A Better Way to Apply Spar Urethane?

This article was inspired by a question from Jeff. He writes:

“I am using Helmsman Spar Urethane to refinish the front door of our house. It’s a one piece flat door — no recessed panels. I am applying it with a quality brush but I still get brush marks and hi-low points, also tried a sponge brush with same results. I know it’s barely noticeable but I absolutely abhor brush marks. After 4 coats, I have managed to sand it down fairly flat. Is it possible to thin Helmsman and spray it with an HVLP gun? There is a Helmsman spray can available but I have so much Urethane left over. To thin or not to thin?”

The Power of Dilution

Polyurethane, whether its an outdoor or indoor formula, takes a little finesse to apply without bubbles or brush strokes. You need to use the right brush and it takes a little practice to get the technique right. Sponge brushes are certainly another option, but the results are not always a significant improvement. Most of the trouble comes from the fact that the urethane solution is so thick. It can be like trying to lay down an even coat of corn syrup. So one way to significantly improve the workability of your urethane is to thin it with mineral spirits. Thinning by about 10-20% will make brushing significantly easier. And thinning even further would allow you to spray via HVLP, but that’s definitely not my favorite way to apply an oil-based varnish. Thinning allows the finish to self-level a little better, and ultimately that will help you avoid brush marks. The only disadvantage is you need to apply more coats to get the desired film thickness you are after. But if the payoff is a smooth finish with no brush strokes, who cares, right?

The Wiping Method

Now there is yet another way to apply polyurethane that I feel is the easiest, beginner-friendly method. And frankly, its the method I still use. It involves abandoning brushes all together. Here’s what you do. Thin the varnish 50% with mineral spirits, paint thinner, or naptha. Then get yourself a clean cotton rag (old t-shirt material works great), and fold it into a nice square applicator pad. I like it to be palm-sized. Wet the applicator with your thinner and then dip it into your diluted finish. Wipe on smooth thin coats, overlapping the previous stroke with each pass by about half. This method will result in a super smooth finish with no bubbles and no brush strokes. But remember, you will need to apply twice as many coats to get to your desired film thickness. Because you are actually applying less material to the surface, the dry time is significantly decreased as well. So in some climates (hot and dry), you’ll be able to apply as many as three coats per day. Just remember that when you use a wipe-on urethane, you aren’t trying to flooding on a real thick layer. You are just coating the surface evenly with a thin wet film.

If you want to learn more about my particular finishing method, you should check out my DVD, A Simple Varnish Finish. My goal with the DVD was to demystify finishing by going over each and every step of the wiping varnish process. Even someone new to the world of finishing can create a show-stopping finish if they follow the methods outlined in the DVD. So check it out! And for those that are wondering what my preferred outdoor varnish is, its Epifanes Marine Varnish.

Category: Finishing


  1. Thomas (http://) February 14, 2007

    Thank you Marc for a great website, It’s very informative. I myself am in the constuction trade learning what is to know and I use your site as a tool to increase my Knowledge in fine wood working.As you probably know working for contracters they are allways looking for the quickest and not so safest way to GET UR DONE. I was wondering what your expierance is with water based poly’s. ie with brush hash marks.

    Thank you for your time, I now have to dig myself out of this snow storm that we are getting blistered with.


  2. Marc,
    What is the difference between Spar Urethane and Polyurethane?



    Hey Thomas. I don’t usually use water based poly, but when I do I usually apply it using a HVLP spray system. It sprays alot like lacquer and gives decent results. Its a water-white finish so it suitable for light-colored woods that you dont want to yellow over time, like maple and birch. If you do have to brush it on, I recommend using a synthetic applicator taking care not to produce bubbles. When you stir the product, use a stirring stick and stir in each direction about 100 time. Dont shake the can. And since it flashes so quickly, you might want to dilute with a bit of water. This will give you a bit more working time between application strokes.

    And Ron, Spar Urethane is intended for outdoor use and contains a higher amount of solids. It tends to be a softer, more flexible finish. This is primarily because of the temperature changes and harsh conditions outdoor pieces will experience. The finish needs to be flexible in order to survive. Spar urethane may also contain UV inhibitors which help to preserve the color of the wood and avoid graying.

    Hope that answers your questions guys!!


  4. Ron (http://) February 15, 2007

    Great! Just what I was looking for thanks!

  5. Dan February 16, 2007

    I have to say Wow, my hats off to you and your wife.For doing such a wonderful job.
    This past summer I lost my lower left leg.While I was off an setting around, I got interested in woodworking.I started by watching New Yankee Workshop and then I started to read books an magazines. Looking at websites, thats how I stumbbled across yours. Man,I am impressed.
    How a person can take a piece of wood an create a work of art.I myself would love to learn how to become a craftsman.But i know it takes time an tools.As far as skill I believe I have the abillaity.But the question is can you teach an old 50 year old man .Where do I start in what direction. These are questions I ask myself.
    I dont have friends that have this skill.As far as classes, I have looked but can not find any near Cincinnati,Ohio.

  6. Moe April 2, 2007

    Hello again. I finished my hardwood floor and applied water based Trek + one of three different ways. The first coat I used a brush and all went well – some lap marks but no big deal. The second coat with a paint pad for water based poly – went well but not as good as a mohair roller. No air bubbles and dried perfect and took so little time and effort. One question though. Before the floor was finished and just bare wood it looked and felt like glass. After the coats and buffing in between each it doesn’t look as flat. Almost like the poly seeps between the cracks and lowers versus the center of the wood which gives a less than flat look. I was thinking of buffing after the final coat with 600 grit paper. Any suggestions? Thanks again.


    Hey Moe. By no means am I a floor finisher. I can only apply what I know about furniture finishing to your situation. Perhaps someone with floor experience can chime in.

    Usually with furniture, you can sand your finish coat flat after you apply a coat or two of the finish. So any little dips or valleys will be taken care of. Then when you apply your final coat, it is glass smooth and flat. Now doing this on a larger scale is a whole different story. And hopefully someone else can chime in.

    As for the final buffing, 600 grit would work fine but it will give you a satin finish. Assuming thats what you are looking for, you are good to go. Just let the floor cure for several days to a week before sanding. And use mineral spirits as a lubricant.

    Hope that helps.

  8. Thin Urethane, love it! Solved my bubble, speck and brush stroke problems on my dashboard.

  9. Rick Hulme (http://) June 10, 2007

    I am refinish a wood garage door that the original finish has deteriorated in some areas, but not others. I used a finishing sander to remove the discolored wood and finish as well as to taper out the edge. I thinned the helmsman spar urethane about 20% on the first coat, and used it straight for two more coats. The areas where I sanded have a darker appearance than the unsanded areas, even though it is the same varnish being used and it occurs not only on the exposed wood but the areas that I sanded the finish off of (that had not been damaged), just in order to be able to feather the new finish in easier. I don’t understand why reapplying the same finish to wood that was originally only sanded, with no other sealer or finish, has caused this difference in color to appear. Is it possible that it will lighten up to match the other finish as it dries, or that the mineral spirits thinning caused my finish to penetrate differently?


    Hey Rick. Its really tough to say. Since we are talking about weathered wood that has been previously finished, and the finish was damaged, there are a quite a few variables at play. One thing I know though is that once you sand off a finish and refinish it, the wood almost never stains or finishes to the exact same color. At least part of the reason is the fact the sanding can actually drive some of the finish into the grain.

