In my most recent post I shared with you my struggles with the coffee table I was trying to refinish for my friend. I finally figured out the sanding and got the stain to go on beautifully. (Click here if you missed that post and want to read it.) Then I was ready to apply the top coat over the stain finish. Polyurethane made the most sense for this table since the stain was oil based and it needed an oil based top coat (never mix oil based finishes and top coats with water based).
After all the struggles with the beginning of this refinishing process, surely this final step will be a breeze, right? Wrong. Boy did I learn a lot from this beautiful table. Here are 7 tips I’d like to share from my experience applying polyurethane top coat over my oil based Minwax stain finish.
- Be sure your finish is completely dried before applying your top coat. I let the stain on the table dry according to the instructions on the can. However, when I began to apply the polyurethane the stain was picked up by the top coat and made the finish look streaky. I tried to wipe the streaks out, but in the end I decided it would be best to start completely over. Again. From the beginning. For the third time with this project. My advice is to let the finish dry as long as you possibly can before applying your top coat. Patience is definitely a virtue here. Give it at least 24 hours, longer if you can.
- Invest in a quality, thick, natural bristle brush. I started with a foam brush because I had one handy and it says on the can that the polyurethane can be applied with a foam brush. However, I discovered that a quality natural bristle brush gives a much smoother finish. They are not cheap, but the price is worth the hassle it will save you. I used one similar to this one:
- Soak your brush in mineral spirits for about 10 minutes prior to beginning your application, pressing the brush into the mineral spirits to get rid of any air in the bristles of the brush. I found and watched this video when I discovered I had tons of bubbles in my top coat and I was trying to figure out how to apply the polyurethane with no bubbles. It will show you the steps you can take to rid your brush of any air that might cause bubbles in your finish. Trust me, it’s worth the extra time to go through the steps he suggests.
- Thin your polyurethane with mineral spirits. The mineral spirits will provide a more forgiving coat of polyurethane and will also help any bubbles in the finish to burst before it sets up and dries. Pour the polyurethane into a separate container and add some mineral spirits. A good formula is three parts polyurethane to one part mineral spirits. Stir the mixture very SLOWLY. You don’t ever want to shake or stir the polyurethane vigorously as this can create air and more bubbles, which is what you’re trying to avoid.
- Apply a thin coat of mineral spirits to the surface of your project prior to applying the first coat of polyurethane. This will help the polyurethane go on a little bit easier.
- Slow and steady wins the race. This is not a process you can rush. Rushing and skipping steps will only get you an ugly bubbly finish. When you load up your brush with polyurethane and lay it on the surface of your project, drag it very slowly. This will minimize the bubbles in your finish.
- Don’t overwork the polyurethane once you have applied it to your surface. The more you brush it to try and smooth out bubbles or brush marks, the more bubbles you will create. Brush it on very slowly, and give it one final pass with feather-like pressure of your brush in one direction and then leave it alone.
Here is the final product after all my trials and errors. So thankful it turned out so great in the end and glad I can help you learn from my mistakes!
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