my polyurethane blunders as I was to pissed off at the time to snap photos. Both times I had problems with brush marks and on the 2nd time I had issues with leveling as well.

View BinghamtonEd's profile


2298 posts in 2394 days

#5 posted 04-07-2015 06:17 PM

I suggest wiping it on, like Ripthorn said.

I haven’t used the fast-drying Minwax poly, but I’ve thinned their regular oil-based poly and wiped it on. I find it gives way better results than brushing. Your coats are going to be a lot thinner, and you’ll need more. Once you wipe it on, don’t go back and try to toch it up if you think you missed a small spot, just get it with the next coat. I’m using Arm-R-Seal now and I find it a lot easier to use and better results than Minwax, and it’s wipe-able right out of the can/jug.

I usually will plan on 4-6 coats for low-to-medium duty items. I can usually do 2-3 coats in a day when it’s warm. I’ve never done a table with wipe-on, but you’re probably look at twice that. I sand with 320 in between coats. After the last coat I rub it out with paste wax on 0000 steel wool for a nice satin/semi-gloss sheen.

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

View runswithscissors's profile


2764 posts in 2050 days

#6 posted 04-08-2015 06:37 AM

I think this doesn’t address your problem, but in regards to the brush marks, I’ve found that using a cheap (HF) HVLP sprayer works extremely well for water based acrylic semi gloss. That’s the sprayer with its own blower, not the kind that uses a compressor.

As you spray, it looks like your getting a pebbled effect, but it always seems to perfectly self-level before it’s dry. Deft makes the stuff; it has a thin, milky appearance in the can, has a lot of solids in it when your stir it, and it sprays fine with no thinning. And it can be ready to re coat in an hour if you have reasonable temperatures. I like the quick drying aspect, but it’s the self leveling that I find most satisfying.

It does require a light sanding before re coating.

-- I admit to being an adrenaline junky; fortunately, I'm very easily frightened

View OSU55's profile


1699 posts in 2014 days

#7 posted 04-08-2015 03:58 PM

Not thinning the poly is the biggest issue. There’s a huge difference between out of the can and even 10%. I usually go ~20% for brushing, 50% for wiping. Try brushing with ~20% thinner, it builds the film much faster than wiping. My preferred bristle is golden taklon, a very fine bristle. Get the poly on the surface fairly quickly and relatively evenly (can use foam or china to get the finish on), the slow dry time gives you time to work it once it’s on the surface. Wipe the taklon brush off some and form a chiseled tip, and “tip off” the finish. Wipe the tip off between strokes. Foam brushes don’t tip off well. Remove nibs between coats with 600-800 sandpaper. Just a swipe or 2 will usually do it. Sandpaper cuts the imperfections better than scotchbrite or steel wool.

I use a dry brush technique as the finish dries, but it takes practice. Using a dry taklon brush, I look for brush marks and imperfections left in the finish after tipping off in a raking light, and draw the brush over them lightly. The fine taklon bristles and the leveling ability of solvent poly is how this works. The brush is wiped on a paper towel to keep it dry. The finish is worked continually until I don’t see issues. As I said, it takes practice but it does result in a very even finish that is much easier to flatten out for the finished product.

View SirIrb's profile


1239 posts in 1255 days

#8 posted 04-08-2015 04:00 PM

quart cup and spray it. I will never touch another brush.

-- Don't blame me, I voted for no one.

View JohnChung's profile


410 posts in 2099 days

#9 posted 04-08-2015 04:00 PM

For non-brush marks I generally spray. It is faster and more efficient. The coats are even.

View BroncoBrian's profile


536 posts in 1983 days

#10 posted 04-08-2015 04:08 PM

Spraying is the only way to sanely get this right. Fred was right about thinning which works. Also Ribthorn was right about sanding between coats. Most people skip this, not good. A good painter/finisher knows that you should sand every clear coat, even when sprayed, until the final.

I will get a spray gun. Tired of brushes ruining great wood projects.

Any suggestions on a great gun from the LJers?

-- I think foosball is a combination of soccer and shish kabobs.

View OSU55's profile


1699 posts in 2014 days

#11 posted 04-08-2015 09:54 PM

I agree spraying is better, but I don’t spray solvent poly, the overspray turns everything to sandpaper. I spray WB poly instead. As far as a gun, the better the gun the better the finish. I tried several lower and intermediate guns but wasn’t satisfied until I got one of these Not required for most solvent finishes, but the super atomization is great with waterborne stuff. This is a compressor based “conversion” HVLP gun. My 6 cfm compressor keeps up with it just fine. Others will have to comment on the all in one turbine setups.

View NewfieDan's profile


50 posts in 2673 days

#12 posted 04-08-2015 10:01 PM

I am doing something similar. I just built a coffee table for the wife. I am also using a Satin polyurethane. I like the wipe on poly for the same reasons listed above. I find it is less likely to run or drip, it’s easier to apply an even finish with no left over brush marks.

When it’s done I will take some photos and most likely add them here as part of my profile.

View bondogaposis's profile


4765 posts in 2376 days

#13 posted 04-08-2015 10:02 PM

Make a wiping varnish and rag it on.

-- Bondo Gaposis

View mattme's profile


4 posts in 1205 days

#14 posted 04-22-2015 05:14 PM

using the wipe on polly did the trick. Thank you all for the help!

View UpstateNYdude's profile


917 posts in 2007 days

#15 posted 04-22-2015 07:22 PM

I use wipe on poly and use the finest steel wool I can between coats, I believe its .0000 something like that. I usually end up doing about 6 coats but it comes out smooth as glass.

-- Nick, “I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it.” – Vincent Van Gogh

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