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. Kelly B April 1, 2010

    Would you apply this same “thinned” method to exterior doors like these? – http://www.woodstarproducts.co.....cts_id=198 or would the full strength application be better?

      thewoodwhisperer April 1, 2010

      Hi Kelly. The thinning method really just simplifies the process and makes it so that you have fewer drips. It makes the process of applying varnish much easier for a novice. So if you aren’t comfortable with a brush, this is an excellent way to do it. Just keep in mind you are actually applying less varnish to the surface, so it takes more coats. On some applications when you want a nice thick film, the wiping method wills simply take forever. So you might be better off with a brush and full-strength material. But ultimately its up to you.

  2. Nicole July 17, 2010

    We are currently in the process of finishing our new Pella windows. They are pine and we have used oil based wood conditioner and oil based gel stain and are pleased with the color and how they have come out. So my question is what is the correct finish to use on them? I’ve read that spar urethane provides more UV and moisture protection than a standard polyuretane. So is spar the recommended product over poly for windows? Or given the windows aren’t directly exposed to the outdoor elements is poly sufficient? My second question is whether oil-based provides a better finish or protection than water-based. The odor of the stain is really bothersome to me so I’m assuming the varnish will pose the same problem; however, I don’t want to sacrifice the finish or protection if oil-based is in fact better. Also, I’m not sure if the oil-based will change the color as I’ve read it can have a yellowing effect. The finish we went with is provincial just to give you an idea of how light/dark the color of the wood is right now. Any advice you have on how best to do this finishing project would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

      thewoodwhisperer July 17, 2010

      Regular poly would be sufficient, but since it is a window and will likely get a good deal of sun exposure, its not a bad idea to go with a spar varnish for the added protection and durability. But you certainly don’t have to. A standard interior varnish will probably be just fine. And generally speaking, an oil based finish will be more durable than its water-based counterpart. Yes it will have an odor for a period of time until it completely cures. The more fresh air you can get to the area the better. And yes the oil based poly will bring a bit of an amber color with it. But most folks like the warmth the finish brings to the wood. Water-based finish won’t change the color at all, and as a result are usually described as “lifeless”.

      So if it were my house, I would simply give the windows a few coats of an oil-based wiping varnish. Minwax is probably the easiest to find.

      • Nicole July 19, 2010

        Thank you for your quick response…much appreciated! Just a couple of follow-up questions. So, I’m assuming you would use a wipe-on poly since I haven’t seen any spar urethanes that are wipe-on? Is it true that you will need more coats if you use this method? Also, you said that a spar varnish could be used for the added protection and durability. So are there drawbacks to using spar versus a standard interior poly and that is why many just go with the poly for a project like this? Can you use a combination of spar and poly and/or combination of application? ie. brush on the first 2 coats and wipe-on the last coat for a smooth finish? I am planning on doing light sanding with at least 220 grit sandpaper in between applications regardless. Thanks again for your help!

          thewoodwhisperer July 19, 2010

          You can make a wiping formula from any varnish/poly simply by diluting it with mineral spirits. But you are right, you won’t find a wiping version of a marine or spar varnish on the market (at least that I’ve seen). Spar varnish is a finish that remains a little more flexible, which is why it better for outdoor conditions. Some may think its a little too soft for interior applications. Other folks I know love using the stuff on indoor furniture. So its kind of a personal choice. But generally speaking, I typically use indoor formulations on indoor pieces. You can combine them if you want as they should be compatible. But I would probably just pick one and go with it just to keep things simple.

          You can definitely brush coats on if you want to build up a thicker finish fast, then wipe on the last one or two if you want. But if you wind up with any brush marks, you’ll still be able to see them after your wiped-on coat.

        • Nicole July 19, 2010

          Great- so it sounds like the oil-based wipe-on interior poly is your recommendation. Is 3 coats of this sufficient or will more be needed if we don’t use a brush application at all? Thanks again for all of the great advice!

          thewoodwhisperer July 19, 2010

          I would say 3-5 coats. But you will need to decide how much of a film you want. The great thing about wiping varnish on like this is that you can stop as soon as the film looks thick enough. Sometimes with brushing, you realize after its too late that you’ve gone too far.

  3. Dylon July 19, 2010

    Boy, this is a really good page. I really appreciate you helping us DIY’s. My question is, and i am sure it got answered somewhere in the giant list of questions, is i have applied three coats of spar urethane to a desk that we painted. It looks great but, once again, those pesky dust particles have shown up. i understand that i can use 220+ grit sandpaper or very fine steel wool(000), but wont this leave scuffs on the surface? is there a method to the madness? Thanks for all your advice! Also, i am ready to have this thing completely finsihed, so any other finishing suggestions will be gladly welcomed. thanks again!

      thewoodwhisperer July 19, 2010

      Hey Dylon. These problems seem overlooked by most finishing instructions. There will almost always be little dust nibs in the final coat. Even if we talk all the standard precautions, its still going to happen. So what I usually recommend doing is waiting a few weeks. Use the piece at little as possible and give that urethane time to completely cure. After a couple weeks, I like to go back and lightly buff the surface with a 2000 or 4000 grit abrasive pad. Festool sells these under the Platin line of abrasives. This will help knock down the little nibs, smoothing out the surface, but it won’t make any visible scratch marks. Pretty nifty.

  4. Morey Gustafson August 11, 2010

    August 11, 2010

    You speak highly of Epifanes… Can that be thinned and wiped on just like what you’ve said using Helmsman especially on a Fiberglass entry door. If so, what would be
    the thinning agent of choice… mineral spirits ? I think I’ve read that Epifanes is pretty thick…

      thewoodwhisperer August 11, 2010

      Yep. You can thin it using anything like mineral spirits, naptha, or paint thinner. I usually prefer mineral spirits. And you are right, the stuff us SUPER thick. So if you are going to wipe it on, you’ll need to thin to at least 50%, if not a little more.

      • Ken Rodgers August 11, 2010

        I just completed a fiberglass entree door using Epifanes and I think it turned out great. However, I used the Rapid Clear version which does not require sanding in between coats and can be re-coated in 4-6 hours (if I remember correctly). So, I was able to put on two coats a day easily even with the high humidity here in Florida right now. I also wanted to add that the Rapid Clear is not very thick at all. This is the first Epifanes product I’ve used so I don’t know how it compares to the regular stuff but based on your previous comments I’d say the Rapid Clear version is not near as thick. I used it on my T&G stained porch ceiling a while back and was able to roll and wipe it on without thinning at all. I did thin it a little this time however just to give myself a little more open time since it was so hot outside. I actually just used a china bristle brush and did not have any brush marks at all. I have a large front porch so the door is not in direct sunlight for very long each day so I just put on three coats. This gave a little more natural look but still has a good coat of protection.

        Hope this helps.


  5. Johnny Mack August 16, 2010

    I’ve learned quite a bit from all your posts. I’m going to be finishing some replacement window sashes and wanted to know the best spar urethane to use; how many coats; how much to thin each coat. The windows get constant moisture when it is cold outside (Wisconsin) and the bottom wood deteriorates very quickly. I know you recommend Epifanes. What about Varathane (made by rustoleum)? Any preference for a varnish stripper ? I’ve used the “safe” type with success. One last question, some of the wood surrounding the window has turned black. Can I “bleach” the wood ? If yes, what do product do you recommend.

    Thanks for your help.

      thewoodwhisperer August 17, 2010

      Hey Johnny. I don’t have much experience with Varathane so I will stick my my usual recommendation of Epifanes. This post is all about thinning the varnish for easier application. But if you want the most protection possible, which it sounds like you do, I would follow the instructions on the can. The wood will surely last longer if you do.

      And I don’t really have a preference when it comes to stripper. I haven’t stripped anything in years. But I used to use the more environmentally friendly stuff. Took a little longer to work but it still worked, and I didn’t have that nasty methylene chloride stuff in the shop.

      You can definitely bleach wood, but I can’t be sure what the results will be. There are products out there specifically for bleaching wood, or you can just buy oxalic acid. It may also be worthwhile to simply try sanding the darker areas. Only bleach as a last resort.

  6. Steve August 18, 2010


    I am a remodeling novice and will be purchasing oak baseboard to attach to some tile in a bathroom. In addition to the extra moisture in a bathroom from the shower, toilet and sink, some of the baseboard will be outside the bathtub and could be dripped on.

    I assume I should apply the unfinished baseboard to the tile first with plenty of glue (like a PL Premium or Liquid Nails) to get the best seal between the wood and the wall and then stain and apply a spar urethane on to the exposed sides. I briefly thought that I should put the spar urethane on all sides but after giving it further thought I now think it is better not to put any on the back side to allow for a better seal against the tile.

    Should baseboard purchased from a big box store need to be sanded first? If yes, what grade do you recommend using?

    Do you have any recommendations for a better way? Any specific product recommendations for the adhessive or protective coating?



    • Johnny Mack August 18, 2010

      Woodwhisperer, you are the expert using Epifanes, what does the “can” say on how to apply to make the wood last ?

      thanks again.

      Johnny Mack

        thewoodwhisperer August 18, 2010

        I wouldn’t call myself an expert at all, :). But I haven’t read a can of Epifanes in years. I rarely follow the instructions. But if I remember correctly they recommend applying with a brush at certain dilutions. I just don’t recall the exact details.

      thewoodwhisperer August 18, 2010

      Hey Steve. Yes I would definitely sand the baseboard lightly with 180 grit paper before finishing. And since you are trying to bond the baseboard to tile, I would probably use construction adhesive like liquid nails. The good thing is that stuff binds to just about anything. So I probably wouldn’t stain the back of the baseboard (just the front), but I would apply a light coat of your spar urethane on the back side. Just enough to seal it. Then proceed with your desired number of topcoats on the front. After the finish is dried, go ahead and attach the material to the tile. Again, the construction adhesive should be able to bond these dissimilar materials.

