How to Apply the Last Coat of Poly for a Dining Table Top?

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I would like to know a good way to apply the last coat of poly on a dining table top.
I am almost done with re-finishing the dining table top. I have painted many coats of poly, and sanded it many times. Now, the table top is very smooth. After I have applied a coat of poly with a natural bristle brush or a foam brush, I find that the surface in general is very smooth -- but there are too many little bubbles. Using a rag is better; but I still get enough bubbles that I want something better. Spraying poly from a spray can is good; but the surface feels very grainy, not glossy smooth at all.
What should I do?
Thanks in advance for any help.
Jay Chan
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Have you considered a wipe-on poly? Try thinning your poly 50/50 and wiping it on with a lint-free rag or paper towel. The goal is a VERY thin rubbed-in coat, almost like an oil finish.
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Jeff Jewitt described application of Sherwin Williams Fast Dry Oil Based Varnish using Viva paper towels in FWW a couple of years ago. The Viva towels are smooth and don't leave a pattern in the finish. A 1:1 mix of varnish and Naptha, flashes off faster, using plastic squirt jug and wiping on up to 3 coats a day. Use gloss only to avoid stripes.

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DJ Delorie wrote:

Thanks for the suggestion of using wipe-on-poly. I have just finished putting the first coat of wipe-on-poly on the dining table top. It looks good -- no bubble; but I am putting the wipe-on-poly a bit too thin. I will put on the second coat a bit thicker, and I am sure the result will be even better.
Last time when I tried thinning poly with thinner, I still got bubbles. I probably didn't thin it enough. The wipe-on-poly from the can is already properly thinned. That is the reason why it works fine this time; but didn't work last time when I thinned the poly myself.
Wipe-on-poly is great. But now I understand why people want to rub the finish instead of relying on wipe-on-poly. Soon after I have put on the wipe-on-poly, I start seeing a few dusts landing on the wet surface. Sigh... Having said this, I will stick with wipe-on-poly for now instead of rubbing the finish. The reason is that I need to have the table ready for X'mas dinner. If I wanted to rub-in the finish, I would need to wait one month for the poly to completely hardened before I can start rubbing in order to achieve a high gloss finish (according to a book on wood finishing). I don't have one month to wait. Anyway, after a few years of hard use by my kids, I am sure I will need to refinish the dining table. At that time, I will try rubbing the finish.
Thanks again for the many good suggestions people have offered here.
Jay Chan
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Sherwin Williams Fast Dry Oil Based Varnish thinned 1:1 with Naptha and wiped with Viva paper towel, smooth surface towel, allows three coats a day and dries fast! Fast dry reduces the falling dust particles impact.
On 10 Dec 2006 19:04:38 -0800, snipped-for-privacy@hotmail.com wrote:

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snipped-for-privacy@hotmail.com writes:

No such thing. Try 2-3 coats if you think it's "not enough".

Nope, way too thick, and you're probably still wiping it on, not rubbing it on.

50/50 ?

Not thin enough. When I do wipe on poly, the coat is so thin it's almost dry when I'm done rubbing (like oil, you wipe off any excess, then rub the remainder in until it's dry-ish). It takes 10 coats to get a sufficient finish, and even that "looks" thin when I'm all done.
Note that when I say "rubbing" I mean... what I do is dip a corner of a folded paper towel into the poly, and rub the towel over the wood. I rub firmly - I'm definitely rubbing the poly into the grain, not just wiping a layer of poly on. This physical rubbing is what avoids the bubbles, not just the thinness of the poly.
I don't mean I'm polishing the coats after they dry. I never do that.
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DJ Delorie wrote:

What you have suggested is totally different from what the instruction on the can of wipe-on-poly says. This really makes me interested.
Seem like you are rubbing in the poly wet, instead of rubbing the dry/hardened poly. May I ask you the following questions:
If I understand you correctly, you rub the wipe-on-poly until it is dry instead of waiting the poly to dry naturnally, right? And this is the key to reduce the chance of getting dusts on the surface, right?
How soon do you put on the next coat? Do you wait for the poly to completely hardened and then light-sand it, and then rub in the next coat? Do you immediately put on the next coat right after you have rubbed in the wipe-on-poly to dry? How long does 10 coats of doing this take you?
Does this work on a surface that has already had 6 coats of poly and is completely flat and smooth and no wood grain?
How does the finish look after 10 coats of your way of rubbing in the wipe-on-poly? Should I expect to see a semi-gloss finish or a gloss finish assuming that I am using clear-gloss wipe-on-poly?
Sorry for that many questions. But I have never heard about this way of applying wipe-on-poly, and this way seems to be very promising.
Thanks in advance for any further info about this way of applying wipe-on-poly.
Jay Chan
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Someone update this, I wanna know how it worked out! Take some pictures too!
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I don't know about the other person's project, but I'm working on a top for a pair of corner cabinets for our dining room, and so far they're coming out OK. The things I noted while I was doing it:
I only use the first 1/4" or so of the brush. Very little poly, thin coats, the brush almost feels "dry" by the time I re-dip. I ended up using half as much poly as the can says to expect.
The dryer brush near the end of each dip-brush cycle seems to be better at getting rid of the bubbles.
Even though the slabs are hanging vertically, there are no runs :-)
Also, I'm using the SLOWEST drying poly they offer - one coat per day. The fast drying stuff seems to not give the poly time to settle, time for the bubbles to pop, etc. It also seemed to run more, and the runs dried before they could flatten out.
My coating schedule: two coats super fast drying sanding sealer (hey, I'm going to sand the bumps out anyway) to seal the pores. I almost sanded back down to wood, but this is red oak so there's plenty of sealer left in the pores. Next, two thin coats of slow-drying gloss poly (the first was today), followed by a coat of satin. If I need to, I'll do a 50/50 coat of satin, rubbed on, after that.
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snipped-for-privacy@gmail.com wrote:

Not sure if you are addressing to me or to DJ Delorie.
Anyway, I haven't applied the final coat of wipe-on-poly yet because I was waiting for DJ Delorie's reply on his method of rubbing wipe-on-poly. Well, I guess he is not going to reply, and I will have to use another method that I found in this newgroup, and I will do this in this evening:
o Yesterday, I sanded the surface down very smooth to remove the dusts that landed on the coat of wipe-on-poly that I applied the other day.
o This evening, I will run the air cleaner for one hour to remove all the dusts. Then, I will apply two thin coats of wipe-on-poly on the surface in quick succession. I plan on waiting for one hour between coats to let the poly to dry to touch before applying the second coat. I will _not_ sand between coats. After two coats, I will wait another hour and then use wipe-on-poly to touch up areas that are not shiny -- again, no sanding before applying wipe-on-poly to touch up.
Hope this will finish this refinishing project that has been going on for one month.
Jay Chan
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Sounds kinda like how I do floors... it takes forever.
I use a synthetic bristle brush and thin the poly to 50/50. the first coat is really sparse and is absorbed by most of the white oak, then apply another coat of 50% gloss poly / 50% thinner... starts to look better.
Then sand with 400 grit paper, then put a final coat of about 30% poly /70% thinner on top. This leaves a pretty good finish, but it takes FOREVER to get rid of all the bubbles, and you've gotta use a very very strong flashlight and put your cheek on the floor to see them.
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snipped-for-privacy@gmail.com wrote:

And, you cannot get to use the room... This should give you a lot of incentive to finish the job quickly.

The parts that I don't quite understand are:
o Why there are many bubbles if you have already thinned the poly significantly? I got bubbles only when I lightly thinned the poly. When I use the wipe-on-poly (that I believe is thinned to 50/50), I don't have any bubble.
o How exactly did you manage to remove the bubbles after they were already there? This is the part that I really want to know in case next time when I need to high build the finish for rubbing finish.
By the way, last night I applied three coats of wipe-on-poly on the dining table. That process took much longer than I thought because the temperature in my unheat basement is not high; therefore, the wipe-on-poly took much longer than I had planned to dry enough for me to apply the next coat. As of the result... Good enough for my own use, but not good enough as something that I can be proud of. Even after running the air cleaner for a couple hours, I still have dusts on the surface here and there. Moreover, the sheen is still not even. But it is good enough for the intended purpose; therefore, I will stop the project right here. Next time if I need to create a show-piece, I will definitely try rubbing the finish.
Jay Chan
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snipped-for-privacy@hotmail.com wrote in wrote:

FWIW Jay. After you run the air cleaner, let the shop stay still for two days. This time will give the dust that was circulated by the air cleaner time to settle. Make certain that you use a tack cloth before the next coat. Hank
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Henry St.Pierre wrote:

Sound like I started putting on the last coat too soon after I had run the air cleaner. And wipe-on-poly didn't dry that fast in the unheated basement. These two factors resulted with me having dusts on the wet wipe-on-poly.
I will not correct this until X'mas is over and I can leave the poly some time to completely hardened (let's say one month). Then, I plan to light sand it and try rubbing finish. Hopefully, this will be good enough. But if I end up sanding through the three coats of thin wipe-on-poly, I may have to apply a thick coat of poly and wait another month and try rubbing finish again.
Jay Chan
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On Mon, 18 Dec 2006 09:42:33 -0800, jaykchan wrote:

I'm a little puzzled as to why you're having to put this much work into wipe-on polyurethane. Just sand smooth, wipe on, let set for the recommended time, repeat until you're happy with the finish. No elaborate dust-control measures needed.
Sounds like wipe-on poly just isn't the right finish for you--spend the $125 for a gallon of precatalyzed lacquer and a Woodcraft HVLP gun. Dries hard enough to sand in 40 minutes or so, not enough time for it to pick up much dust, and you can sand and polish it as bright as you want.
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--John
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J. Clarke wrote:

I didn't see dusts in the air when I point a spot-light through the air before I applied the wipe-on-poly. I was quite surpised to see the amount of dusts that landed on the wet wipe-on-poly. My thinking is that my two sons running around and jumping around on the floor right above where the table was (it was in the basement) might have something to do with the amount of dusts ending up on the table surface -- I am not very sure.
I also have the same feeling that wipe-on-poly is not the right finish for me. I am thinking of either using a brush-on-poly or a completely different finish (that I will put on top of the wipe-on-poly). Honestly, I am not going to buy or use a HVLP gun because I doubt that I will have much use of it in other projects. At this point, I am not sure what type of finish that I will put on top of the wipe-on-poly; but this is the direction that I likely will go.
Jay Chan
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snipped-for-privacy@hotmail.com wrote:

Thin the poly and let it stand for a while before applying (time for the bubbles to rise). I've had good success with the Wooster foam brushes.
After a day or three, you can rub out the inevitable minor imperfections with some combination of:
* 0000 steel wool * Wet sanding. Maybe 600 grit all the way to 1500-2000 * Pummice stone and then rotten stone * Automotive rubbing compound and then automotive polishing compound
I like the effect that I get with 0000 steel wool which is quick and easy. That should be totally smooth but not very shiny. If you want a high gloss you'll have to try some of the other options.
In any event, I think you'll get to desired state of perfection by rubbing, and rubbing... The degree of glossiness will be determined by what material(s) you choose to use for that rubbing.
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Dito that. The Wooster foam brushes are remarkable good for this.
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Malcolm Hoar wrote:

Thanks for the suggestion of thinning the poly first. I tried that once. But I didn't wait for the bubbles to go away before using the mixture. I should have waited long enough for the bubbles to rise. Next time, I will wait (may be half a day).
Also thanks for the tips of the way to remove the last bits of imprefection. I will use various fine grit sandpaper to sand the surface down, and rub the surface with automotive rubbing compound and then automotive polishing compound. I didn't know that I could use automotive stuffs on kitchen table. Thanks.
Which grid of sandpaper do you recommend? I already have 400 grit and 600 grit sandpaper. Would you recommend me to sand in this sequence: 400-grit, 600-grit, 1000-grit, 1500-grit
Jay Chan
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snipped-for-privacy@hotmail.com wrote:

I'd start with 600 grit. However, I think you'll need wet and dry paper (if you don't already have it). You will need to use it wet too. I'd probably try mineral spirits rather than water. Obviously, you'll want to allow a few days for the poly to cure fully (esp. during this colder time of year).
Whatever abrasive you use, go very, very gently. You're not trying to remove a whole bunch of material here -- just smooth and polish the topmost surface.
With a little common sense and a lot of care, you should be able to achieve a really beautiful finish.
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