    So it is possible that the color will even out over time, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. Just keep in mind that poly finishes are usually not the best finishes for the type of repair you did. The repair is nearly impossible to hide (as you can see). In many cases its necessary to remove finish from the entire surface in order to achieve an even appearance and a smooth finish. So at this point, you may just need to give it time. But if it really bugs you, you may need to refinish the whole door.
    I might also suggest trying a higher quality spar urethane that will last alot longer than the Helmsmans. One that I recommend is Epifanes.

  11. john (http://) July 5, 2007

    he absolutely correct! if need to spray, then spray, like me, im a sprayer beleiver, but you gotta know what ya doin. A tip , use min spirits mixed with naptha for your thinner blend, this is to thin and be a delivery solvent for coating. HVLP, Conventional, ok, no airless!!! !st two u can control air atomization, by feel. forget reccomendations by mfg!!! Im an old coatings guy from the industrial side, not local joe blo painters, which normally give u same info, cause they dont know!!! But thin n spray, have fun!!!

  12. Shawn November 18, 2007

    Urethanes are cleaned from brushes using mineral spirits. Purdy makes a metal toothed comb that separates/aligns the bristles to aid in cleaning.
    Some people prefer to toss a brush after each use, but when you buy a quality brush it can last for weeks of use with proper care.

  13. sue February 7, 2008

    can you use spar urthn on an acrilic painted surface?


    Hi Sue. You can apply spar urethane over acrylic. Just keep in mind that it could very well yellow the finish over time. Im not sure what your application is, but you might consider a water-based poly for this job. It is fairly protective and won’t yellow over time.

  15. randy April 13, 2008

    I understand spar urethane is better for water and uv rays than polyurethane. My window sashes have one coat of poly, can I use spar over the poly?


    Hi Randy. You are right on about spar urethane. They are engineered to have better water resistance and added UV blockers. But in reality, its all just varnish. So if you scuff up the current poly layer with some 220 grit sandpaper, just apply the spar urethane right on top. They should be completely compatible.
    Good luck!

  17. Pam May 12, 2008

    Would like to know if you can apply spar urethane over a formica countertop? It is an ugly speckled white countertop and I want to first stain it a different color than coat it with Spar urethane. Will it adhere and hold up to moisture in a kitchen??
    Thanks for your input.

    • Phil May 20, 2010

      We purchased an unfinished mahogany exterior door. We were admiring the beautiful finish on a sample door at Lowe’s and the salesman said it was so nice because they had used Sherwin-Williams sanding sealer after the stain and then used spar urethane. Will the spar urethane adhere well to the Wood Classics Fast-Drying Sanding Sealer? I read one account on the internet advising not to use sanding sealer with polyurethane. What do you think? I’ve used oil-based interior stain. I may return the Helmsman spar-urethane and get Epifanes after reading you blog.

        thewoodwhisperer May 20, 2010

        Hey Phil. Definitely go for the Epifanes. You won’t regret it. Looking at how many times I recommend the stuff on this page makes me laugh. Too bad I don’t receive a commission check from them. :)
        With an oil-based stain on the door already, I see no reason to use a sanding sealer at all. Some say you can have adhesion issues because of the material in the sanding sealer. Not sure how much of a difference it makes but why use the product if you don’t have to. I would simply apply a very dilute coat of marine varnish, let that soak in and wipe off the excess. Your door is now sealed. :) You can then topcoat it with more coats of varnish to your liking.

        • Christine Hedlund September 9, 2010

          Hi Mr. Woodwhisperer, I’m having a hard time trying to find the Epifanes in the local boat and hardware shops you talk about so highly. Is there a special place, a store I can find it at or do I need to by it online. Would love to find out where. Thank you so much for all your help. I’m sure you have answered this one before, but the blog is long and I’m short on time. Thanks again for all your suggestions. Sincerely Christine

          thewoodwhisperer September 9, 2010

          I have only ever purchased mine online. Here’s a link for you: http://www.amazon.com/gp/produ.....B0016ZDBOU

        • Shari October 22, 2012

          In this post you said to apply the first coat of Epifanes and wipe it off. Is that correct? In a prior post I don’t believe you said anything about wiping off the first coat. Would it even be possible to wipe it off, or is this a mistake?
          Thanks for clarifying.


          Unless the varnish has oil added to it, I don’t recommend wiping it off. Simply wipe on a thin coat.

  18. Lee May 14, 2008

    Great website, lot’s of very good info. I just built a tiki bar in an semi covered outdoor pool area. The top is Tigerwood flooring and sides and trim are stained Mahagany. Would a spar urethane be the best finish for my project and what brand do you recommend? Also I am considering doing a 2 part epoxy finish over the tigerwood top, at some point, will I be able to apply this over a spar urethane?



    Hey Lee. Spar urethane would be an excellent choice for that job. My favorite outdoor finish is actually a marine varnish known as Epifanes. The 2-part epoxy would certainly give you a good amount of protection on that bar top. Now if you already had some spar urethane on the top, my best guess is that you would be fine coating over that with epoxy. My guess is that the epoxy isn’t going to be too picky about what it sticks to. But its probably not a bad idea to lightly sand the poly top prior to applying the epoxy layer.

    Hope that helps.


    Pam. To be honest, that’s a little beyond my expertise. Im not 100% sure how the surface would respond. My guess would be that you need to rough up the formica surface a bit. The urethane will need something to bite into and a smooth formica top is not exactly that. So I guessing that if you sand the entire surface with 180 or 220 grit, apply your coloring agent, and then apply the urethane on top, you MIGHT get a decent final product. But its not something i can whole-heartedly recommend unless I experiment with it myself. Maybe try the operation on a scrap piece of formica from the home store and see how it holds up.

  21. Tom Larsen August 2, 2008

    Love the podcast! I’m just about through all of them but am trying to pace myself a bit since I’ve been watching about 5 or 6 episodes per day since I discovered it.
    My question is, why 180 grit sandpaper as opposed to 220 grit for finish sanding? The only thing I can guess is that 180 allows more stain and/or finish to soak in than after a 220 sanding.


    Hey Tom. Glad you found us!

    You are right about absorbing more stain at 180 vs 220, but I rarely stain so that’s actually not the reason.

    I find that with most woods, by the time I hit 180, I can no longer see the scratch marks left by the sanding. And if I can’t see the scratch marks and the surface is nice and smooth, there is really no reason to go any further. To me, a surface sanded to 180 doesn’t “look” any different than one that’s been sanded to 220. And once its coated with finish, its “look” is really all that affects the final finish.

    I haven’t had coffee yet so hopefully that makes sense, lol.

  23. Bill August 7, 2008

    thewoodwhisperer is your initial response you said to “wipe on your last coat”. If I where to whip on my last coat what type of rag would you recommend?


    Just a clean cotton rag. I use old t-shirts. The fact that they’ve been washed so many times means they are pretty much lint free.