  7. Johnny Mack August 18, 2010

    So Mr. Woodwhisperer, how would you personally finish windows frames as I described with the Epifane ? Hate to put you on the spot, but tell me exactly how you would put each coat on, dilution level, application method, and whatever else I might need to know. Please don’t dodge the question. You know what you would do and if you don’t, think about it in relation to all the wood finishing you’ve done and give me your best step-by-step instructions.

      thewoodwhisperer August 18, 2010

      Hey Johnny. If it were me, I would probably just buy a can of Epifanes and read/follow the instructions. Why in the world would I be dodging a question?!?! I simply don’t have Epifanes recommended application instructions memorized. I know it involves a brush and starting with diluted coats and eventually building up to full strength coats. But I don’t have any on hand so I don’t have the instructions in front of me. The product works very well so even if you use fewer and thinner coats than recommended, it still works great. But you sound like you want the most protection possible, in which case the manufacturers instructions are probably the smartest way to go. My personal methods usually wind up with a surface that looks better to my eye, but won’t be as protective.

      Now if I really wanted to protect a piece of wood as much as possible, I might consider sealing the wood first with CPES (Clear Penetrating Epoxy Sealer). Then I would follow up with several coats of Epifanes diluted to about 75% with mineral spirits (brush application).

  8. Johnny Mack August 18, 2010

    Hey Steve, I would think twice about putting wood base board trim in a bathroom with a shower. I just remodeled 2 bathrooms and used bull-nose tile pieces for the baseboard. It will never rot and looks great.

    Johnny Mack

  9. Vito August 19, 2010

    I keep getting brush marks on my exterior door. I used a wood conditioner with cetol stain. I then used helmsman satin polyurethane. I’ve tried to thin it with about 20 percent mineral spirts and it still leaves marks. Please help


      thewoodwhisperer August 19, 2010

      Well stop using a brush! :) That’s the whole idea of this particular article: use rags to apply the finish. Seriously though, that will really improve the smoothness of the finish. That’s why I recommend it to folks who don’t have a lot of experience brushing varnish. Works like a charm!

      • Vito August 22, 2010

        Thanks for the information. The rag seems to work fine so far, however I’m not sure if I should cut the spar urethane 20% with mineral spirits or 50%. I went with about 20% and it seems like it is going to take a while. What percent do you recommend? Thanks again for your quick response.


          thewoodwhisperer August 22, 2010

          I usually go with 50%.

  10. Vito August 19, 2010

    Sorry I forgot to tell you it’s an Alder Wood Door with a mahogany stain finish.

  11. Christine Hedlund August 20, 2010

    Hi Mr. Wood Whisper, I am refinishing an oak front door that has a large oval stained glass center with the two side lite also with long stained glass centers. Staining was a breeze but when it came to the varnishing part(using spar urethane full strength), I used a soft bristled brush and going with the grain I noticed brush strokes. I sanded lightly got rid of the strokes then tryed a foam brush, it worked okay but my real problem areas are around the oval sections and at the very top of the door. Is it too late to try the wipe on method you discribe with the Epifanes and do I need to sand between the layers? would absolutely love your recommendation! Thank you Christine

      thewoodwhisperer August 20, 2010

      Hi Christine. Its not too late to switch over to a wiping method. And in some cases, with enough coats, you can get rid of some of the brush marks. But since the varnish really just wants to follow the contours of the surface that you wipe it on, most times you will still be able to see them. So perhaps a little more sanding is in order. Once the surface is flat and smooth, switch to the wiping method. And I usually do sand between coats. Its almost impossible to wind up with a perfectly smooth surface with no dust nibs, and sanding helps alleviate that. You don’t have to be super thorough. Just feel around with your hand for any rough areas and hit it lightly with some 320 grit paper. Wipe away the dust with a rag with some mineral spirits on it, then proceed with the next coat of finish.

  12. Steve August 20, 2010

    Thank you Woodwhisperer and Johnny Mack for your comments. I will try the oak baseboard first as you suggest Woodwhisperer and consider tile as you suggest Johnny Mack as a backup in case the oak does not work out.

    I get it that I should use a cloth to apply the stain but I’m unsure how to apply the spar urethane. I expect that spar urethane out of the can is too thick for using a cloth. Which leads me to ask whether I should be using mineral spirits to dilute the spar urethane for use on an oak baseboard in a bathroom and if yes how much mineral spirits to spar urethane do you suggest? How many coats do you suggest? Apparently only one (since you say to use a “light coat”) for the back which will be attached to tile with an adhesive, but I’m less clear about how many coats to apply to the rest of the oak baseboard.

    This remodeling novice has found your blog quite educational and I very much appreciate the direct answers. Thank you much.


      thewoodwhisperer August 20, 2010

      Hey Steve. As for dilutions and the actual wipe on process, just refer to the article above. Same thing applies to your baseboards. As for the number of coats, I would say at least 5-6. Wipe on finishes need a lot more coats to build up a protective finish. Now you may very well want to go with more than that for even more protection, but in my opinion, too much varnish just looks like crap. So I’ll take my chances on a thinner finish for the sake of appearance. You still want to avoid contact with water as much as possible. For the back, two coats should probably seal things up adequately. You could put the full 5-6 coats there too if you are so inclined, but I assume you are caulking the top right? In which case you shouldn’t have much water getting to the back of the baseboard. Let’s hope anyway. :)

      • Johnny Mack September 10, 2010

        Hi Steve,

        I’d still go with bull-nose tile for the baseboard in any wet (shower-bath) bathroom. But to get a good looking job you really need to hire a pro who will use thin-set mortar to attach it to the walls, make angle cuts with a wet saw, caulk the top and bottom with a nice small bead of silicone, and grout the joints with “sandless grout”.

        If you go the Oak route I think you you need 3-4 coats over the stain. I typically dilute the first coat 50% with mineral spirits and put the rest on undiluted. I personally don’t think “Epihanes” is any better than Spar Varathane (made by Rustoleum). Minwax Spar is ok too if you use enough coats.

        If the surface you are finishing is relatively “flat” use a foam brush. I use various widths depending on how big the pieces are. Use thin coats. Don’t “glob” it on, especially the undiluted coats. Absolutely sand between every coat. You don’t have to use a lot of pressure when you sand – I prefer fine and very fine “sanding pads” over paper. Much easier to control and you can tap the dust out to extend the life of the sponge. I always vacuum my pieces after I sand with a soft brush on the wand ; this picks up 90+% of the dust. Just be careful that the vacuum doesn’t blow dust. After vacuuming the pieces (notice “pieces” ; you don’t want to do one at a time; set up a table in your garage with a soft cloth underneath ; I use moving blankets) take a clean cotton cloth and pour some mineral spirits on it. wipe with the grain and try not to “double wipe” any area. Then use another clean piece of cloth for a second wiping with mineral spirits. Now your pices are ready for the next coat of varnish. Repeat the steps. It takes time to make wood smooth and have a coat that lasts. I usually use semi-gloss for all coats. If you want a semi-shiny finish use semi-gloss for all but the last coat ; then use Satin for the final coat.

        As far as using Epifanes its up to you. I personally don’t think its any better than Varathane Spar. I know people with Boats who have used both (even Minwax Spar) and they say they all last about the same. Its how you prepare and finish the wood that makes the finish last. Epifanes is made in Holland and costs a fortune. Its not worth the extra bucks.

        Buy enough poly brushes and toss them if they get saturated with varnish. You’ll see it and feel it. Buy professional oil brushes. Use both during your varnishing if needed.

        One last tip: if you are finishing a mixture of hardwoods and softwoods (like pine doors) consider using a “laquer” based stain product like Blond-It. I found that it eliminates much of the “blotchy” effects on the softwoods. Laquer stain dries fast so you have to keep moving. Brush it on (it kind of looks like paint) and then rub it off. Pros like laquer stains because of the fast drying time. They can put a coat of finish on the same day. The big negative of a “laquer” stain is that you need to get the can “shook” by a machine before using it ; even if its a week old. The solids settle out very quickly. Its tough to stir it back in by hand.

        • Johnny Mack September 10, 2010

          I meant Sanding Sponges not “pads” in the previous reply.

  13. Janet September 20, 2010

    1. I stained and finished our new Therma-tru fiberglass front door and sidelights 10 years ago, using Zar teak natural wood stain and Zar exterior water-based poly (satin). I applied 2 coats poly and have applied a renewal poly coat about every 3 years, sometimes needing to touch up the stain a bit. This year, the finish has cracked on some parts of the wood frame and there are some parts of the fiberglass door that bubble up when it rains and blows on it. I’m wondering if I should remove the poly in some areas. Can I do that just to the parts that are damaged? If so, what product should I use? Is it possible to remove the poly and not remove the stain? I am wondering if I should switch to using the General Finishes 450 exterior water base finish you have recommended.

    2. We just got a White Mountain ice cream maker and I am considering finishing the wood bucket to keep it nice looking. What would you recommend? The directions say to put 3-4 inches of water in the tub to swell the wood before making ice cream. Should I swell the wood, dry it and then put a finish on it?

    Thanks so much!


      Hey Janet. Generally, if the poly is starting to bubble and peel, the best repair would be a complete do over. Partial refinishes usually don’t work out that well. I would recommend stripping the finish off the surface using any stripper from the big box store. The most effective and fastest-acting formulas are also the nastiest to work with. Lately, I have found the more environmentally-friendly options to be adequate and must less caustic. I think Jasco was the brand of the last one I used. And most likely, when you use the stripper you will get into the stain layer. Its difficult, if not impossible, to selectively remove the poly without removing a significant portion of the stain. Now I haven’t really tested General Finishes 450 on a long-term project. Seems like good stuff though. But getting 10 years out of a water-based exterior finish is pretty darn good so you might consider using the same product you used before.

