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Thread: Wipe-On Poly SATIN technique to avoid swirls?

  1. #1
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    Question Wipe-On Poly SATIN technique to avoid swirls?

    Hi all. I have been using wipe-on poly for years with very favorable results. But one problem which I have yet to figure out is how to avoid getting swirl marks when using the satin...

    I work with a lot of walnut. I typically build up a nice film with gloss - usually 6-10 coats depending on the piece. I like using one final coat of satin to take the sheen down. But I inevitably end up with visible swirl marks when I look into reflected light. I've used old t-shirts but have more recently begun using the blue shop towels which I prefer. I've tried very thin coats as well as loading up the towel for a thicker coat. I've tried using very little pressure. I've even tried thinning the wipe-on slightly more to get better flow (is this not recommended?). I apply fairly quickly and very carefully. No matter what I try I almost always get some degree of swirl marks.

    A second coat seems to help even it out a little but I don't want to flatten the sheen too much. I put the finish in a glass jar and stir thoroughly before and during application. Conditions are ideal - good ventilation, 70 deg, very low humidity (Colorado).

    Any suggestions on how to avoid this? Any advice would be much appreciated!
    Last edited by Bennett Ostroff; 02-17-2017 at 12:54 PM.

  2. #2
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    With a wipe on finish, the sheen should depend on the sheen formulated in the varnish, not whether you apply it thinly or with only one coat. If the sheen would be too dull with the finish out of the can, you can change the sheen by mixing the satin finish with gloss until you get the right degree of shine. It's OK to thin oil based finish if it improves the results. Also remember that with satin finish you must CONTINUALLY stir the material so that the flatting agent doesn't settle out.

  3. #3
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    I do stir the varnish a good bit before each time I dip my rag in. Any idea why I'm getting the visible swirls and what the solution would be?

  4. #4
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    Lack of stirring isn't the issue; never has been for me anyway. I get swirl marks when I apply satin or even gloss finishes with the buss boy technique often advocated. Every time I've tried to apply it in a circular or random motion, like the buss boy cleaning a table, I get them. They only way I can avoid them is to wipe the finish on in a straight line, with the grain.

    FWIW, I've never applied 8 - 10 coats of a wiping varnish. Five or six has always been plenty, 3 or 4 is more typical. Maybe you are applying the coats too thin? You need to apply it thick enough for it to flow out. Also, I've never been happy with only one coat of satin over gloss. It's always taken me at least 2 coats to get a uniform satin sheen with no thin spots. For that reason, most of the time when I want satin I use satin for all 3 or 4 coats.

    John

  5. #5
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    Great advice John, thanks. I will try wiping in straight lines with the grain and doing 2+ coats of the satin.

  6. #6
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    I apply wiping varnish in all directions but then I do a "sweep" wipe with the grain at the last. That usually works for me.

  7. #7
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    Art is right. Apply with any circular or figure 8 motion you like but finish using long strokes with the grain. This is the way with any hand rubbed coating. Across the grain pushes finish into the grain, with the grain tidies up. Cheers

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Wayne Lomman View Post
    Art is right. Apply with any circular or figure 8 motion you like but finish using long strokes with the grain. This is the way with any hand rubbed coating. Across the grain pushes finish into the grain, with the grain tidies up. Cheers
    With several wipe on varnishes I have used you don't have time to go back over it, or you will leave streaks for sure. Arm-R-Seal, in particular, has this issue. You get one chance to wipe it on and after two or three swipes it has already started to set up. So if you are applying it with a circular motion those swirls will remain even if you try to go back over it with the grain. This has happened to me Summer and Winter so it's not just a problem when the temp. is high and RH is low.

    John

  9. #9
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    If I get down near the end of a can of wipe-on, I'm more likely to see streaks in the finish. I think the solvent is evaporating from the can while I have it open applying finish. Adding some mineral spirits restores the wet finish's ability to flow out, and reduces the streaking.

  10. #10
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    Just thought I'd check back in case anybody else had some advice on how to eliminate streaks with the satin wipe-on poly. Using blue shop towels and mixing the poly well. I tried a semi-gloss mix to see if that would make the streaks less pronounced. Tried long straight strokes with the grain instead of bus boy style. It seems that with each new wipe-on stroke I'm wiping off the edge of the previous stroke as I overlap slightly. So those overlapped sections end up a bit more glossy. That's my theory. I even tried thinning it further but same result.

    The streaks are only visible when looking directly into reflected light. In other light it looks perfect. Maybe I'm overestimating how often people stare into a table's reflection looking for imperfections? But it still drives me nuts and I have to face it with most of my projects.

    First pic shows streaks at the far end. Second pic is to show that it looks fine otherwise.

    IMG_3414-2.jpg
    IMG_3416.jpg
    Attached Images Attached Images

  11. #11
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    2 things. Streaks are always more likely in a satin finish unless sprayed on. The flattening base floats to the top as the coating cures and any disturbance of the process will show. I never hand rub a satin finish.
    The other thing is that it is no crime to have the odd rubber mark in a hand rubbed surface. In fact, I used to deliberately leave faint swirls that anyone well informed could find as proof that the piece was actually hand polished. Cheers

  12. #12
    That table top looks awesome to me. If you just can't live with it I'll be happy to take it.

  13. #13
    Quote Originally Posted by Greg Parrish View Post
    That table top looks awesome to me. If you just can't live with it I'll be happy to take it.
    +1. Gorgeous!

  14. #14
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    For anyone interested, I've been experimenting and have completely solved this issue. I mixed equal parts w/o poly gloss and satin to make a semi-gloss and have gotten zero streaking or swirls with about a dozen applications. I usually to the last two coats w/ the semi-gloss and I actually prefer the appearance to straight satin anyway.

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