  25. Jay August 28, 2008

    I have been working on a 50 ft. bar top and I applied 3 coats of lacquer sealer, sanding between each coat, and have applied 3 coats of Helmsmans sanding between each coat. It looks wonderful while it’s wet, but when it dries it has slight cloudy look to it? I have strained my material, bought a new brush and still can’t figure out why iit looks a bit cloudy??? It’s semi gloss finish


    Three coats of full-strength varnish over a pre-sealed surface will give you a substantial build of finish. And if you are using semi-gloss, that’s three layers that all contain flatteners. The result being a slightly cloudy finish. Most people find that for the ultimate in finish clarity, build up with gloss, then do your final coat with your sheen of choice.

    That would be my best guess as to the cause of the cloudiness. Good luck!

    • Mike September 2, 2014

      In reply to :
      August 28, 2008
      I have been working on a 50 ft. bar top and I applied 3 coats of lacquer sealer, sanding between each coat, and have applied 3 coats of Helmsmans sanding between each coat. It looks wonderful while it’s wet, but when it dries it has slight cloudy look to it? I have strained my material, bought a new brush and still can’t figure out why iit looks a bit cloudy??? It’s semi gloss finish

      In my experience when finishing, if you are getting a cloudy look between finish coats, it generally means that moisture is getting trapped in the coat because the top is skinning over before the moisture can escape in the drying process. I would add “slow thinner” to your lacquer top coat to create a longer curing/drying time to allow the moisture to escape before it skins over.

  27. DAN NORTHCOTT September 12, 2008

    Im working on two Mohogany front doors that were severly weatherd ,I striped them, bleached them ,than sanded with 120 grit sandpaper,the problem is the stain took too dark in some ereas and light in other ereas,i used an oil stain, what arey choices, also can i add color to hellsman finnish


    Hey Dan. Sorry to hear you are having trouble. The only non-invasive fix that I know of, would be to bring the whole door to a darker color. So if you don’t want that darker color, then you have to get the stain out of the wood. Sometimes strippers can pull the stain out but in all likelihood, you’ve got some more sanding to do.

    Once the wood is cleaned up and ready to stain again, I recommend taking the standard blotching precautions: a pre-coat of 1lb cut shellac, sanded to 220, then apply a gel stain instead of a standard oil-based stain. This should drastically improve your results.

    As for coloring the Helmsman, it can be done using dyes that are soluble in oil-based finishes. But to tell you the truth, I don’t really like adding color to oil finishes. In my opinion, you get the best results when toning with fast drying finishes like shellac and lacquer. Oil just takes so long to dry, the results of coloring with that could very well be unpredictable.

    Good luck.

  29. wanda thibodeau September 15, 2008

    Help! I have a front door made of firealss and stained it and applied spar urethane (Helsman Minwax); everything was fine until I applied the second coat and it clouded up. I followed intstructions and don’t understand what happended. I am afraid to go any further for fear of making a mess.
    Suggestions please?


    i just refinished a fiberglass door ( that the old finish bubbled and cracked) i used minwax gel stain, and i just put the spar urethane on. do i have to put a second coat on??? it looks pretty good, no brush marks. is one coat good enough, the can doesn’t say it has to have 2 coats, what do you think??


    Hi Wanda. Hard for me to know for sure without seeing it, but there are a few things that could have caused this. First off is blushing. This is a situation where water vapor gets trapped in the finish and causes cloudiness. High humidity is usually the culprit. I honestly haven’t seen this much with polys (more common with spraying lacquer and shellac). And I’m not sure what your weather conditions are so I can’t say for sure. Just throwing this out there as a possibility.
    The second cause could be improperly-mixed finish. If you are using anything other than high gloss, there are particles in the finish known as flatteners. These particles scatter the light and give the finish its semigloss, or satin look. If the can wasn’t mixed sufficiently, the flatteners will stay at the bottom of the can, and every coat you apply will be cloudier and cloudier as the flatteners get more and more concentrated.

    Now there could be something else going on that I am not even thinking of, but these would be my “best guesses”. Unfortunately, adding more coats of finish will not fix the problem. If it were me, I would start over. And if possible, I would step up to a higher quality marine varnish. Something like Epifanes would be great.


    Hello Handy Housewife. I would recommend at least another coat. In general, the more coats you apply, the more protection the door will enjoy. And especially if you applied a stain, you are going to want to protect the stain layer from abrasion, scratching and wear. So I would probably apply a total of 3 coats. Some may recommend even more, but personally, I don’t like real thick finishes.

    Hope that helps.


    do i need to wait 24hrs between coats, do i need to sand between coats???


    I would wait 12 hours between coats. If the surface still feels tacky, just wait a bit longer. Sanding between coats isn’t a bad idea, since it smooths the surface and preps it for the next coat. So I like to sand between every coat, lightly, when possible.

  35. linda taylor September 25, 2008

    is it ok to use helmsman spar urethane on my 15 yo cedar deck?
    i only intend to use it for the railings and not the floor. i stared using a bit when i noticed on can that it is not recommended for decks b/c they are large and have greater maintainance reqmts. Am i better off just using a water sealer such as thompsons?
    the spar urethane looks better.
    still need to do way more cleaning and don’t want to put on finish that isn’t best for the project, thanks for any help.

  36. I am finishing the interior of my log home and have used spar urethane for my bathroom, utility, and kitchen cabinets. I would also like to use the spar urethane on the ceiling and walls in my bathroom for moisture protection. Question is, can I apply spar urethane over a water-based stain/sealer.



    Hi Ellen. Once the waterbased material is fully cured, you should have no problem coating it with oil-based spar varnish. Good luck.

  38. Doyle Henry November 5, 2008

    Finished a maghony door with spar urethane, installed the door, covered the door for about 3 months during construction. Uncovered the door about a month ago and still looked great, the sun came out and bubbles everywhere. Start over, strip the door, restain, refinish with spar using airless spray, 24 hrs 2nd coat airless spray, cure 3 days, back to the job hang the door looks great. 3 hours later the sun shines and bubbles everywhere HELP!!!!


    A few questions, what kind of wood is it, what stain did you use, what are the temps in your area, both in your shop and on site? Also, tell me more about the bubbles. Can you easily scrape the varnish off with your fingernail? Are the bubbles actually cracks or are they literally bubbles where the finish has lifted off the surface?

  40. Doyle Henry November 6, 2008

    The wood is maghony, the stain is Sherwin BAC wiping stain, oil base. Shop temp upper 60’s low 70’s. Outside are the same, but the sun was shining directly on the door so the surface temp was higher. The bubbles are like blisters and you can lift them off the door


    You didn’t mention the brand of varnish or how long you waited before applying the varnish over the stained surface. And that is part of my concern here. 60’s -low 70’s is definitely below the optimal curing temperature for that stain. That doesn’t mean it won’t cure, it just means it won’t cure as quickly. But if the temp dips too low, the stain will stay sticky for quite some time. So one possible explanation is that you are applying the varnish over a surface that wasn’t completely cured. When the sun hits the door, the curing process is accelerated, but the finish is already applied. And this could cause the finish to crack, peel or even blister. So my recommendation would be to apply the stain in a warmer environment. Bring in a little space heater if you have to. Let it cure completely. If you touch the surface the next day and the door feel even a little tacky, leave it alone. The surface should feel dry and no colder than room temp. At this point, it should be safe to apply the topcoat. And you may want to jump up to a high quality marine varnish. There is a night and day difference in the quality level of something like Helmsman Spar Varnish and Epifanes Marine Varnish. Its really worth the extra money.

