Help needed with refinishing project - wipe on poly problem?


I am starting to think ghosts are messing with our dresser top when we're not looking? After sanding and staining, I started to varnish with Minwax wipe on poly. First coat = fine. A light sand with 320, quick wipe with mineral spirits. Second coat = also fine. Another light sand and wiped down with mineral spirits. Third coat scratches, scratches and more scratches. Swirls of them everywhere. Sanded with 220. Reapplied coat #3 = same thing - marks that appear to be scratches. They weren't there with the original wood or with the first two coats of poly. Nothing about the procedure of putting on coat #3 was changed. Using a blue shop towel, thin coats, always going with the grain across the top of the dresser. Anybody have a clue what's happening? Help! Gail
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You're still working with too coarse sandpaper. Work incrementally down to 600 or 800 grit, with oil, then rub each coat of the finish out with pumice and rottenstone and oil or water for lubricant. It will come up like a mirror. Fine finishing is hard work! Bugs
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Gail,
The instructions on the can said to use a lint-free cloth - correct? A shop towel or even a good cotton T-shirt are not lint free. I suspect what is happening is that you are not leaving enough time between coats - again, read the instructions. The sandpaper you're using for the final coat is way to coarse. Go to and automotive store and get some wet/dry papers ($1/sheet) the 600 + grit range and sand using mineral spirits as a lubricant or water.
The instructions will tell you how long to wait between coats and if you exceed that time then you must allow extra days for the previous coat to dry before applying another finish. Poly dries to the touch within several hours depending on temp and humidity but it takes 30 days for it to cure - or longer.
Replace the shop towel with a polishing cloth material like cheese-cloth - lint free. Wet it with the poly, fold it up to make a pad about 2" wide and 4" wide (width of your hand) and apply some poly to the piece using a foam brush - not to much. Apply the poly to about a 4" wide swath for the entire length of the piece.
Now spread the poly using the pad - edge-to-edge. You start at one end and pretend your hand is an airplane that is going to land on the surface. It lands about one inch away from the first edge and you continue all the way to the other edge without lifting the pad from the surface - all in one even motion. You continue until the pad goes off the other edge. Now do the same thing but start from the other edge and work towards the first edge which does not have much poly on the first inch or so.
The swipe you just made in each direction will be about 4" wide and you should see a nice even coat, edge to edge. If you see you missed a spot or there is a streak mark, do not, repeat, *Do Not* go back over it. Simply continue on (rather quickly) applying more poly in the next 4" wide swath and spread with the cheesecloth pad, etc. on to the end.
You must work quickly in order to keep a wet-edge on the previous 4" wide swath. If the edge dries, you'll know it soon enough. At that point you can do a couple of things. You can hit it with some mineral spirits to thin it out and wipe with the pad again - usually not a very good idea unless you're experienced and know what you can get away with.
The other idea is to thin the poly to 50/50 with mineral spirits to give you thinner coats and more working time before you start. We're talking seconds before the edge starts drying to where if you touch it with anything - you just ruined the surface. Keep in mind that you will see some irregularities when the poly is applied but it will even out some before it sets-up.
Work in a dust free environment, no air flow over the piece while applying the wipe-on poly, work quickly but smoothly, thin the poly, apply more coats to get a nice even build-up and use finer grits of paper between coats.
The good thing is, you can correct any mistakes rather easily. Let the poly dry as per the instructions and then sand down the piece but this time use the coarser grit of 320. Clean off with mineral spirits using lint-free paper towels or lint-free cloth. Now that you have a nicely sanded finish (dull looking - no gloss), and start over. Thin the poly, use a foam brush to apply in a 4" wide swath, use a pre-wetted folded piece of cheese cloth and spread as above - two passes, one in each direction like landing an airplane on the top. You'll soon get the feel of how much poly to apply. To much, spread it with the pad - quickly. To little - leave it be - and continue on to the end. Sand between coats with wet/dry paper using a lubricant and wipe off using a lint free towel moistened with mineral spirits.
Do the edge right after doing the swipes on the top after each pass. This will get the drips (if any) from the last row of poly applied.
There are many different way's to apply wipe-on poly and just about any poly can be made to be a wipe-on by simply thinning it. I've used the above method for a number of projects and although not fool-proof, it does work nicely once you get a rhythm going.
Bob S.

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Thanks all for the suggestions. I'll give it a whirl. Wish me luck! Gail
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