For many years polyurethane has been the go to for wood finishers (term used very lightly). It’s easy to apply, can be cleaned up with mineral spirits, and just about any company that ever-made paint has a special formulation of it, so you can pick up a can anywhere. I think the dollar store might carry their own brand…
Most of us in the wood world have used it at one time or another, I used to hear people brag about how many coats they put on! But that was before I knew better.
Much of polyurethane’s reputation is well deserved. When wood is finished with Polyurethane it has a durable finish that is very resistant to water and stains. The finish is hard enough to resist most dents and dings but not so hard that it can’t ding and instead breaks and cracks. You can just about spray industrial strength cleaners on it with no damage (never do this to wood regardless of the finish).
But, as with everything there are tradeoffs. First and foremost, I hope you don’t enjoy the texture of wood and enjoy the texture of plastic. We are covering something natural, beautiful, majestic even with the same type of material we use to make SOLO Cups, Bottles and Toilet Seats! Why?!
Next trade off is color, now whether you are a fan of staining wood or you like to enjoy the natural beauty of your wood of choice, you most likely get the color you want prior to putting the sealer on the wood. You spend pain staking hours picking out the right boards or mixing the right colors together to get just the right color tones. Well with Poly you are now going to give all that up.
Now hold on Matthew I like the way it looks when I get finished with Polyurethane! You are really just tired and happy it’s over, but I will go with you on this. Maybe you do enjoy the look of something freshly finished in Polyurethane, I used to be the same way. Mostly because I didn’t know any better. You see I didn’t realize that all wood is not supposed to have that Amber Hue that turns yellow over time. It really sunk in with me when I built a Walnut Countertop for a client that really wanted polyurethane even against my urging. It was a beautiful piece of Walnut that looked great when finished, we did a satin sheen and it was great.
About two years later, I saw this top while working on another piece for the same client. It was awful, not to the client. They still loved it. The yellowing happened so slow that they never noticed it. To them it looked just as good as the day we put it in. To me, All I could see was a beautiful piece of WALNUT that now has and Amber Yellow tone that words cannot fully describe.
Trade off number three is Repairability, (maybe I made this word up because my text editor doesn’t like it) Definition- the ability to repair, easily, simply and quickly. Repairing something finish with poly is not easy, simple or quick. I know people that have been finishing wood for years that have to strip off poly to repair it. That means removing all the finish, sanding smooth again, Coat 1, Sand (White Dust), Coat 2, Sand(White Dust),Coat 3 (I think this will be it), Inspect (Shoot! A fly landed in the middle), Sand (White Dust), Coat 4 (Got it that time), Inspect (Dang, It’s rough, must have not got all the dust removed within a 25 mile radius), Sand (White Dust), Coat 5 (I’m sure this is it), Inspect (Okay, I’m sick of this “Air Bubbles in the Finish”) and on and on and on. (This is what really happened to all those guys bragging about how many coats of poly they had on there)
There are more tradeoffs, but none in which I care to delve off into today, I’m tired after doing that poly repair. Flashbacks you know. My point to all this is, there is a better way. Wood Finishes that give you protection from, water, stains and dirt. Wood finishes that penetrate the wood to seal it from the inside. Wood finishes that do not change the color of the wood but let wood age naturally. Finishes that never chip, crack, blister or peal. Wood finishes that require very little maintenance and that water ring you are stressing about or the big scratch on your table can be repaired, in a couple of hours by any one with the ability to follow directions. Wood finishes that do not needed to be sanded in between coats.
My personal favorite is Hard Wax Oil Finishes. Tongue Oil is a very distant second for me (mainly because it changes the color and often needs polyurethane to stabilize it). I will dive much deeper into HWO finishes in my next post but you can check out OSMO POLYX the original Hard Wax Oil and see what you have been missing in the world of wood finishes.