    Now that’s not a sure thing, but its my best educated guess. If you are being super precautious, you might even consider applying a light coat of dewaxed shellac after the stain and before the topcoat. This will make sure you have a good compatible binding surface for the varnish and also something to seal in the stain. Shouldn’t be necessary in this case, but better safe than sorry.

    Good luck.

  42. Terri November 20, 2008

    I make signs out of wood and last Spring (2008), I purchased a gallon of Helmsman Spar Urathane since I go through quite a bit of it (and absolutely love it). I had used a little more than a 1/4 of the gallon then stored it for the summer in the basement. Its a living basement therefore the temperature was generally around 65 – 70 degrees through out the summer. When I opened it this fall to start using again, it had a hard coat over the top of it and about 4 inches of jell under that. I don’t know if the can wasn’t closed tightly or what happened. I was able to break through the hard coat and tried to mix it all up as best I could but now I have small ‘chunks’ of the jell that gets on my wood work. Is there anything I can do to eliminate this? Should I stir it with a drill attachment paint stirrer or would that cause more problems? I would really hate to have to throw away 3/4 of a gallon so would appreciate any help you could send my way.



    Hi Terri. Unfortunately my friend, your Urethane is trashed. A skin and chunks are a sign that the finish has already started curing in the can. These finishes cure via oxidation, which means air is your worst enemy. So either the can wasn’t sealed well enough, or the little bit of air that was trapped in the can was enough to keep the curing process going. The key is to put the varnish in a container that has little to no room for air. Or, you can use some of that “heavy air” stuff. Its an aerosol can full of inert gas that creates an oxygen-free pillow on top of your finish, protecting it from oxidation. Another option is to fill the can with marbles or some other heavy item so the liquid level is raised to the top. But sad to say, this is all for prevention. Once the finish starts curing, as it has in your case, the material is best thrown away.

    • Ross January 11, 2009

      I am in the process of installing new Ikea oak countertops (butcher block / 1.5″ thick), and i have a question about finishing them. Ikea recommends oiling them. I was wondering if Spar Urethane wouldn’t be a more permanent solution. My concern is the sink cut-out – i worry about water finding it’s way under the Urethane from the sink edge over time, and lifting the urethane. Is this worth worrying about?


        I guess my first question would be, do you plan on cutting food directly on the countertop, or will you treat it like any other countertop and simply wipe up spills and never really take a knife to it. If you are treating it like a cutting surface, than you have to be concerned about putting a thick film on the surface. The knife marks could cause the finish to lift at some point as water seeps under it. That’s why Ikea is recommending an oil finish. The other finishing option is the one I use on my end grain cutting boards. See Episode 7 A Cut Above for more details on that. It might be just what you’re looking for.

        Now whether you use my method, or you simply put a few good coats of spar varnish on it, you are going to want to caulk the lip of the sink like on any other job, and be sure to wipe up spills all the time. A solid wood top does require a little extra attention in that way. But that’s the trade-off right? If you use oil only for the wood, then you are really going to have to be attentive to standing water.

  44. Laura February 12, 2009

    Hi There,

    We painted our countertops four years ago. They looked great and they withstood a lot of wear and tear. However, we recently wanted to make it shinier and sparklier (like real granite stone…because we did a faux-granite paint finish)…. We sprayed down the sparkle, and added a layer of MinWax Helmenns Spar Urethane in clear gloss. The first layer went down well, and so did the second (we sanded lightly in between layers). Then, on the third layer, my husband messed up and put too much of the spar urethane on it…and he could see brush strokes. So he sanded it down and tried again. Again, he saw really obvious brush strokes. He bought a new brush and a whole new can of the urethane….but, still, brush marks wouldn’t go away. I’m not sure what we should do. If we sand it down too much, are we going to be pulling up the layers of glitter and spar urethane? Should we try wiping the last layer? We want a very clear, glass-like, smooth shiny surface. How can we achieve that at this point, and what do you think we did wrong?


      Unfortunately Laura, you are discovering one of the drawbacks to using a polyurethane product. Yes its durable, but its not easily repairable. Think of each layer like a sheet of plastic wrap. And if there is a wrinkle or flaw in the current layer, and you put another coat on top of it, the old flaw will still telegraph through to the top layer. Also, if you sand too aggressively trying to flatten everything out, you may accidentally cut through the top layer of finish. If you do, you’ll create what is known as witness lines where the bottom layer shows through. Again, tricky stuff to fix. Sometimes its best to just start over.

      Now I have never been a fan of brushes. Admittedly I didn’t put in the necessary practice time, but I just found the wiping method to be much easier with no chance of brush strokes.

      Now your best bet is to sanding lightly with sandpaper and block of wood to flatten out the brush strokes. Just be careful. You really don’t want to cut all the way through that top layer. If the brush marks are not severe, you should be able to flatten most of it out without incident. Then proceed with wiping the finish on. Be sure to dilute the finish as well (about 50/50 with mineral spirits).

      Now why this happened is hard for me to say. Brushing varnish does require a certain about of expertise and technique to do flawlessly. Using a good quality natural brush, like a china bristle brush, is a good start. Keeping the brush wet so that you always maintain a wet edge is key. And being careful NOT to overwork the area. These are all things to keep in mind as you are brushing. I would consult a good finishing book for a complete description of the brushing process if you want to go further down that route. Oh and you can always dilute the varnish a bit to help it flow a little better when brushing, so keep that in mind.

      Good luck.

  45. Laura February 12, 2009

    Also, when we sand the surface it gets very cloudy… If we add more layers of the spar urethane, will that cloudiness go away?

    To those of you who are thinking about paintnig your countertops, it is WELL worth the time. It is very low cost, and you can do all sorts of cool things to make it look like stone. We did a faux granite finish, and added glitter in clumps and swirls…just like real stone. It is absolutely stunning.


      Assuming the sanding scratches are from 320 grit or higher sandpaper or something like steel wool, the next layer of finish should indeed completely cover the previous layer and give you a nice finish.

  46. Maxx king February 19, 2009

    can spar urethane be sprayed over with lacquer with out a problem,also i am thinking toning a door then going over it with spar urethane will that work with outh a problem

  47. Betty Taylor March 2, 2009

    Can I use spar urethane on my new wood floors? Can I mix stain in the gallon of spar urethane? Should I thin first coat and how long to let dry. Do you have a 800 number I can talk to someone? Please help. My husband passed away a month ago, we are building a house and I don’t know the answers.

  48. Scott March 2, 2009

    Just finished (pun intended) stripping, staining, restripping and staining my mahogany front door. Used a Bartley Gel Stain and am reasonably happy with the result. Next weekend, I’m applying the Spar Varnish. Like the idea of thinning and wiping, will use 0000 Bronze wool. I’ve noticed that you really like Epifanes, I’ve already got some Minwax, but can get Epifanes – is the difference that significant?


      I have found the difference to be substantial. When you are talking about outdoor items, you can’t be too careful. The last thing you want is a finish that cracks or peels. Resin quality and UV inhibitors play an important role in this. And quality counts. So I stick with what I feel works best, and that’s Epifanes. While some folks have luck with products like Helmsman Spar Varnish, I get quite a few emails from people who are not happy at all with the durability. But I have yet to get an email from someone who was disappointed in Epifanes.

