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!
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!
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 -
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
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.
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