      Now for the ice cream maker, I need to give the disclaimer that I have absolutely NO experience in this are. And what may be best for wood may not be best for the ice cream making process. So if the instructions say you need to swell the wood, I wouldn’t recommend applying a finish to the interior. Finish is only going to impede absorption of moisture, as intended. But in this case, it sounds like you need the absorption to occur. Now you can probably finish the outside with a few coats of any exterior finish, but that makes me a little bit concerned as well. It sounds like this tub needs to breathe, absorbing and releasing moisture is probably an important part of its function. And finishing only one side of the tub could mess this up as well. So, what I would recommend if you really just want to keep it looking decent, is to use something boiled linseed oil. Give the tub a light sanding to freshen up the surface, then give it a couple coats of BLO. You’ll need to do this periodically to keep it looking fresh. The BLO won’t completely seal the wood but it will give it a somewhat “finished” look. And only do this on the outside. I still think the inside of that tub needs to be raw wood.

      Hope that helps.

  14. CP September 22, 2010

    Ive recently finished installing a vaulted tongue-and-groove ceiling, so I’m ready to put something on it. Prefer a clear flat / matte finish, and have read so many comments on here I am confused. The wood is white pine and I do not want the wood, nor the finish, to yellow in time. The ceiling square footage is such that I’d like to have as few coats as possible (prefer one). What is your #1 and #2 recommendations…in case I can’t get #1 locally? Thanks for your time.

  15. Chris October 10, 2010

    Great article and I’ve learned a lot just reading through the comments. I am a newcomer to wood finishing and have run into a problem with a project I’m working on. I just recently purchased a 1920’s tudor and I decided to refinish my wood front door as it was cracking and peeling. After stripping and sanding the door to bare wood I applied 2 coats of oil based Minwax stain. I waited the proper amount of time between coats as Minwax recommends. I then applied a coat of Hellsman over the finish. After waiting 24hours something doesn’t seem right as the Hellsman is not tacky to the tough and it doesn’t appear to be dry. Actually when I touch the door it appears slightly oily. I’m afraid that I left the stain on too thick and applied the hellsman over uncured stain. (After reading I realize that I did not properly wipe the stain after applying with a brush)

    What options do I have? I am going to try and wait it out to see if additional dry time is needed. If I need to start over what’s the best way to get there? I really appreciate any help you can offer!


      Hey Chris. I hate to say it buddy but you might be looking at a strip and refinish. If you didn’t wipe back the stain, curing can be a major problem. The stain contains boiled linseed oil which takes a good amount of time to dry. And when applied in a thick coat, it takes even longer. Add a film finish on top of that uncured surface, and you are looking at a sticky mess for quite some time. The oil under the finish will not let the top coat cure properly. Now sometimes, depending on a number of factors, the finish could eventually cure. But that could be days or even weeks. So if it were my door, I would strip it once again, sand it smooth, and give it several days to settle just in case there is residual oils in the surface. If you can and its nice an powdery and doesn’t gum up your paper, you are probably good to go. Then apply your stain and be sure to thoroughly wipe off the excess. And do not apply another coat of stain or anything until the first coat feels dry to the touch. If its clammy or even a little sticky, its not ready.

      Sorry to be the bearer of bad news my friend.

      • Chris October 11, 2010

        No problem I think I pretty much knew that was going to be the response I just needed to hear it myself. I spent so much time concentrating on stripping and prepping the door that when it came to finishing I left out a major part by not curing the stain enough and or putting it on too heavy.

        Strangely its not sticky its just slightly oily to the touch. I ran a 0000 steel wool over it and it actually smooths the finish out. It seems like it had dried but the wet stain appears to be keeping the spar urethane a little oily. I am concerned that it will fail eventually so I guess it’s back to the garage for stripping again. Thanks so much…

  16. Paul November 5, 2010

    Hi Marc, thanks for all the great info!
    I too am finishing the interior side of Pella wood (pine) windows. This thread has me leaning towards a wiping application of spar varnish (on top of a Cabot oil stain). Given all of the contours of the window frames, significant sanding between coats is not an attractive option. Is the Epifanes ‘Wood Finish’ product a reasonable option to avoid the sanding? Or, if you prefer their ‘Clear Varnish’ product is their a way to use that without sanding in between applications? Thank you!


      Hey Paul. Unfortunately, sanding is part of finishing. Now you don’t necessarily have to sand, but in most situations, the surface will wind up a little gritty and the overall quality won’t be as good. The most important sanding happens at the beginning, after the first and second coats. Once the surface is nice and smooth, your subsequent coats usually dry relatively smooth. So if you don’t want to sand those coats, you probably don’t have to. But if you don’t do the initial sanding, the surface could and probably will feel gritty and rough.

      • Paul November 6, 2010

        OK, thanks Marc. Do you have any experience w/the ‘Wood Finish’ product or do you stick solely w/the ‘Clear Varnish’?

  17. John November 6, 2010


    I am about half done with finishing windows sashes for casement windows on my entire house. Here are some keys to success:

    * Pine is very “open” grained and will probably “blotch” unless you use a pre-stain. Have your stain color matched on the same exact type of pine by a paint store like sherwin williams – I used the SW gel stain with Varathane wood conditioner

    * I used Varathane outdoor spar urethane. Its got great oils in it and will last a long time on windows. Usually the 1st coat takes 2-3 days to dry because of the quality of the oils in the spar urethane.

    * I did not wipe anything. Window sahes are so small you won’t see any build up if you use a high quality china bristle brush and put on “thin” coats. 3 to 4.

    * I used steel wool (000) to “sand” in between coats. I vacuum up the steel dust.then wipe down the wood with mineral spirits to get all of the dust off

    * Repeat for 3- 4 coats.

    * Varathane is already in the can at a very good thickness for wood finishing (made by Rust Oleum)

    * You can wipe, but it will take you longer as more coats are needed. Varathane only needs about 5-10 percent mineral spirits added to wipe. (more cans, measuring – to me not worth the additional time for windows. If I were doing cabinet doors or doors I might consider wiping. But I’d probably buy a cheap wagner indoor/outdoor sprayer and spray large items. Faster and looks better than wiping.

    • Paul November 7, 2010

      Thanks for the inputs John. I don’t see that Sherwin WIlliams has a gel stain so I presume you are using the ‘Wood Classics’ stain?

  18. John November 7, 2010


    They have a gel stain and its not the “wood classic” stain. The pros use it. You can use it on vertical surfaces and let it sit for more color if needed. Go to a SW store ; they have it, I just bought another gallon for some pine doors I am replacing.

    If you ask, they usually give a 20% discount. Its not cheap, but they will match your color and its excellent quality. Painters use this gel stain on new homes.


  19. samantha gillespie (http://?) November 18, 2010

    Hi Marc,

    We hired professional stainers to stain & poly all the extensive woodwork in our newly constructed house, They’ve done a great job using Old Masters gel stain followed by Sikkens spray-on water-based satin polyurethane, which they sand after 2 coats and it leaves a beautiful finish. However, they sprayed the exterior of our mahogany front door with Helmsman Spar Urethane (gulp!) and it looks fine but is a bit rough. I asked if they were going to sand it and put a 3rd coat on, and the stainer looked at me as though I was nuts and said, “This is exterior. You don’t sand exterior polyurethane.” Really?

    I found your site because I was researching whether it is okay to sand exterior poly. It doesn’t appear to be an issue, does it?

    My dilemma is that it looks fine as is, although I don’t like the feel so much — and now I fear for its future (due to Helmsman) after reading your blog. It also doesn’t seem like it’s got enough protection with only 2 spray-on coats. (Door does not have much of an overhang and gets morning sun every day in a warm & humid Dallas climate.) What do you think?

    Since these professionals are not finished yet with my interior (and I’m very happy with the results there), I want to keep them happy. They have demonstrated that they get easily offended and pouty, and at this juncture I can’t afford that to happen!

    So once they are done, I’m willing to tackle this thing on my own if necessary. (I’ll make it the last thing I ask them!) Could I just lightly sand the Helmsman and wipe on Epifanes? Or am I asking for trouble not to sand off the Helmsman completely before coating with Epifanes? And oh lord, that would mean staining again, and it might have a blotchier effect after sanding down…yikes!

    Last but not least, I can’t seem to find a product that mentions anything about matte or satin finish from Epifanes. The link you have mentioned takes me to an Amazon page for clear HIGH GLOSS Epifanes. I’m ready to buy some and try it out on a sample piece if I can find it!

    Thanks for your wonderfully detailed – and patient – help for all of us. You’re a real find!


    • Justin November 18, 2010

      First of all, I want to clearly state that I respect Marc and appreciate all of his advice along the way. This blog is excellent and I’ve learned a lot from Marc’s replies and input from others.
      About a year ago (see 1/26/10 post), I applied Helmsman Spar Urethane Semigloss to my exterior doors. Temps were near freezing for most of the project. However, I really didn’t have much of a choice. I posted my comment/question part way through the project, but decided to finish with the Helmsman instead of applying Epiphanes over the top. A year later, the doors look great. The only issue I have is one panel that expanded this past summer and caused a crack in the finish along one edge of the panel. I don’t think this would have necessarily been prevented regardless of which finish I chose.
      I have three coats brushed on. Last two were thinned with naptha to speed drying in the cold temps. Again – I have another door that is on the south of my house that I finished with Helmsman over 10 years ago and it still looks great. It doesn’t have the weather exposure that your door may have, however.
      I have not sprayed or wiped poly – only brushed. Have had excellent results – Thin coats, lightly sanded between each.
      I’ll let Marc comment on switching brands and any related adhesion issues.
      I know there has been negative feedback on Helmsman, but I personally have had good results. I’m a DIYer, not a pro, but I think surface prep has a lot to do with results others have experienced. If it were me, I’d lightly sand and finish with another brushed coat or a couple of wiped on coats of Helmsman on your door. That’s just my two cents.
      Marc is the expert with much more experience. Good advice will follow.