      • Scott April 4, 2009

        Adam, thanks for your suggestions. I went out and got the Epifanes and the thinner, used your idea of wiping it on. Applied 5 coats thinned at 50% (2x) and 30% (3x) – results are OUTSTANDING! Now I have another question, I have some older teak outdoor furniture that I have routinely sanded, oiled and at times used Teak Guard sealer. In each case the finish has only lasted one year. Any suggestions for a longer lasting finish for teak? I live in S. California, so the sun is pretty hot and consistant. – Thanks, Scott


          You can always try Epifanes again. Just make sure you clean the surface really well and possibly even give it a coats of dewaxed shellac to seal off any of the natural oils in the wood. Then apply a couple coats of the Epifanes. I would be curious to see how this holds up compared to your other finishes. My guess is it should do very very well.

  49. adam March 30, 2009

    I’ve been using Minwax Helmsman spar urethane in my door refinishing business. I brushed on the Helmsman and applied at least 3 coats. I’ve recently switched to an HVLP system and have been using General Finishes 450 exterior water-based acrylic varnish. Drying time is much better with the water-based and getting a professional finish is much easier with the HVLP than brushing. Spraying an oil-based in my shop also makes me a bit nervous. Which topcoat do you think will hold up better?


      Hey Adam. In general, I tend to think the oil-based finishes still have a durability advantage over water-based. But honestly, the gap is closing quickly. The water-based formulations just seem to keep getting better and better. Now i have never used that particular GF product, so I can’t speak from direct experience. But if you really like the way it applies (I totally agree about spraying), I say give it a shot. GF makes great products and I have no doubt you will see the performance described on the can. Just let me know how it turns out.

  50. Chantal May 16, 2009

    We have recently purchased a new textured fiberglass front door with 2 sidelites. I am having difficulty finding a gel stain as dark as my husband and I would like. We went in with the idea of having a black front door but I have been unable to find gel stain that I am happy with. Any suggestions on what I may do? Keep in mind I have NEVER finished a fiberglass door before! :)
    Thank you for your time.

      thewoodwhisperer May 17, 2009

      Hey Chantel. Have you tried the General Finishes line of gel stains? They have a Java stain that is about as dark as anything I have seen. I might give that a try if I were you. http://www.rockler.com/product.....;sid=AFN86

  51. larry w mayfield May 25, 2009

    i have jst finished water sealing my deck with thompsons clear water sealer.
    i have very little shine to 7 yr old deck. my question is: what can i put over the water sealer to make deck shine?

      thewoodwhisperer May 25, 2009

      Hey Larry. I don’t see any reason you couldn’t top coat the deck with a good marine varnish. Something like Epifanes Marine Varnish would work nicely.

      I might try to lightly sand the surface of the deck before applying the varnish, just to ensure a good bond. But there should be no problem getting it nice and shiny. Just be careful, since shiny usually means slippery too.

  52. Mike Brown May 28, 2009

    Want to put a protective finish over some painted wood with childrens watercolor designs on it for otdoor display.. Do you know if spar urethane would work? Thanks!

      thewoodwhisperer May 28, 2009

      Just about any spar varnish should do the trick. I have been meaning to try the Helmsman water-based stuff: https://www.acehardwareoutlet.com/(copnyqv1fm0gw5v0wtm4kc45)/ProductDetails.aspx?SKU=1373034

      Just an FYI, you want to make sure that your finish doesn’t redissolve the water colors. You might need to seal it with some very light coats of lacquer or maybe test for color fastness using an oil-based product. But you also need to keep in mind the oil-based stuff will bring a yellow/amber color with it. So if it were me, I would probably do some very very light sprayed coats of blonde shellac. Then follow up with a few coats of a water based product.

  53. Matt July 6, 2009

    The countertops in my kid’s bathroom are tile with wood trim and I’m afraid the finish on the trim is breaking down in spots where water pools or runs off the counter when the kids are having a little too much fun getting cleaned up for dinner. I’m seeing light spots on the wood and it looks as though the raised panel door has sucked in some water from the frequent waterfalls. It sounds like I should apply a few coats of Epifanes. Is there anything I can do prior to that to repair the damage? Thanks!

      thewoodwhisperer July 7, 2009

      Hey Matt. I think sanding would be your best bet. If you can get down to bare wood, even better. Many times, the lighter color is really just trapped moisture, or a stain left over by the penetrating moisture. So sanding is the most effective way to remove it. And that way you’ll have a nice surface on which to apply the Epifanes.

      Hope that helps!

  54. Dave July 17, 2009

    I recently applied a gel stain tomy fiberglass garage doors and then applied Helmsman spar urethan satin finish. Unfortunately the satin finish looked too shiny compared to the same satin finish when applied on real wood doors. Could you please recommend a exterior spar urethane with a flat finish? Will I have issues (bubbling, cracking) if I apply another brand of spar urethane over the Helmsman spar urethane?
    Thanks a lot,

  55. Dave July 17, 2009

    I applied a gel stain to my fiberglass garage doors and then applied Helmsman spar urethan satin finish. Unfortunately the satin finish on fiberglass produced a high gloss result. Could you please recommend an exterior spar urethane with a flat finish? Will I have issues (bubbling, cracking) if I apply another brand of spar urethane over the Helmsman spar urethane?
    Thanks a lot,

      thewoodwhisperer July 18, 2009

      Hey Dave. You should have no problem topcoating the Helmsman with some other matte oil-based varnish. I would probably give the surface a good 220 grit sanding prior to applying the finish.

      One other thing to try is manually creating the matte sheen using steel wool. Just give the varnish a week or so to cure. Varnish isn’t ideal for rubbing out like this but it might be a nice alternative to adding more varnish to the surface.

      And one other thing that I am concerned with is how the Helmsman varnish created a high gloss finish when you bought a can of matte?? Not to ask the obvious but did you stir the can well? The flatteners tend to sink to the bottom so if you don’t mix it, you’ll essentially have gloss on the top and a bunch of crap on the bottom.

      My favorite brand, Epifanes, also makes a matte finish that you can use as a topcoat: Epifanes Marine Varnish

  56. pam July 21, 2009

    Is Spar Urethane for wood only. I am looking for an exterior urethane for acrylic painted flower pots. I am currently using two layers of a water based polyurethane and find the poly and paint pulling off in spots. If the Spar Urethane is not suitable over acrylic paint can you recommend something that is?


      thewoodwhisperer July 21, 2009

      Hey Pam. If the poly and paint are coming off, there is definitely an adhesion issue. And since the paint is coming off, it sounds like you might need a good quality primer. Primer is like a universal binder and essentially sticks to everything. So if the pot isn’t accepting the paint completely, a good quality primer is definitely in order. Then your paint and your clear poly top coats will bind more securely. So I think you should make sure the paint is locked down before you consider the spar urethane.

      Now since its acrylic paint, I might suggest sticking with a waterbased topcoat. They do make water based outdoor finishes like Exterior 450 http://www.rockler.com/product.cfm?page=18526
      I’ve been meaning to try that finish but haven’t had a chance. General Finishes makes good stuff so I am sure its a good product.

