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Thread: Water based or Oil based

  1. #1

    Water based or Oil based

    I am just starting to finish a large TV cabinet i built for a cousin. I just applied the stain this evening (minwax golden oak). What do you guys recommend I use for my subsequent coats? I have used the minwax polycrylic over the stain in the recent past but haven't been completely happy. Should i try an oil based finish instead? I would prefer to hand apply the finish to this project and not have to setup my sprayer for a lacquer. Any suggestions would be appreciated!

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2003
    Southport, NC
    What have you been unhappy about with the Minwax?

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    Simi Valley, Ca

    It's a bit late in the game to be deciding on the clear coat. I'm assuming that you have done no finish samples, and so have no way of knowing what the final color will be. I'm also not familiar with the minwax golden oak, but it sounds like it must have quite a bit of yellow to it, so an oil based finish will probably be OK.

    What you could do is seal the whole thing with de waxed shellac. That will prevent your stain from bleeding into your top coat. You can use flakes, or get a can of Zinzers, dilute it to a one pound cut (proportions are on the can), pour it into a glass jar, and let it sit for a few days. The wax will separate out and you will see it at the bottom of the jar. The clear liquid on top is de waxed, and can be carefully poured off to use. I would just wipe it on in one or two coats.

    Do you want to brush or wipe on your top coat? I have never had great results brushung finishes, but that is just me. I know it can be done, I'm just not good at it. I have been using a mixture of equal parts of tung oil, spar varnish, and turpentine, Just wipe it on, then wipe it off, being carefull to get into the corners when wiping off. Wait 8 hours then lightly sand with 400g and repeat until you get the build you want. This takes several coats and a bit of time, but is mostly idiot proof. That's why I like it. This finish will take quite a bit of abuse and hold up well.

    Good luck,


  4. #4
    The minwax stains are oil-based. You only need to use dewaxed shellac if yr going to use a waterbased topcoat.

    In general the oil based tops provide some ambery warmth. A blonde or amber shellac coat between the stain and a waterbased top will also mimic that warmth.

    In general people use waterbased tops bkz they believe it's better for the environment, or easier to clean up, or safer to breathe or all three.

    If you are going to use a shellac middle coat, and want something conveniently available and cheap, then I'd use the Zinsser aerosol shellac or Zinsser Sealcoat. Both are blonde and dewaxed. A lot of folks report having successfully decanted the dewaxed portion of Bullseye from it's waxxy base, but I am not one of those. It's too much work and you might find yrself waiting for a long time for it to separate.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Sep 2006
    Las Cruces, NM
    This thread seems like a good place to check if my knowledge of finishing is obsolete. What I recall from twenty years ago:

    1. You can apply oil based finish over oil based stains or water based stains, if the water stains are completely dry. Don't apply water based finishes over oil based stains.

    2. Shellac holds up against water but not against alcohol, including the alcohol in alcoholic drinks.

    3.Any finish that is waxed may develop a pale ring if a moist glass is set on it. (I find that even un-waxed water based acrylic varnishes can develop such a ring.)

    If those things are true, I suppose they are relevant to the thread.

    I agree with Marc that brushed-on finishing is difficult - at least difficult to do to a high standard. Any small spec of dirt in bushed-on oil based varnish causes a bubble to form around it that is very noticeable. If you dilute the varnish so the bubbles pop, it is much easier to avoid this problem, however you have to apply more coats. I use water based varnish on my simple carpentry projects. It is thin enough so that bubbles aren't much of a problem,but drips are a big problem.

  6. #6
    Thanks for the feedback guys. I did end up brushing on the polycrylic. I have never used shellac before but I will definitely make use of it in the future. The project needed to be done and cured for saturday. The TV stand is also going to be located in the living room of a daycare so water glasses will most likely be placed on it daily so I thought the polycrylic would be a good, durable finish for that. I have to apply the last coat tonight but I am happier with how it is turning out than when I have brushed it in the past. But in the future, I will definitely use the feedback everyone gave and experiment with those other finish ideas. Thanks!

  7. #7
    Shellac and lacquer are still outside my playbook, but I have had great success with Minwax Wipe-On Polyurethane (Oil based) applied with t-shirt material in multiple thin layers (3-4) with 0000 steel wool between coats.
    Last edited by Danny Thompson; 05-14-2009 at 2:06 PM.

  8. #8
    I use Min Wax stains all the time and clear coat over them with Deft Clear wood finish. This is a lacquer based brushable finish that is really easy to use. I always try to apply the finish on a horizontal surface to avoid runs and apply a heavy wet coat, letting the finish self level. You get excellent film build with just 3 coats. With a lacquer based finish, you can lightly sand it and apply a new top coat years later and the new coat will partially dissolve the underlying coat and becomae an integral part of the finish. You also tend to get far less yellowing than with oil based polyurethanes and shellacs.
    Lee Schierer - McKean, PA
    USNA- '71
    Captain USN(Ret)

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