      Hey Sammy. I’m going to completely agree with Justin here. MANY folks have used Helmsman on their exterior surfaces with no problems at all. If I managed to give a different impression, I apologize. Of course many folks have also had problems with Helmsman and I will still make the claim that Epifanes is better, but it also costs an arm and a leg more. As Justin can attest to, its not a death sentence for your wood items to be finished with Helmsman. :) To address your questions, you can absolutely sand exterior poly. Especially if the finish is rough, a light sanding will help smooth things out between coats. So if you are concerned about the thickness of the finish and the texture, again, I’d go with Justin’s advice: sand lightly and apply another coat or two of the Helmsman. Technically, there is no reason you can’t put Epifanes right on top of the Helmsman, but at this point, I think its just easier to stick with the same material. But in case you still need it, here’s a source for Epifane’s matte formulation: http://www.jamestowndistributo.....te+Varnish

  20. samantha gillespie (http://?) November 18, 2010

    Justin & Marc – You guys are on the ball! Thank you so much for responding *today*, it will definitely help me tomorrow. :) Can you clarify one point for me? On interior poly, my pros sprayed on 2 coats and then lightly sanded (I think 600+ grit), and it left a beautiful smooth finish. (I had never before heard of sanding after the final coat, only heard between coats.)

    Would it make sense to do this same procedure with the Helmsman, or do you think it would undermine the protection somehow? Is the exterior stuff a different animal than the interior Sikkens product? If you think it’s okay to sand following the final coat, how many coats should there be altogether?

    Thanks so much for your advice! It gives this girl some real peace of mind. :)



      Glad to help. You aren’t really going to affect the protection by sanding. Well, unless you start sanding aggressively and actually remove a lot of the poly. What you should be mostly concerned about is appearance. The lower the grit, the more scratches you’ll see in the surface. 600 grit is ok for matte finishes, but I prefer to go a little higher when sanding a final coat. I like using 2000 grit paper or better yet, pads. The ones I get are rather expensive (from Festool), so you might be better off just buying the highest grit paper you can find. Automotive stores should carry 1000 and 2000 grit. The super fine grit has a way of smoothing the surface without creating highly visible scratches. And if you have a satin finish, you definitely won’t notice them. So its a perfectly viable way to smooth the final coat after its fully cured.

      You mentioned previously that they used water-based finish on the inside, so yes, that’s a completely different animal. But in terms of sanding and surface prep, its pretty much the same.

      As for the number of coats, that’s a personal call. Even on a front door, I don’t like a really heavy film. So I’ll take a little less protection in exchange for a door that looks more like wood and less like plastic. But I would say after 4-5 total coats, you are going to have diminishing returns.

      Good luck tomorrow!

  21. Ken November 19, 2010

    For many years I have hand *rubbed” my final coat using various methods. If the piece is sealed well even at the joints then I like to wet sand it using 400-600 grit (have to use the black wet sandpaper). Dip your sandpaper in a bucket of water, shake off most of the water, and then sand. Wipe it off with a damp cloth and then dry it. I then go over it with either automotive rubbing compound (wet) or 0000 steel wool (make sure the piece is completely dry first). Using these methods I can actually get a gloss finish from a matt topcoat. I’m not a very proficient sprayer but I like the speed it offers so this method gives me the final appearance I want with just a little extra effort. By the way, you can use this method on wiped or brushed on applications as well. Basically, once you get the topcoat on, the finishing methods/techniques are much like what’s used on an automobile. These techniques are pretty much the same as what Marc discussed but one is dry and one is wet. I’d try both and decide what your own preference is depending on the project at hand.

    Good Luck!!

    P.S.- I am a General Contractor and I also have a custom closet business. If I have a sub that gets offended because I question a method, technique, or otherwise then they usually don’t get invited back. This reaction tells me that they think they know everything and don’t want to learn anything new. As a contractor and sub-contractor (in the closet business) I am ALWAYS looking for new and better ways of doing things. A good contractor would have done that Google search for you to determine that yes you can sand exterior applications. Almost every night I am searching through sites like this one to get the answers to those things I don’t know (which is a lot). I wish more “professionals” would do thd same. I’ll step down off my soapbox now.

  22. bkalaska January 9, 2011

    I am urethaning some teak patio furniture and am wondering why the directions say to not apply in direct sunlight. Does this diminish the UV protection? I am using Varathane Diamond Spar Urethane.
    Thank you.

  23. George Lippert January 24, 2011

    I’m impressed with the information on your web site!!

    I have a “sealing” project which is interesting to say the least. I have a friend who asked me to finish two connected “stadium” seats salvaged from an old ball park. He wants to keep them in their present, existing condition for both sentimental and historic reasons. The end product is to be a usable furniture piece for seating in their den and outside deck.

    The folding seats are made of wood slats (both back and seat) bolted/secured to wrought iron castings. The entire seats are painted with multiple coats of yellow paint (probably lead based as these are over 50 yrs old.) The seats are in tough shape — w/ chips of paint peeling, some areas worn to raw wood areas but with very little to no wood “fuzz” noticable. Some wood surface areas have “alligatored” but are generally sound. The metal parts are about the same — some rust but mostly chips of paint showing completely coated w/ paint.

    I am considering using clear gloss spar urethane coatings (multiple coats) without sanding between coats as this would generally detract from the existing condition as well as time consuming. Both metal and wood with varying degees of deterioration are involved. Considering they wish to use it on their deck (in the sun) occassionally, what would be your advice regarding using spar urethane for this purpose, and modifying the viscosity to ensure penatration, flood sealing (in cracks), to attain a full smooth seal for use as casual seating. I am concerned about thermal expansion (wood/metal interfaces) and UV issues. While the seats are painted a gloss yellow — I want to maintain a clear glossy finish. I plan to apply with a small brush and lightly bluff it at all necessary . Long working time, due to irregulatirties and shape of pieces, and limiting brush marks are of concern. What would you advise on such a project?



      Hi George. Any spar varnish will probably do the trick, but you should know a few things first. One is that simply coating a failing finish could mean bad things down the line. If the paint is chipping, it could cause the varnish to fail pre-maturely. Also, oil-based finishes tend to amber over time. And that will affect the color of the seats. Depending on the final look you want, this may or may not be an issue. One thing you might consider is simply re-painting the chairs. One of the best, if not THE best finish for outdoor projects is paint.

  24. Carlo February 5, 2011

    I would like to refinish the exterior doors. Sand, stain and varnish with Minwax Spar Urethane, however, it is currently winter here (Northeast Quebec, Canada). Temperatures in the 0-20 F range. Can this be accomplished without removing the doors and installing replacements doors? I was thinking of waiting for a nice day (30-35 F) and doing it then. Will the product dry enough to allow me to close the doors? Will the cold weather cause poor results? Any help would be appreciated.


      Well any time you apply oil-based varnish under 60F, you are going to have much slower dry times and increased chance of crap settling in the finish. So if you are trying to do this with the doors in place, you should probably wait until summer. Even in summer, you may not be able to close the door. Just depends on how fast the finish cures. if its still tacky, I wouldn’t close it. And if it were me, I wouldn’t even think about it until the weather is much warmer.

      • Carlo February 6, 2011


  25. Brent March 30, 2011

    Nice site – has proven very useful, and I might be tempted to take your advice about the rag. I’ve had mixed results – some great, some awful with a brush.

    I have a general question. I’ve got a kitchen table top that I would refer to as butcher block. Fifteen years of meals and kids has worn the finish to something between non-existent and cloudy. A couple of hot cup spots from the wife’s coffee cup, some water spots, etc…

    I ran a trial with the matching bar stools using Helmsman natural oil-based stain, Helmsman semi-gloss polyurethane, and a brush with good results. But that was easy because I was working with such small surface area. Ironically the finish at about 60 degrees turned out much better and dried more quickly than a coffee table I finished last fall in warmer temperatures with the same products. The humidity was approximately the same I believe. Don’t ask me.

    Rear ends seem to cause a lot less wear than meals, school supplies, and tea glasses. Here’s my question, as I consider myself a rank amateur who simply has enjoyed refinishing woodwork as hobby.

    If this were your table top, and you were looking for the toughest, most durable semi-gloss finish, and understanding that the main purpose of the table is to serve meals, what would be your choice of finish? Polyurethane? Or Spar Urethane?

    It would appear to me that Spar Urethane is the better external choice, where maybe polyurethane a better inside choice?

    Thanks, and I’ve enjoyed perusing your site. I arrived at this particular article through “googling” and I apologize if this comment is not in the appropriate of place.


      Honestly, I would go with a good high quality polyurethane. For interior pieces, the spar varnish diesn’t give you much additional protection. Its a little softer, but that’s about it. So for me, I would like use Arm-R-Seal. Building up several coats with gloss than finishing up my last coat with semi-gloss.

  26. Brent March 31, 2011

    Thank you. I’ll take the advice as soon as the weather warms. One last question. What are the advantages of the gloss as underlying coat? Does it make for a more durable finish?

  27. dan April 3, 2011

    marc keep up the good work
    the owner at the restaurant i work at found out that im a hobbyist woodworker and wants me to refinish some of the tables. what finish would you recommend using. i was thinking lacquer. but don’t have a spray gun and i heard brushing is no good.