  57. Joe July 22, 2009

    we’re finishing replacement wood casement windows with GF stain and Man O War spar varnish. Unexpected thunderstorms after applying first coat, which was very slow to dry due to high humidity. Upon sanding, we get white blush or haze. What do we do now? Thanks for your help.

      thewoodwhisperer July 22, 2009

      Well it sounds like you definitely have some trapped moisture in that finish. That could be a big problem. But there are some things you can try to get that moisture out of there without completely removing the finish.

      The first thing I would try is blowing hot dry air on the finish. Perhaps something like a small electric room heater will do the trick. Don’t get it too hot, though. Just make sure the dry air is passing over the surface.

      Now if that doesn’t work, there are other remedies like carefully rubbing the surface with an oil (mineral oil or lemon oil would be fine). This could displace the water. Just make sure you wipe the surface down with mineral spirits to remove the oil before you add another coat of finish.

      One other thing to try would be another coat of your finish. So just test a small area to see what happens to the haze when some varnish is added to the surface. If you don’t see an improvement, quickly wipe it off so it doesn’t dry on the surface.

      And lastly, if all else fails, just keep sanding. You only have one coat on there so it shouldn’t be too hard to get below the problem area.

      Good luck!

      The first thing I would try is applying a little more finish in a test area to see what happens. Sometimes the haze just kind of goes away. But if you can still see the haze, wipe off the varnish with a rag so it doesn’t dry on the surface.
      Another thing to try is denatured alcohol. Some folks say wiping the surface with an alcohol soaked rag will pull the moisture out.

  58. Joe July 23, 2009

    Thanks –I’ll give it a try. I found lots of descriptions of the haze on-line but not many solutions, so I appreciate your suggestions.

  59. RS Kauffman July 30, 2009

    Can I use Helsman urelthene Satin finish for my first few coats and then finish with a gloss coat

      thewoodwhisperer July 30, 2009

      Sure you can. But most people do exactly the opposite.

  60. Tamara August 15, 2009

    I just paint stipped and then sanded down the outside of our wooden exterior door. The inside side of the door was never painted and has a “medium wood” finish. We also have a storm door, so the door is not completely out in nature. I would like to stain the door on the outside side a little darker to match the shade on the inside side, and I would also like to treat it so that it can withstand cold temperatures, etc. Considering that a paint thinner has been used, is a gel stain better than oil? Should it go directly on the wood? Then spar-urathane? Sorry, I’ve never finished a door before!

      thewoodwhisperer August 16, 2009

      Hi Tamara. You say a paint thinner was used? For what exactly? I assume from your description that the door has been stripped completely and you are dealing with raw wood. Assuming that’s the case, I would lightly sand the door with 180 grit paper to smooth out the surface. Then you can apply your stain. Gel stain usually is an oil-based stain, only its thicker than a regular stain. Gel stains are very easy to use and give great results. Just be sure to buy a high quality stain because some of the products out there are what I affectionately call, “cans of poo”. :) General Finishes has a fantastic line of gel stains and I recommend them highly.

      Once the gel stain dries and the color looks good, then you can proceed with your exterior varnish application.

      Hope that helps.

  61. Ron Hankamer August 19, 2009

    I used Helmsman Spar Urethane on my front door, and it worked out great.
    My question: I also used it inside in my office, over an old stain/polyurethane. Most areas look good, but some spots dried with a milky-looking film on them… Any idea why this happened?

      thewoodwhisperer August 19, 2009

      Unfortunately, that is usually a sign of trapped moisture. Do a little Googling and you’ll see about 100 different remedies for pulling that moisture out. Do you recall it being particularly humid when you applied the finish?

  62. Lisa from Louisville, KY September 3, 2009

    We purchased a new (very expensive) Plastpro fiberglass (w/ Alder-type grain) entry door (South facing) last May, and had a very reputable door finisher apply Minwax Gel Stain Chestnut (3 coats) along with Helmsman Spar Urethane Clear Satin (3 coats).

    The finisher is from Florida, so he’s very knowledgeable about the sun damage that can befall entry doors, and as such, he recommended the above products/coats. I believe it took him over a month to achieve the results he was going for, as we were unable to use our garage for that entire time since he was using it as his workspace.

    The door looked absolutely beautiful. We were thrilled. He said we would need to have him apply a new coat of Spar Urethane every couple of years, but yearly would be fine as well just to be on the safe side.

    We’re a little over a year now, and we have what appear to be about 30 or so very tiny speckles showing up on the top half of the door closest to where our coach lights are. At night, when we have our lights on, there are bugs everywhere. We’re thinking these are bug droppings/residue on the door, but they will not come off. I’ve used a very soft micro fiber cloth – (1) w/ Dawn soap, (1) wet for wiping off and (1) dry – and nothing! I also have what appears to be a smear mark. It’s not in the grain. Wasn’t there before. And it’s not a scratch of any kind. But if you look at it from the side when it’s overcast, you can see it. There’s also a little cloudiness.

    I’m having him come over next week to reseal the door and take a look at these issues. Can you shed some light on any of this – the speckles, the smear?

    Thank you so much! We’re into this new door a good $2K.

      thewoodwhisperer September 3, 2009

      Hi Lisa. Sorry to hear about the trouble you are having with the door. If you read through the comments above, you’ll see that other folks have had issues with Helmsman. Nearly every time I hear an issue with speckles, cloudiness, or flaking finish, they are nearly always using Helmsman. Minwax is clearly the biggest name in finishing out there, and its unfortunate. Some of their products are ok, but most are not. So I can’t say for sure that the Helmsman is to blame specifically, but I know I have never heard a similar complaint from people who use Epifanes. At this point, I would let the finisher do his thing since he applied the material in the first place. Depending on how deep the marks are, he might have to sand down quite a bit and reapply the finish. If you have a choice, I would recommend going with the Epifanes instead of the Helmsman. It would be best to have nothing but Epifanes on there but at this point that might be pretty tricky for you. So putting the Epifanes on top of the Helmsman is better than no Epifanes at all.

      Good luck and let us know what the finisher says.

  63. Peter October 2, 2009

    Whisperer — I’m in the process of refinishing some badly weathered canoe gunwales (the wood trim around the outer edges of a canoe), and am thrilled to find this thread where I’ve learned about Epifanes. Are you familiar with their “Rapid Clear” version? I like the idea or not having to sand between each coat, and the quicker drying times. If I use a cloth to apply this, would it need thinning? I’m wondering if it’s just a pre-thinned version of their standard “Clear Varnish.”

      thewoodwhisperer October 2, 2009

      Hey Peter. I have never actually used their Rapid Clear product. But from what I read it doesn’t seem to be in a wiping formula. So I would definitely recommend diluting it at least 50% if you plan on wiping it on. Epifanes is pretty thick stuff. Bottom line is if it pours somewhere between honey and thick syrup, it needs diluting.

      Good luck!

  64. Heather October 7, 2009


    I have a douglas fir wood deck, in Las Vegas (hot and dry or cold and dry), I have sanded the deck down to bare wood and stained it today. As soon as it is dry, I am going to apply the Helmsman Spar Urethane, clear gloss. After reading some of the ‘issues and concerns’ above. What is the best recommendation for the application and how many coats?

    Thank you!

      thewoodwhisperer October 8, 2009

      Hey Heather. What you’ll notice with many of the posts and replies here is that its not necessarily because the application technique that people are having problems. I truly believe a large part of it has to do with the product itself.
      Epifanes Marine Varnish.

