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Thread: How to make wipe-on Poly

  1. #1
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    How to make wipe-on Poly

    I need to use some wipe-on poly for a large project. Minwax makes some, but it is rather expensive for a relatively small can. Can't I make my own by just thinning some regular poly? If so, what do I use and at what ratio?

    Thanks...Jon

  2. #2
    At most, 50% mineral spirits, 50% undiluted poly. You can make it richer if you wish (heavier % of poly). I'm not a finishing expert; just recounting what's worked for me.

    IMHO, overdiluting is ok; it'll actually improve the flow and will just require more coats.

  3. #3
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    Jon,

    In the past when I used straight poly, I wasn't the least bit pleased with the results. Brush marks...other ornamentals....

    When I built my wife's oak sideboard, I used the homemade wipe-on poly that Shawn describes.....50% mineral spirits and 50% Minwax poly. Worked like a champ. Went down easy.....leveled itself quite well......dried quickly with few dust nibs.....

    Only catch is that because it's thin you'll probably have to use more coats for the same protection.....but it works well. I'll use it again.
    Ken

  4. #4
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    Let me add, that you can make any oil-based varnish, including "poly", a wipe on product with an approximately 50/50 mixture of the varnish and mineral spirits. (Some folks use VN&P Naptha for faster flash off) If this is for furniture, consider using a non-polyurethane varnish as your base. Clearer. Easier to rub out if you choose to. And just as durable. The only property that poly adds is abrasion resistance (it was designed for floors) and that's what sparks its negative features)

    Ken's correct about coating...typically three for one, give or take, depending on the look you wish to produce.
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  5. #5
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    Here is something that should help. A friend of mine put it together years ago and it has worked well for many.

    QUOTE

    There are a number of suggested application regimens that are totally subjective. The number of coats in a given day, the % of cut on various coats, which coat to sand after, when to use the blade and a whole host of other practices are all minor differences between finishers. There are some things that I consider sacred when applying a wipe-on finish.

    First, you can use any full strength oil based clear finish. Polyurethane varnish or non-poly varnish is fine.

    If you are making your own wipe-on the mix is scientific - thin. I suggest 50/50 with mineral spirits because it is easier to type than any other ratio and easy to remember. Some finish formulators have jumped on the bandwagon and you can now get "wipe on" finish pre-mixed. If you use a pre-mixed, thinning is generally not necessary. But making your own is cheaper and you know what's in it.

    The number of coats in a given day is not important. Important is to apply a wet coat with an applicator and merely get it on. Think of a 16 year old kid working as a busboy at Denny's you have sent over to wipe off a table. Sort of swirl the the material on like you would if you were applying a paste wax. Don't attempt straight strokes. The applicator should be wet but not soaked. The applicator can be a paper towel, half a T-shirt sleeve or that one sock left after a load of washing. Then leave it alone. The surface should not be glossy or wet looking. If you have missed a spot, ignore it - you will get it on the next coat. If you try and fix a missed spot you will leave a mark in the finish.

    Timing for a second coat involves the pinkie test. Touch the surface with your pinkie. If nothing comes off you are ready for another coat. If was tacky 5 minutes ago but not now, apply your next coat just as you applied the previous coat. Remember, you are wet wiping not flooding. After applying the second coat, let it fully dry for 48 hours. Using 320 paper and a sanding block ligthtly sand the surface flat. Now, begin applying more coats. Do not sand between coats unless you have allowed more than 24 hours to elapse since the prior coat. The number of coats is not critical - there is no critical or right number to apply. For those who need a rule, four more coats on non-critical surfaces or six more coats on surfaces that will get abraded seems to work.

    After your last coat has dried at least over night you will have boogers in the surface. You should not have marks in the surface because you ignored application flaws. You may have dust, lint and, if you live in Texas, bug legs. Use a utility knife blade at this point. Hold it between your thumb and forefinger, near the vertical, and gently scrape the surface. Gentle is the important word - no harder than you would scrape your face. If you start scraping aggressively you will leave small cut marks in the surface. After you have scraped to the baby butt stage gently abrade the surface with 320 dry paper or a gray ScotchBrite. Clean off the surface. Now, leave the area for two hours and change your clothes. Apply your last coat with a bit more care than the previous coats and walk away.

    An anal person is going to have a tough time with this process. Missed spots have to be ignored. Wet wipe, don't flood. Scraping to babies butt smooth means scraping no harder than scraping a babies butt. Ignoring any of these will leave marks that are tough to get out. Getting these marks out requires some aggressive sanding to flatten out the surface and starting over.

    Jim Kull

    END QUOTE

    Finally, It works better to use a gloss varnish for all coats except the last. The flattener's in semi-gloss and satin tend to rapidly fall out of suspension when the finish is highly thinned. If you want a non-gloss finish, use it only on the final coat or two and be sure to stir the material frequently or you will end up with cloudy streaks.
    Howie.........

  6. #6
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    To add to the above..

    Using gloss for all but the last also adds depth to the finish and is generally a good idea. The flatteners tend to obstruct the clarity of the finish when multiple coats are used.

    A Denny's busboy is the best description I have heard for wipe on.

    Joe
    For best results, try not to do anything stupid.

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  7. #7
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    After reading for hours I've decided the wipe-on 50/50 mix of poly and thinner described above is the right finish for a cabinet I'm making. It suites my (low) skill level (no runs wiping on). However, a buddy of mine swears that a better finish would be equal parts poly, thinner, and BLO. What does the blo add? Would anyone recommend this mix?

  8. #8
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    BLO adds some depth and grain pop to lots of woods and is a pretty common finish for a first step.

    I haven't been happy the couple times I have tried it in a finish and now if I use any it is on first, then top coated.

    I have found oil finishes bring out the grain enough to ignore BLO on most woods. Cherry being one exception.

    All wipe on finishes go on about the same if it is a varnish. (poly is a varnish) You will get a better easy finish by skipping the poly then trying to add to it.

    Joe
    For best results, try not to do anything stupid.

    Si vis pacem, para bellum - Vegetius De Rei Militari III (paraphrased)

    "So this is how liberty dies...with thunderous applause." - Padmé Amidala "Star Wars III: The Revenge of the Sith"

  9. #9
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    Thanks Joe, I've already applied a coat of BLO, I'll follow your suggestion that I leave it out of the mix for future coats.

    Sorry, but I didn't follow what you ment by the following statement ....

    Quote Originally Posted by Joe Chritz View Post

    All wipe on finishes go on about the same if it is a varnish. (poly is a varnish) You will get a better easy finish by skipping the poly then trying to add to it.

    Joe

  10. #10
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    What that means is the wiping on poly or wiping on something like waterlox or arm-r-seal all have the same difficulty and learning curve. The BLO is for looks and doesn't add anything to the actual finish. Instead of changing the look of a wipe on poly it is usually easier to start with something that already has that look.

    Some woods really come out with a coat of BLO. Maple and Cherry being two that do. I don't recall ever using it on oak but it certainly can't hurt. Just make sure it is dry before putting a final top coat on.

    Finishing is almost a black art it seems and there is a lot of misinformation out there. Lots coming from the manufacturers that target the do it yourself person. I stick to just a couple standard finish regimens to keep it simple.

    Joe
    For best results, try not to do anything stupid.

    Si vis pacem, para bellum - Vegetius De Rei Militari III (paraphrased)

    "So this is how liberty dies...with thunderous applause." - Padmé Amidala "Star Wars III: The Revenge of the Sith"

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