      On something like restaurant tables, I probably wouldn’t use lacquer unless its catalyzed. Furthermore, without HVLP I wouldn’t even bother with it. So instead I would recommend an oil-based polyurethane. This should withstand much of the damage a restaurant will dish out.

  28. Brent April 3, 2011

    Well Marc, the weather warmed and I gave it a shot. Everything was great as the table stained beautifully after hours of preparation and mess. However…

    Upon completion of my first coat with which I was pleased, our gale force winds in Oklahoma caught a small towel and whipped the small cloth right up on the table. Like a fool I panicked, and took my brush soaking in mineral spirits and tried to smooth the obvious mark. Now, I have about a two to three inch visible “groove” the length of the table. I tried light sanding to see if it would fill with a second coat. It didn’t.

    I’ve thought about getting my orbital sander with 220 grit paper and lightly running it over the top of the table to see if I could level the finish.

    I hope you’re not going to tell me to strip it again, as I went through enough orbital sanding disks to pay for the table – or so it seemed.

    One other question since you’ve been so nice. I’ve used a semi-gloss surface, which I’ve decided would probably look better as satin. I assume there are no problems using satin over semi-gloss – the same as your suggestion to use semi-gloss over gloss?

    I can’t tell you how disgusted I was as many hours as I spent getting this thing ready


      What a bummer Brent. Bottom line is you need to get the groove out of the surface. While a 220 grit ROS sanding will get you there quickly, it could very well get to there too fast! So I would say stick with a sanding block. That way it keeps things nice and flat and you won’t have any divots when you’re done. And I would try to treat the entire surface equally so that you don’t have unevenness to contend with. Since you don’t have much film thickness at this point, you are probably going to get pretty close to your stain layer so be careful.

      You are correct about the sheens. You can put satin over semi-gloss or gloss with no problems.

      • Brent April 3, 2011

        Thanks Marc – that thought occurred to me too. And the bar stools were so easy. LOL

        I am amazed at how fast you respond to these questions. You ought to charge for customer service like this.

        I really like your site and wish I had found this before “tearing into” a coffee table I did last summer. Though it turned out great through trial and error, you could have saved me a bunch of heartache and about three futile attempts.

  29. newport brian April 15, 2011

    Hey there woodwisperer, what an ripping service you are providing, in reading the above content, I am super impressed with your friendlyness and knowledge.

    I’m a bridgecarpenter by trade so chainsaw’s and torches are my main tools, with not much respect paid throughout my carrer to finishing, however… My parents have a pad in Newport Beach on the water and have inlisted me to refinish their fence, and gates, wich are beautiful finished wood. I have steel wool’d the crummy bits off the old finish and have applied a minwax red oak oil-based stain to the surfaces, waited about 10-15 minutes, and then wiped the excess off leaving it dry and shiny. Then waited 24 hours, for it to kick. I purchased a satin varathane spar urethane product and cut it 50% with paint thinner. I hoped to wipe it on with a micro fiber rag, so as to eleminate any beginner brush strokes or bubbles, also it’s alot of sq. footage ( and I didn’t want to tweak out over every square inch). Testing a small area the varnish turened reeally opaque and undesirable, much more than other waterbased( varathane spar urethane) that I had used in the past. And It was drying really fast, leaving a really crummy finish. My hope was to wet a rag in varnish and kind of wipe everything down, leave it oily and it would kick in a few (12-18) hours. Should I use a gloss and then a semi gloss topcoat? am I using too much thinner? Should I be able to apply this in 75-80 degree sunny weather? Thanks.


      Hi Brian. I’m assuming the product you are using is oil-based? Hard to say for sure why its really opaque and crummy. I used a few Varathane products in the past and I was never completely happy with them. Not that they are bad products, but they sure didn’t work well in my hands. So you might consider a different brand. Another thing to keep in mind is you might be setting yourself up for some future problems. If the fence was already treated, and all you did was scuff the surface with steel wool, the wood may not be in the best condition to accept an oil-based stain. These stains can have trouble drying if they can’t fully absorb into the wood. But if you notice it was completely dry to the touch within 24 hours, then you’re probably good there.

      So yes, you should be able to apply this stuff in the manner you described and under those conditions. Ideally, if you are going to do numerous coats, you probably do want to build with gloss and then finish off with a coat or two of your preferred sheen. Make sure you mix well before and during use. The flatteners will settle fairly quickly. But keep testing on small areas (smart move), until you get it right.

  30. Gus April 18, 2011

    Hello Marc….A few clarifications about your wiping method.
    I applied General Finishes exterior 450 stain(water base) to two 8 panel recessed fir front doors with a cotton cloth and a foam brush. I was happy with the way the stain took and went on even though it was tricky with the recessed panels.

    Now I’ve got the exterior 450 satin topcoat (water based) to put on these doors and I wonder what you recommend for dealing with the recessed panels and would you still wipe it on or a foam brush or whatever.Also, the can mentions thinning up to 10-20%, but I know you talk about thinning up to 50%. As this 450 satin dries fairly quickly, I could apply maybe 3 coats over one day. I can’t spend much more time then this for this job. What do you think?.


      Hey Gus. The material you are working with is water-based and that’s a completely different animal than what we’re talking about. My advice in the article and the above comments relates purely to oil-based varnish. With water-based finish, you really don’t want to dilute past the manufacturer’s recommendation. And I would continue applying with the foam brush if that’s giving you good results. Water-based finishes do not respond well to the wiping technique.

  31. Terri April 22, 2011

    Thank you so much for all the wonderful information! I have a question pertaining to spar urethane… I have made several floor cloths for a friend heavily involved in living history. These floor cloths are essentially canvas which has be stretched, primed, hemmed, then painted with exterior paint. The end result is a painted “rug”. I have been using oil-based spar urethane as a sealer but I am unhappy with the long drying time and the yellowing of the finish. I attempted to use a water-based spar urethane but instead of drying clear it dried leaving cloudy spots and milky streaks here and there. My question has two parts: First, is spar urethane the best sealer to use on outdoor painted canvas? It’s important the finish remain flexible in order to withstand rolling of the rug. Second, how can I prevent the milky appearance of the dried water-based product? Thank you so much for your help!


      Hi Terri. Unfortunately, I don’t really feel quality to answer this question intelligently. I never applied finish to canvas so there are some variables at play here that I have no experience with. If you are looking for a finish with a little flexibility, a spar varnish really is one of the most flexible out there. Is it flexible enough for your application? No clue.

      On certain surfaces (usually darker ones), nearly all water-based finishes will appear somewhat lifeless. Hard to say for sure what’s causing the streaks though. Are you using a clear gloss formula?

      One suggestions I’ll throw out there is to try the CPES product. This material will absorb deeply into the fibers and protect them against abrasion and moisture. Its a great product but a little pricey. Again, cant’t be sure it will solve all your problems but its the first thing that comes to mind when I consider what I might use in your situation.

  32. Darrell May 24, 2011

    Hey Marc:
    I have been building an outdoor patio table for my son. It is inlayed river rock on a wooden frame. Following installation of the rock, We filled the gaps using an epoxy resin type compound used on bar tops. Once that was finished, it looked like a clear pond of water with rocks in it. Looked great! Went to finishing the top with spar urethane to provide water and UV protection and the clear is still there but there are many ripples, runs and brush marks. After reading all the posts, I believe I will try to thin and either pour, or wipe the next layers on. A few questions however…(1) Do I need to sand the runs and ripples flush with the rest of the table, or will the additional layers make the ripple appearance disappear? (2) Will pouring work over this larger surface (4′ x 4′) or should I just go to the wiping method? (3) What grit of paper should I use to get the ripples out?


      Hey Darrell. If you are using a wiping method, you’ll never get rid of the flaws in the surface. The finish will just follow the contours of whatever you apply it to. If you pour the varnish, there’s a good chance it will level. But I have zero experience trying to pour a varnish. A thick layer like that will take some time to dry and you will have to be very careful about dust and insects settling into the finish.

      If you decide to sand, I would use 180 to get the ridges down, then work my way up to 320 for a nice smooth starting point. At that stage, when everything is flat, I would then consider wiping on the finish.

      I am curious if you aren’t better off just leaving the epoxy as the final topcoat? Its probably just as durable as anything you could put on top of it.

  33. Darrell May 24, 2011

    The epoxy I used said for interior use only and is not UV protected. Since this is an outside patio table, I wanted the weather and UV protection. I know the epoxy poured and leveled out well. Was hoping the same would be true for the Spar.


      Yeah the only real issue with the varnish is going to be cure time. As for the epoxy, I suppose the UV would be an issue. My advice would be to make sure you are using a really high quality marine varnish for this topcoat. But I fear that a thick coat of varnish is going to be very “amber” in color and will ruin the look of the table….

  34. Loren May 27, 2011

    I paneled the interior of one of my rooms in my home, with redwood panels (rough side up), I stained the redwood with oil based stain and inadvertantly put two coats of lacquer instead of oil based urethane. In the end, I wanted to have a thick satin finish. Lacquer seems like a real thin finish. Is it too late to brush a few coats of oil based urethane on top of the two coats of lacquer on there currently? Are there any special preparations? Thank you for any input that you can provide.


      Hey Loren. You can certainly build up a thicker finish with lacquer. In fact, lacquer makes an absolutely beautiful finish. At this point, I probably wouldn’t bother switching finishing. Pick up some satin lacquer and continue to build the finish to your liking. I think you’ll be satisfied with the results.