      And I would just follow the manufacturers instructions for the application method and coats. You have a whole deck to do so if you are diluting and wiping, as recommended in this article, you’ll be there a loooong time. lol Now if you do go for the Epifanes, you might want to stop short of their recommended number of coats. But you can decide for yourself when you have a few coats on. If it looks good, then apply one more coat and call it a day!

  65. Jason October 20, 2009


    Thanks for the wealth of information you have provided on this site. Its a great service that you are providing. Here is my current dilemma…

    A few months back, and at quite an expense, I had a nice set of oak sideboards and an oak headache built for my pickup truck. I elected to finish them myself thinking that I’d save some money. I sealed them [I believe mistakenly] with CWF-UV deck and siding sealant. In a short matter of time, the oak developed grey/black spots, I assume from moisture/mildew.

    At the moment, I’ve disassembled these parts and have been sanding them with 60 grit trying to remove as much as I can of the previously applied finish. I’m afraid, however, that the wood will never be as “clean” as it was when new. No matter how much I seem to sand, the wood does not take on an even shade. I’ve almost resigned to applying a very light stain. I want them to be as close to natural as possible.

    What procedures do you recommend to prevent stain blotching? I’ve read, here, that gel stains are preferred. Also “1# cut shellac??” sanded to 180, what does this mean. Finally, what finish do you recommend for these items? Epifanes?

    Thanks, Jason

      thewoodwhisperer October 21, 2009

      Hey Jason. I can’t comment much on the CWF-UV, because I am not familiar with it. But since you don’t like the results, (black spots are no fun!), its good that you are stripping it off. Now there’s nothing wrong with applying a light stain to event things out a bit. Something like a Godlen Oak color looks relatively natural and might just do the trick for ya.

      And with oak, in general, blotching isn’t a problem. Woods like cherry, birch, maple, pine, and poplar are really the blotchy woods. So I don’t think you really need to take any precautions in that area. That said, I do think a gel stain is a great idea. Its a thicker formula that allows you to push the color around the surface and selective darken lighter areas and lighten darker areas. And the color is usually nice and vibrant. So I would definitely go with a very subtle stain in the gel formula. General Finishes is my favorite in that arena.

      As for the finish, I would recommend either Epifances, or possibly a 2-part sytem like CPES. This is an epoxy sealant that many folks use under the epifanes. I just started working with it but it seems to make the wood all but bulletproof! Good luck!

  66. Bryan November 5, 2009

    I have been working with Helmsman clear gloss urethane on my turkey calls for the last three years. I learned through trial and error the best finish was achieved with a gentle sponge brush application, sufficient dry time, and very light wet-sanding between coats with 400 grit sandpaper. NEVER try to speed up the drying process with a hair dryer, unless you want to sand bubbles out of your work for hours.

    I have, however, now noticed that the urethane has substantially yellowed over time, and in areas where I’ve used acrylic paints it looks BAD. Is this “Epifanes” that you talk about the best answer? I need something forgiving, that will work over acrylic paint, and that looks like a clear candy shell when I’m done.

    Thanks, Bryan

      thewoodwhisperer November 5, 2009

      Hey Bryan. Although Epifanes is a better overall product, it won’t really solve your problem. The yellowing you see is really just the nature of oil-based varnish. If you are looking for something that doesn’t yellow, you might want to look at water-based products. General Finishes makes a product that I am very interested in working with just to see how it holds up outdoors. Its called Exterior 450: http://www.rockler.com/product.....;sid=AFN86
      Now I can’t speak from experience on this one, but it certainly might be worth a shot and should be fully compatible with your acrylic paints.

      You also might want to look into some forums where people discuss things like fishing and hunting. You might find a few folks that make lures and other items that will see a lot of outdoor use and handling. And I am sure this is an issue they have to address all the time.

      Good luck!

  67. Peter November 19, 2009

    Just purchased a new unfinished mahogany door. We where going to use a Miniwax gel stain (mahogany color) and finish it with Epifanes as noted many times here.

    Should we also cut the Epifanes to 50% or less and would you recommend the dewaxed shellac following the stain to seal in the natural oils. Is that just 1 coat of undiluted shellac?

      thewoodwhisperer November 20, 2009

      Hey Peter. With a mahogany door and a Minwax oil-based stain, there is really no need for shellac as a barrier coat. I think you’ll be fine without it. And for Epifanes, you will probably want to dilute it. The stuff is super thick and even for a brushing application, the manufacturer recommends starting with a diluted coat and working your way up to full strength. So if you are brushing the stuff on, I would recommend diluting 50% and brushing on several coats. if you are wiping on, I would probably dilute ever further, maybe even 75% (I’m not kidding when I say the stuff is thick). Hope that helps.

  68. Marc – thank you so much for the helpful advice. I have been searching for the best way to re-finish my exterior door. It is less than a year “new” and receives direct brutal western Florida sun without any type of rain overhang. It was originally coated with 3 layers of Helmsman Spar Varnish and it is already starting to lightly peel and discolor. I have included a picture on my site http://bungalowagogo.com/oh-dear-daisy-cottage/ that shows a bit of the discoloration on the left side. With your recommendation, I am going to order Epifanes Clear Gloss Varnish and try again. Is there a way to lighten the gloss sheen since the rest of my trim work is not glossy? Or is gloss best for weather protection? I appreciate your advice.

      thewoodwhisperer December 3, 2009

      Stunning entryway! Wow. Sorry the finish is starting to go south. Yes I would definitely recommend Epifanes and as far as the gloss goes, it actually is the best in terms of protection. At least in theory, the more reflective surface from the gloss experiences less breakdown from UV light. But Epifanes does make version of their product with flatteners in it to dull the sheen. What you might consider doing is putting a couple coats of gloss on, followed by one or two coats of their matte formulation: Epifanes Marine Varnish.

  69. I just put up about400sf of T & G stained ceiling on a front porch. I decided to stain the boards first and then apply the finish after they were up. What would you suggest as the best product and method for finishing this. I would prefer to spray if I can but am open to other options. Just seems like spraying would be best for this large of an area and I’m not sure about rolling/brushing on a finish on a ceiling like this. Plus the V-notches would make rolling a little difficult.

    Thanks, ken

      thewoodwhisperer January 22, 2010

      Hey Ken. You know, I actually did that very thing at a neighbors house when they had it built. The builder insisted I use this lacquer-based stain product, which I applied by HVLP. After the color was set, I wasn’t comfortable leaving the lacquer as the topcoat, so I hit it with a diluted marine varnish. Since it was the ceiling, I wasn’t to concerned about a little drip here or there and if the surface was a little rough, it didn’t matter. So if you have those same luxuries, I would so go for the HVLP. Much much easier and faster than just about anything I can think of.

      • Thanks…that’s what I wanted to hear. Yes, I do have an HVLP and have sprayed a lot of water based finishes with it in the past but never anything this thick (marine varnish). Based on your previous posts above and other reviews it looks like the Epifanes is the best product out there. Any thoughts on how much to thin it for the HVLP and how much I’ll need for a 400sf project like this. It won’t be exposed to direct sunlight or moisture so I’m thinking I probably don’t need as many coats as I would otherwise. Your thoughts?

          thewoodwhisperer January 23, 2010

          Well, Epifanes is pretty darn thick, so it depends on the power of your spray system. I would at least start by thinning 50% with naptha and see how it goes.

