How to use Wipe-On Polyurethane

How to use Wipe-On Polyurethane

So how exactly to use Wipe-On Poly

The Pros & Cons of Wipe-On Polyurethane

The best choice for a clear coating is often a specialized finish like pre-catalyzed lacquer, but that assumes you have a spray booth outfitted with high-end equipment. For most of us, polyurethane provides a combination of cost and durability that’s hard to beat. With wipe-on poly, you also get goof-proof simplicity, speed, and convenience.

  • Excellent Durability - Because the coating is thin and dries fast, “nubs” caused by airborne dust are much less likely. That makes it great for on-site finishing.
  • Ultra Fast-Drying - you can coat a project in less than half the time it takes to brush on a finish.
  • Easy Water Clean-Up- Unlike brushing, wiping on a flawless coat of poly doesn’t require skill or an expensive brush.
  • Slow- it takes three coats of wipe-on to match the buildup that you get from one coat of brush-on poly. 


Water-Base Wipe-On Polyurethane 16fl oz

Step 1- Set the working Space

Use resin paper, a drop cloth or newspaper to protect your worktable. If your project has legs, make standoffs for them to perch on. Standoffs allow you to wipe finish all the way down to the ends of the legs. They poke holes in the wood, so if you have parts that must be finished on both sides, such as a shelf, set them on blocks covered with cloth instead.

wood standoffs

Sept 2 - Cut Up an Old T

Cut a T-shirt into 6-in. squares. Fold each square in half, twice, to make applicators. White fabric is best because any lint left in the finish is less likely to show.
Another alternative is to buy Wood stain applicator pad

wood stain pad

Wood stain applicator pad

Step 3 -  Wear Gloves 

Protect your hands with disposable vinyl or nitrile gloves. You can usually reuse them two or three times before they get too gummed up.
See some gloves here.

Step 4-  Pour it in a Plastic Cup

Cream cheese or cottage cheese cup is just right for wipe-on. Dip your rag into the finish, squeeze out the excess, and wipe on. With the lid in place, the poly will remain fresh for a couple of days. After a few days, the solvent will begin to degrade the plastic, so don’t use plastic for long-term storage.
Look more into our favorite wipe-on polyurethane here.

Step 5- Cover Large Areas Fast

A paint pad holds more finish than a rag and wipes it on faster. You can reuse a paint pad, too. After each coat, just store it in a sealed plastic tub or plastic bag. 
stain pad

Step 6 - Keep the Coats Light

Three thin coats of wipe-on finish will look smoother than one or two thicker coats. For the best results, don’t sand after the first coat. (You might sand through it!) Apply a second thin coat, then lightly sand with 220-grit sandpaper. Then apply a final thin coat.  Check out this guide on how to sand wood.

sanding wood

Step 7 - Wipe Off 

You wipe on the finish and just let it dry. If your project has lots of hard-to-access surfaces, try a different approach. Apply the finish to a limited area, then wipe it off after a few minutes using dry rags. This way, you don’t have to worry about accidentally smearing finish on an area you’ve already covered. Just wipe it off.

Step 8 - Let Stain Dry Overnight

Applying poly too soon after staining is always risky. And it’s even riskier with wipe-on poly. If the stain isn’t completely dry, wiping it with a rag soaked with a finish will cause it to smear. 
Learn how to stain and varnish wood without getting those blotches by clicking here.


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