  35. Loren May 28, 2011

    thanks. unfortunately there are major issues with the that very strong lacquer smell. The lacquer can says that I will need about 4 more coats, whereas the oil based urethane says I will need only about three total.
    Also whichever one I use, will I have to sand or steel wool between coats? This may pose a problem being a large surface area and all, and having the rough side up, for effect. With two coats of lacquer already on, the coats are so thin that I can still feel the little splinters of the grain (which I do want to keep).
    I’m not sure how my surface will come out if I have to keep sanding between coats, I may lose the splinter grain effect that I wanted.
    I was hoping that by using a thicker oil based urethane would probably reduce the odor and require less coats and also reduce the need for sanding in between.
    thanks again for the advice
    Regardless, would there be any chemical reaction problems by switching finishes?


      Hey Loren. The think to keep in mind with the smell is that lacquer is much more offensive at first, but dissipates much faster. Oil-based finishes are a little less offensive at first, but linger much longer. So you have to pick your poison. The finish doesn’t have to be sanded between coats unless you want it to be perfectly smooth. In your situation, it sounds like you definitely want things to be rough anyway, so I wouldn’t worry much about sanding. That goes for lacquer or oil-based urethane.

      Yes its true that a brushed on poly will likely require fewer coats to get a specific film thickness.

      Now if you decide to switch to oil-based poly, you’ll probably be fine just putting it over top of the cured lacquer finish. Just keep in mind any time you coat one type of finish over another, you do increase your chances of having problems. Just the nature of the beast.

  36. Loren May 28, 2011

    Your advice and information was very helpful, personal and thorough.
    I will definitely check out your store.
    Thank you again.

  37. Loren May 28, 2011

    actually, I have a couple of more questions.
    If I do decide to switch over how long do you think it will take to cure and can you give me an idea of a couple of common problems that I might expect?



      Well lacquer cures within a couple days and poly can take weeks to get up to its full hardness. As for common problems, I don’t really know what you mean. I don’t really think you’ll have many problems in this scenario. Just watch out for drips and sags from applying too much at once.

  38. Nicole June 16, 2011

    We are in the process of wanting to clean and restain our wood deck and have seen many negative things said about using sodium hypochlorite (bleach) as it will damage the wood. Do you recommmend an oxybleach wood deck cleaner or are the name brand cleaners found in most stores that use sodium hypochlorite okay to use on wood? Is there a specific product you recommend? Also, is there a type of stain that you recommend that soaks into the wood versus sitting on top and being more likely to chip/peel? I know many people who have run into this problem as well. Thanks. Your comments are always very helpful.


      HI Nicole. To be honest, deck treatments are a little beyond my area of expertise. There is a whole world of deck finishes out there that I have no experience with. But based on what I do know, I would probably skip the bleach and maybe try TSP (trisodium phosphate). A dilute solution and a little scrubbing should get the deck nice and clean. And I really can’t make a good recommendation on stains, sorry. The stuff I work with primarily is meant for furniture pieces. And typically these products aren’t sold in quantities that are practical for a deck.

  39. Sharmon June 19, 2011

    We have a huge amount of tongue and groove wood walls inside a new barn that we have to protect somehow and we’d planned to use Helmsmen Spar.I saw the post that another lady made about her barn walls.The amouunt of wood that we have to cover is really unnerving.I don’t think the marine varnish Epifane is available in our area.Nor the General Finish,either.It’s either Helmsmen,or Varathane around here.My ? is: what is the best and least exhausting method to apply to these new barn walls? Thanks


      Without a doubt, HVLP. Spraying will get the finish on very quickly. Normally I don’t like to use HVLP with oil-based finishes, especially on vertical surfaces, but if you have a lot of area to cover, its probably your best bet. If you don’t want to buy one, you should see about renting one somewhere or finding a local woodworker that can lend a hand.

  40. Sharmon June 20, 2011

    I think we’d best rent one for the sections that we want to spray.

  41. oreokookie June 28, 2011

    HI WW….doing over a friends solarium which is 6 inch redwood boards and glass panels…the old clear spar varnish was applied over bare redwood, and now it has potato chipped and become opaque…whats the best removal of these flakes? after I finish , I’d like to try that epifanes varnish, how many coats for exterior redwood boards?


      I would probably start by scraping off the flaking finish, and see where that leads. If most of it comes off, then just sand lightly to remove the remainder of the finish and get it ready for the new finish. If its a little more stubborn, you can try a chemical stripper.

      As for the Epifanes, you can always just follow the manufacturer’s instructions for best results. Just keep in mind that will result in a very thick layer of finish, as you might expect for a marine application. So if you want something a little less “plastic”, you might try fewer coats. But this is really just a matter of preference. Good luck!

  42. Dave N July 1, 2011

    WW…I think I may have screwed up my front door. It’s mahogany with rectangular glass, panels on the bottom with sidelights and was installed 5 years ago with an easter exposure so it gets sunlight for a good portion of the day, although I have a lot of trees and shade in the summer. It was showing some flaking and wear, so I lightly sanded with 180 grit, followed by 220 grit sandpaper to smooth things out.
    Here is where the trouble is…I accidentally used Minwax red mahoghany stain (oil-based) and realized afterward that it was an interior stain. The color matches so well with the original color and the result form the first coat was satisfying. I have not applied the second coat yet.

    My question is can I coat over the interior stain with an exterior stain and
    then apply a spar urethane or have I completely messed this up? Would it be better at this point to strip the entire door and start from scratch?


      Hey Dave. There shouldn’t be a huge difference between an interior and an exterior stain if they are both oil-based. So they should be compatible. I would just hit it with your exterior stain and then topcoat with a high quality marine varnish.

  43. Diana Hauck July 12, 2011

    I just got a new bow window and have stained it with Interior varathane premium wood stain and now I just put a coat of Outdoor water base varathane diamond spar urethane on top. I plan on putting 3 more coats on but wonderding if it ok to use Interior stain and Outdoor water base spar urethane.. After reading some of above mades me wonder if I should continue with the water base spar urethane..Is that ok? Will be waiting for a answer.Thank you for all the information.


      Hey Diana. If the stain was oil-based, it will be fine as long as you let it cure long enough before applying the water-based topcoat. So if its already done and you aren’t having any adhesion issues, you may as well continue down that path.

  44. Diana Hauck July 13, 2011

    Thank you for your fast respond. It has now been 24 hrs. sense I had put the 1st. coat of the Outdoor Water Based Diamond Spar Varathane on. I thought it was dry so went over it with steelwool and now noticed in some of the groves it is a bit ticky. So will it dry with time?? So than can I give it the 2nd. coat?? or do I need to do something else? I want to get this done but want it to look nice.


      Frankly, I am a bit concerned that the finish is still tacky. Water-based finishes usually set up completely within a few hours. So I would probably wait until all tackiness is gone. Generally speaking, its never a good idea to throw more finish onto a tacky surface as it will only make the problem worse. So give it some time before recoating.

  45. Diana Hauck July 13, 2011

    I mean Tacky..sorry about the misspelled word..

  46. Jeff July 13, 2011

    Hello Whisperer, I have a small bar project going. The top is two pieces of the hard wood used in flooring staircases (oak?). It’s been stained with Minwax. So far I have four coats of Minwax Helmsman Spar Urethane on top (looks great so far). I would like to now glue down (somehow; is simple glue stick okay since it will be covered up quickly?) a bunch of beer labels and old foreign currency bills – and then add several more layers of this spar urethane over that. I’m concerned from reading around about the documents being altered in a bad way from the urethane. I’ve also considered making photocopies of the labels and bills on “plain” paper so I don’t lose them forever if things go bad, or I want them for something else. Would simple photocopies be even more affected by the urethane? This bar is intended to reside outside, but mostly covered under a porch roof. Thanks in advance for your thoughts!


      I am never one to shy away from admitting when I don’t know something. So….I don’t know. lol. Honestly, I really have no idea what the long term effects of the finish would be on the paper products. Sorry Jeff.

  47. Diana Hauck July 21, 2011

    I have completed my 4 coats of Exterior Water Base Varathane Spar Urethane on my Bow Window and it turned out really great.The question now i’m asking is the window sil is pine and I would like to put a more durable protection (hard) finish over it. What can I do? Can i put a Polyurethane over this Exterior Water Base Varathane spar Urethane? What kind or what would you recomend? Thank you for all your information..


      I honestly wouldn’t coat it with anything else. You already have a polyurethane on the surface, even though it was water-based. Its still pretty darn durable stuff so I think you’ll just create more issues for yourself by trying to put something over it. For a little extra protection, maybe try another coat or two of the same stuff.

  48. Hi Mr. WoodWhisperer!

    We, husband and myself, make rustic furniture. I use Waterbased Helmsman Spar Urethane. Love it but it drives me nuts due to random brush strokes. I do the same process every time – half the piece will be fine and the other half full of brush strokes. I go fast, I go slow. Have the temp and humidity just right and still brush trokes. Tried everything. Can I dilute it so it’s not so thick? Would this help? Product is not old. Can’t make any rhyme or reason out of it.



      Dilution may help the product flow out a little better. Just don’t dilute too much. No more than 10%. See if that improves your results. But if you guys are making a lot of this furniture, an HVLP might be a smart business purchase. You’ll get the job done faster and with no brush marks at all. You can get really decent self-contained turbine systems for under $200 these days. Obviously you can get higher quality if you spend more, but units like the Earlex are quite capable.

  49. enrique August 4, 2011

    I used this method on a tv cabinet, 50/50 mineral spirits and good quality spar varnish I had. I actually hated the brush marks on my fisrt coats, thats why I used this method. It helped a lot, the color of the varnish spread evenly and it looked great. Anyways I wanted the piece to get a thick film and a little shine on it, so the last couple of coats I mixed the varnish with 10/20 % of mineral spirits and it was great again, sanded in between, just awsome.

    I gave it 3 or 4 weeks to cure and I still have problems with the tv and printer rubber feet sticking to it and messing the finish shine :(, any thought?