  70. Justin January 26, 2010

    We recently added on to our house and purchased unfinished Mahogany doors. I used oil-based Minwax stain and have put on the first coat of Helmsman spar urethane. It has been rather cold here in Kansas lately and I don’t have the luxury of a heated garage, so am applying the stain and finish in temperatures between 20-40 degrees. I applied Minwax fast drying urethane on baseboards, etc, that we will have in the house and didn’t have much problems with the finish drying (able to sand and 2nd coat in 24 hrs) in the same conditions, with fans. After the first coat of Helmsman still being tacky in a several areas after 24 hrs, I began my researching to make sure I hadn’t made a serious mistake. I ran across your blog, which is excellent~!! From an earlier post above, I’m concerned that I may have some problems with the doors later when the weather warms up and or when I start heating that room of the house. I only have stain on the inside of the doors right now, but wanted to get your opinion on whether it would be okay to apply the finish in the cold temperatures or wait and apply the finish after the door is installed- even though it would be more difficult due to the potential of runs, weatherstripping, etc.
    P.S. About 10 years ago, I refinished our existing front door and applied gloss Helmsman spar urethane – the door is on the south and has had exposure to direct sun in the summer time. The finish is still almost as nice as the day after I applied it. I’ve never used Epifanes, but may switch after reading many of your comments. [perhaps you are an undercover salesman for Epifanes *smirk*!]

      thewoodwhisperer January 26, 2010

      Haha, I only wish I worked for Epifanes. Considering all the business we probabaly send their way……

      Honestly, my distaste for Helmsman doesn’t actually come from my own experience. Its from the numerous stories I hear every week from folks who used it and have trouble. That’s not to say the product is complete evil, but a large number of folks are having issues with it. Never heard one such complaint from people using Epifanes.

      But enough of that….on to your issue. Frankly, I think its way too cold to apply any finish. The recommended temps for applying stain and poly are in the 70’s. By the time you get down to the 20-40 area, I would be afraid for the end result. In addition to a long cure time, I would have to imagine the integrity of the finish and bond could very well suffer as well. So if it were me, I would wait until the temperature gets at least into the high 50’s and 60’s before I even thought about putting a finish on it.

      But if you DO decide to finish it, I would apply very light coats, diluted with naptha. Hopefully that will help it cure faster. But again, recommending that goes against my better judgment.

  71. Fred February 22, 2010

    I have maple treads that I stained and used a water based poly 5 years ago. Needless to say…the stairs look like crap now. They are quite scratched up. Can you use anything over the water based poly? I wasn’t sure if I roughed it up using sandpaper if I could then apply something over it. I would like to darken them up just a bit to match the floor downstairs. The floors were pre-finished before they were installed. I am not sure if that is asking too much though.

    Please help.


      thewoodwhisperer February 22, 2010

      Pretty much any fully cured finish can be topcoated with another finish. Not a bad idea to rough the surface up a bit and give it a very light sanding. That will also clean up the surface flaws and dirt. Wipe away the dust with a damp rag and apply your finish. As always, test in an inconspicuous area first to make sure it looks the way you want it to. You can tone the stairs a bit if you have the right equipment, which might not be feasible. Or you can use one of those poly products with color already added. I hear mixed things about these but it might be just the ticket for you. Something like Polyshades. Again, test before committing to the whole project.

  72. Virginia March 13, 2010

    My question is, could I use a spar polyurethane on kitchen or bathroom cabinets? They come in contact with plenty of water and other substances and need regular cleaning. I know on the containers it says that the spar polyurethane is not intended for inside use except for window frames/sills. Is there anything in the spar polyurethane that would be harmful if used say on the kitchen or bath cabinets. Parts of the cupboards come in contact with sun each day and the original finish has wore considerably and thought maybe the spar would be better for that and the water contact. Thank you!

      thewoodwhisperer March 14, 2010

      Hi Virginia. You can use it inside if you like, and on any piece of furniture really. Its generally a little softer than your standard polyurethane, but a few thin coats will still give you a heck of a lot of protection. I would just avoid piling it on real thick as that tends to look….well…not great. So you might consider the wiping method described in this article. But to reiterate, no real reason you can’t use the stuff inside.

  73. Jon Statom March 17, 2010

    I have applied system three general purpose epoxy to wormy chestnut interior stair treads and have a very uneven surface. It hasnt been a good experience. Now want to get a satin finish on them. Best suggestion

      thewoodwhisperer March 17, 2010

      Hey Jon. What do you mean by “uneven”. If the epoxy caused there to be light and dark spots, the only way to fix that is to either sand it back or cover it with some sort of stain. But again, its hard to say without knowing exactly what this unevenness is.

      • Jon Statom March 17, 2010

        I applied general purpose epoxy as a topcoat over minwax stain. Material was too thick to get down into small beetle holes in the chestnut so I applied “mirrorcoat” product over that. In some places the mirrorcoat appeared to pull back off the general purpose so I have crater type effect. I will probably have too sand off mirrorcoat. $$$$ wasted. Can I apply regular satin polyurethane over this?

          thewoodwhisperer March 17, 2010

          If you let the finish cure completely, then apply the finish of choice, you should be OK. With so many things on the surface though, sometimes its better to just start over. But if you are willing to give it a shot, sand the surface back to level out those craters, then apply the satin poly. You might try this on one step first, just to make sure you get the results you want.

        • Jon Statom March 17, 2010

          Thanks for your help. I will definately be back to your site. I have never had such rapid helpful responses online. You are a huge help for us wannabe woodworkers.

          thewoodwhisperer March 17, 2010

          Thanks Jon. Good luck with your project!

  74. Danielle March 24, 2010

    I’m glad I found this site. I am actually working on the inside of our horse barn so am dealing with a LOT of wood. It is stained and because of the cooler temps I’m waiting for it to finishing curing. Two walls were previously stained so I started putting the Helmsman Spar semi-gloss on it. This is more of a rough cut wood that we know won’t end up perfect, but are just wanting some extra protection from the spar. The first coat went on well (for what I was expecting at least) and is fairly rough, which I also expected it to be because of the type of wood. Question is, do I need to sand between coats if it already has a rough feel to the finish? Isn’t sanding to rough up the layer below so it has something to stick to or am I misunderstanding? We have TONS of wood and I can’t imagine sanding between each.and.every.layer. It gives me nightmares. :) So, will not sanding ruin it? Thanks!

      thewoodwhisperer March 25, 2010

      Hi Danielle. If you don’t mind the rough texture, there is no need to sand between coats, as long as you are applying them within a day or two of one another. If you let it cure for three to four days, I would definitely give the surface a little sanding to give the urethane a mechanical tooth. That should help adhesion. But again, if you are applying a coat per day, there is no need to sand unless you want a super smooth finish.

  75. lance March 31, 2010

    im appling minnwax helsman spar urthene to a new cedar deck what would be the best and fast way to apply it

      thewoodwhisperer March 31, 2010

      Hey Lance. My wiping recommendation is really intended for furniture. You’ve got a lot of real estate to cover so I might go back to a brush for this one. You might even consider spraying if you have the means.

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