      Well, sounds like the varnish just isn’t 100% cured yet, but based on your time-frame it really should be. We might also consider the face that spar/marine varnish is actually softer than standard interior urethane finishes. This is by design since the finish needs to be flexible for outdoor applications. That’s also why a spar varnish isn’t exactly the idea finish for an interior piece, especially a piece that will receive heavy equipment. So one thing you might consider it top-coating it with a harder interior polyurethane. At this stage of the game I hate to see you mess with a beautiful finish, but there is clearly a functionality issue. So instead of a “do-over”, I would try a fresh topcoat of something like General Finishes Arm-R-Seal. See if that improves the situation.

  50. Cari August 12, 2011

    Hi Woodwhisperer
    You rock…!i love that this site exists and all the Q & A.
    Here is my Q! I’ve just finished sanding and staining
    an outdoor table with The Minwax One step Polyshades
    (combo Stain & PolyUrethane-Pecan color) The last time i did this
    it didn’t wear well even tho it looked great just after.
    So i figured that i needed some Spar on top. NOt sure if
    this requires water based or oil based…and have gotten
    both Varathane brand from Spar Urethane at HOme Depot
    and not sure which to use and if i need to dilute either as you
    instruct. If i do this will it affect my stain that has some poly urethane in it?? Directions on cans only talk about applying with brush…ALso, i wanted to get your opinion
    and a brief explanation of the oil and water base SPar since
    my husband said that his understanding is that the water base Spar
    has some oil as well????? Can you please advise and of course thanks for any light you can shed on these questions.


      Hi Cari. When in doubt, keep oil with oil and water with water. You’ll avoid major compatibility issues this way. Polyshades is oil-based so you are best off staying with an oil-based spar varnish. The water-based varnish, unfortunately, isn’t quite as durable as its oil-based counterpart. So when possible, stick with oils. The application method is really up to you. The dilution/wiping is simply an option that makes application easier and lessens the learning curve for folks who are new to finishing. Applying by brush will present you with a few extra challenges, like brush strokes and drips, but you’ll build the finish faster (fewer coats).

  51. Jay Walker August 18, 2011

    Fiberglass doors seem like a new thing, but they?ve actually been around for a while. Therma-Tru, a pioneer in the fiberglass door business, started manufacturing fiberglass doors in 1983. therma tru doors offer the strength of steel and the warmth of wood without the drawbacks of either. Wood warps, splits and cracks. Steel dents and rusts. Fiberglass doesn?t have any of these limitations.

  52. Rich September 17, 2011

    I just completed a woodblock style clipboard for my sister-in-law. I finished it with spar urethane and got all the predicted results of lines and bubbles, etc. Problem is that I used purple heartwood which responds poorly to UR over time and I really need to get this right (I owe her for help in my own health crisis and my wife’s and now I’m 2 years late!) Anyway, I was thinking of sanding it down, reapplying a couple coats of spar varnish to get the UV protection, then adding an epoxy coating to handle the softness I read about in this string of notes. What do you think, am I nuts? Yes, I’m a rookie. Thanx!


      Hey Rich. Honestly, I wouldn’t really worry about UV protection. Ultimately, the piece is going to age as purpleheart does and there isn’t really anything you can do about it. And I’m guessing that the clipboard will stay indoors with some papers on top of it?

      Either way, I’d say just pick a finish. If you want to use spar varnish, go ahead and apply 4-5 coats using the wiping method described in this article. If you want to go the epoxy route, just follow the instructions from the manufacturer. But I honestly thing the spar varnish will be adequate.

      And if you want to simply use an indoor poly for the sake of simplicity, there’s nothing wrong with that either.

      So keep it simple and life will be much easier in the shop. :)

  53. John October 4, 2011


    I’m preparing to finish a new mahogany entry door. I ordered and received Epifanes woodfinish gloss and woodfinish matte. I’d prefer to not stain the door, but the long stiles on the outside of the door are darker than the rails (in its unfinished state, there’s not much of a difference, but when I wiped the door down with mineral spirits — to reveal what it would look like finished — the difference between the stiles and rails was noticeable, and, to me, objectionable). Any ideas on how to even out the difference between the boards and yet stick with a natural finish? Would thinned shellac as a washcoat help this particular problem, i.e., different boards? Your site is great! Thanks in advance for any help you might offer.


      Hey John. Something as simple as a dye or stain could very well bring the two tones into the same family. Shellac really won’t help you much since its just a clear coat. You could use amber shellac or orange shellac, but I’m not sure that will give you the “natural” color you’re looking for.

      Also, keep in mind that the wood may change color over time. It could very well even up naturally. And generally speaking, the less you do to the door the better. But if it really bugs you, I recommend a good oil-based stain. Just try to buy a color that doesn’t offer a dramatic change, but brings everything into the same color family.

  54. Bob H. October 12, 2011

    Just wanted to say thanks for all the information you provide on this website. I was looking for information on how to refinish our wood front door and found your website which provided excellent information on how to do it, what to use and the various products / techniques to get a quality job done. We would have had to pay a good amount of money to have the door refinished but your information made it possible for us to do it ourselves thereby saving us a good deal of money. Thank you again for sharing all your expertise and experience with us….it is greatly appreciated!!

  55. Colleen October 17, 2011

    Hello, WW. We have a wood garage door that was painted and sealed with varnish. We have completely sanded the door and panel grooves to bare wood. What is the best quality and type of stain you recommend that looks the best and will hold up under intense sun? In summer temperatures go up to 115 degrees with low humidity. We plan to use Epifanes varnish as well. Thank you for all the great information on your site!


      Hi Colleen. I don’t really have a specific brand recommendation for you, but I will suggest you go for an oil-based outdoor stain. Head to your local Sherwin William (or comparable store) and ask what they have in outdoor stains. That should get you a decent quality color fast stain that will be good under your oil based varnish finish.

  56. DJ October 17, 2011

    Sorry to be redundant with some of the previous posts, but I just want to get this correct. I am preparing to refinishing double entry wood exterior front doors that have been beaten up by the sun. I am planning on taking your recommendation and using a GF stain topcoated with Epifanes varnish. I talked to GF and they recommended only the Exterior 450 (water based) stain as this is their only true exterior grade stain. You have recommended the gel stain in other posts. I assume this is because it is oil based and is more compatible with the Epifanes (oil based). Am I sacrificing UV protection by using the GF gel and, if so, should I look for a different brand of exterior oil based stain? Thanks!

  57. Glen October 23, 2011

    I used the Helmsman Spar Urethane high gloss for my boat flooring (small area), and now want to put one more coat of a satin finish for the final coat, but I’ve now read online that I shouldn’t of used this for flooring (the can says not for LARGE areas like decks, but no notice about using on floors specifically like it says online :( ) So can I now use another satin FLOORING product for my last coat OVER the Helmsman, or do I need to use the same product of Helmsman SU Satin finish? Thanks for any advice on this!!!!


      Hey Glen. Pretty much all oil-based varnishes are compatible. They are all pretty similar chemically speaking. So as long as the previous coat is cured and ready for another coat, you should be fine. I would probably recommend giving the floor a light scuff sanding with 320 grit paper just to rough it up a bit while also smoothing out any bumps or dust nibs. Wipe away the dust and then proceed with your coat of satin.

  58. Mary October 28, 2011

    Helmsman Spar Urethane is TERRIBLE! I have used Varathane for years, but Helmsman was recommended by our local paint store for a new front door. Brush marks, high/low spots and a total mess. I sanded it down and have used VArathane and it looks great. Never again for any Helmsman product.

  59. John Klucharits November 13, 2011

    After reading many of the above I still have a question.
    Can you use Zar Exterior Waterbase Poly over Minwax Helmsman Spar Urethane as a final coat reason being that the Zar says it does not leave brush marks and is self leveling. Both are flexible and uv protection.
    Thank you for your response.

  60. John Klucharits November 14, 2011

    Thank you for your reply. Seems like I should have started with the Zar waqter based exterior poly but was afraid to put that as the first coat because of raising the grain to much.

  61. Jennifer November 14, 2011

    Hello! We are installing new pine interior stair treads. We have done 2 coats of red mahogany stain and are ready to add oil based poly finish. I think I am convinced that we should do to 50/50 dilution wiping method. The temp here is probably in the 70 degree range. My questions: How long should we wait in between coats? Should we sand between coats (what grit to use?)? How many coats total? How long should we wait before we install the treads for use (to be walked on)? I would hate to go through all of this cost and time to have them installed and then have the finish damaged when we started walking on them.


      Hey Jennifer. Most cans of finish have a lot of this information right on the back of the can. But here are some general guidelines.

      Don’t apply more finish until the previous coat is completely dry (no longer tacky or cool to the touch). I wouldn’t start sanding between coats until you have about 3 coats built up. Sanding any sooner could cut into your stain. Sand with 320 grit or higher. How many coats depends on what kind of look you want and the level of protection you require. I would apply no less than three. And I personally wouldn’t walk on them for at least a week. Poly takes time to reach full strength.

  62. parker December 4, 2011

    refinishing an old Duncan Fife table and I put 3 coats of spar urethane with a brush and sanded between each coat with 220 grit sanding pad. I am still seeing brush marks, so I wiped on the 4th coat and still see them. How can I get these out at this point?


      Sometimes, in order to get rid of flaws in a previous coat, you can simply put a thicker/smoother coat over top of it. The problem with wiping is that you are essentially applying a very thin coat. So it is just going to follow the contours of the surface. So you might try applying a thicker coat by wiping and seeing if that improves things. If not, you may need to sand the surface down until all the brush marks are gone and the surface is perfectly smooth. Then start wiping on your coats.

      • parker December 4, 2011

        how much sanding? and with what grit… hate to sand all the way back down.


          How much depends on what you see when you start sanding. You want to sand until the brush strokes are no longer visible. The problem is this may not just be a texture issue and the “marks” may be embedded down in the finish. So any time you put a coat over it the marks are still visible. But you’ll just have to see what you’re dealing with once you start sanding. I would probably use 180 for this. once you think you have it sanded enough, wipe the surface down with a little water or mineral spirits to get a preview of what the surface will look like with finish on it. Should give you an idea as to whether your sanding efforts were effective.

  63. parker December 4, 2011

    thanks… will give it a go and see what happens

    • parker December 25, 2011

      tried to sand down with 180 and wiped with mineral spirits, but still not getting down to the brush marks. What can do at this point?


        Sand more. If the problem is deep below the surface, you’re only choice is to dig deeper. Might be worth a do-over if it is that deep.

        • parker December 26, 2011

          Do you mean all the way back to bare wood? Man that will take a lot of sanding.

  64. Ardan December 5, 2011

    Hi, Thanks for the site, some good answers here…. I have some plywood that will be outside. I was thinking about oil based primer, oil based paint and final coat of Spar Urethane. Will this work or is there a better solution to protect from water and uv rays…..



      Honestly, I would just use a good quality outdoor paint and primer and call it done. Few things protect wood better than paint. We usually go to the extent of using a special varnish when we want to use a clear coat. But paint is full of pigments and does a fine job of protecting wood.

  65. ardan December 6, 2011

    Thanks for the advise…..


  66. Jim Lynam December 23, 2011

    Wood Whisperer hello my friend, Just have a quick question for you. In regards to polyurethaning my “fiberglass door” I stained my new “fiberglass” door “Mahogany” using minwax gel stain.. I wanted it a little more “red” but had to use more stain to even out the color, it ended up darker but still came out very nice..

    My question now is,polyurethaning the door with “Epifanes” what sheen or which “Epifanes” would you use. Is there one that would bring some “red” out… I know that it will have some amber hues what do you suggest..

    What “Epifanes” would you recommend for the “fiberglass” door..

    I am in Philadelphia and its only about 50 degrees so I guess I will have to wait about 3 months to finish the door..

    Any help would be greatly appreciated, just looking for the best product to finish the door glad I seen your website, I did buy Helmsman Spar Urethane, would rather use “Epifanes” because it’s superior to it..

    So in closing just trying to finish the door, which “Epifanes” shoud is use, I know there are different “sheen’s” maybe something that would bring more “red” out in the door, if that is possible..

    I appreciate your time and Happy Holiday to you and your family.

    Best Regards,
    Jim L


      Hey Jim. Personally I would just use the standard Epifanes Gloss. As far as colors go, they will all bring the same level of “amber” and warmth to the finish. But if you’re really looking to do something significant with color, you are better off doing this in the stain layer. But for all my outdoor projects that get Epifanes, I use the gloss stuff. Happy Holidays to you as well my friend!

  67. Jim Lynam December 24, 2011

    Thank you very much for the quick reply I greatly appreciate it.. In regards to using Epifanes gloss- how glossy is it and when you say the epinfanes will bring out the “amber” color, could you please explain not following… Also about changing the color, the door really came out nice, however I wanted a more “reddish” tone however, I had to apply more coats of the Mahogany in order to even out the color…So I am just going to stick with the color because, I have stained my front and my back door as well, they came out great, in the sunshine you can see the “Red” tones in the door… I am for sure going to take your advice and use it, I am hoping on a increase in weather over 50 degrees.. So I can put my handle on the door or I will be forced to just put the handle on and urethane the door when the weather permits to do so.

    I have read that some people dilute the “Epifanes” with paint thinner etc.. In your opinion what is the best application and what kind of brush should I use..

    Should I dilute it or just go for it..

    Thank you very much for all your time, you are doing a great job keep up the good work..

    Any information from you is greatly appreciated..

    Wishing you the best today and for the holiday’s as well..

    Best Regards,
    Jim Lynam


      Hey Jim. Their gloss product is about as glossy as gloss gets. The product is a clear coat, and as with pretty much all varnish products, it has an amber hue to it. This usually brings a sense of “warmth” to the project. But on a stained piece like your door, it won’t really be all that noticeable. Unless you add some sort of dye to the mix, you won’t be really changing the color at all.

      Any good quality natural bristle brush should allow you to apply Epifanes successfully. And you can certainly dilute it for a wiping application using cloth rags. That would actually be my preferred method. Thanks for the kind words Jim and take care.

  68. Bill December 26, 2011

    Hi Marc

    Just found your website and already have it bookmarked. Quick question on finishing Oak bannisters and railings. I used Zar oil based stain and it looks really nice. I was told that hardwoods should be finished with Spar Varnish……used Man O War Marine Spar Varnish semi-gloss full strength w/ brush. Took a couple days for it to dry (thinking I should have thinned it.) Would you recommend thinning the next few coats of varnish? I read that spar varnish should be thinned with pure gum turpentine. After final coat what should I do to wipe out minor bumps w/o screwing up finish. Thanks…..Happy Holidays


      Hey Bill. Personally, I nearly always thin my varnish for wiping. Not necessarily because of any particular drying benefits but because it is simply easier to apply and I get better results. You can certainly thin yours if you feel you need a less viscous mixture. And you can certainly use turpentine to thin but mineral spirits, naptha, and paint thinner will also work just fine.

      Once the final coat cures, you can always buff the surface lightly with some high grit paper or sanding pads. I like to use a 2000 grit pad and some mineral spirits as lubricant. Gives a nice smooth finish.

      And just for future reference, there really is no rule of thumb about using exterior varnish on indoor projects. You certainly can, but most people don’t. Interior varnishes work quite well for interior projects.

  69. Bill December 27, 2011

    Thanks for the advise. I was told that a rule of thumb was varnish for hard woods and poly for softer woods. Can I finish this project off with a rub on poly?


      Unfortunately, that advice doesnt make much sense. Poly is just a type of varnish. And generally speaking, you select your finish based on durability requirements and looks and not so much on the wood species itself.
      Since you already started with one finish, i would just stick with it at this point just to keep things simple.

      • Bill January 17, 2012

        With the holidays, I’m just getting around to finishing this project which is banister and spindles. A friend who does a lot of woodworking recommends using 600 grit paper to wet or dry sand and then use a good rubbing compound to finish the job. What do you recommend?

  70. Larry January 16, 2012


    Thanks for sharing your great advice. I love your website.

    I am refinishing an entry door with Helmsman Spar Urethane using your wiping method and diluting with 50%mineral spirits. The second coat dried with one small white line at a seam. The third coat dried with lots of white lines at the seams in the trim around the four windows. It looks bad. What happened? What can I do? One last thing, what do you sand with between coats using this method?


      White lines? That’s odd. I honestly don’t know what that could be. Usually, a white haze is a sign of trapped moisture. But lines seem more like a product of the application. Why they are white is definitely perplexing. Keep in mind that laying down coats of varnish is a lot like laying down layers of plastic wrap. If one layer contains a flaw, subsequent layers won’t necessarily hide it. So if you have a problem, you have to sand down far enough to remove the problem area and then re-coat.

      And when I sand between coats I usually start with 320 and work my way up to about 600, going up a grit between each coat.

  71. Brandon January 24, 2012

    First i want to thank you for you detication to helping others in your feild of expertise. I am currently making cornhole boards and am having troble finding that perfict finish. I am looking for somthin that i can cover over acylic latex paint that will not yellow. I have foundthat varnish has held up fairly well with the pounding of bean bags but with that customer who want a white board helmsman sapr urethane just is not holding up to my standards. I am also concearnd with thebond strenth to water based acyrlic paints due to the nature or the game. If it was cost effective i would epoxy it all. Please help with this challenge i am having. And again thanks for all you previous advise.


      Hi Brandon. The fact that you need something that won’t yellow is the real key point here. Pretty much all oil-based products will. And they generally look like crap on top of latex paint. So I say go water-based for your topcoat or simply use a high quality exterior latex. For water-based, there are many options that will work. One that I have had luck with is General Finishes Exterior 450.

    • Brandon January 25, 2012

      Ok i will try that finish. Thank you very much for your advice.

  72. Brandon January 25, 2012

    Hi again. I am sorry I have so many questions. Just dont want to mess up. Reading this article I have learnt about using the rag method for applying oil varnish by thining it. Is there a method to do this with GF 450? if so how?

  73. Greg January 29, 2012

    Some very imformative word on these two finishes! I really have grown to appreciate your work as it took me forever to scroll down the page of questions and replies. Heck I’ll throw one in to, I am making a tray for my cottage which I will bring to the water with drink and stuff. I am leaning towards the spar varnish for its protection against uv and the numerous water bottles that may be dropped on the tray. The only turnoff is when you say it is a softer finish, how softt are we talking. I don’t really want someone to touch it with there fingernails and leave a noticeable mark?

    Thanks for your insight.


  74. Rodrigues February 1, 2012

    Hello, just finished a deck with Brazilian tiger wood. Looks great!
    Used a Behr (home depot) semi-transparent sealant, but it is not glossy. Can I use the Epifanes Marine Varnish over it for a glossy finished look? Thanks for the advice. I am in the Central Florida Area of the country.


      As long as the previous finish is cured, you should be able to. Maybe rough up the surface a little with some 320 grit sandpaper before applying the varnish. Also, test on scrap or an inconspicuous area first to confirm that there are no adhesion issues and that you really like the way it looks.

  75. Rodrigues February 1, 2012

    The finish was applied 7 days ago. Is that long enough for curing?
    Also, what is the best way to apply the Epifanes Marine Varnish on the deck surface?

    I will try and let you know the results.

    You are the best!
    Thank you again

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