I don’t think a high quality oil modified polyurethane can be beat (photos of samples)

sample boards
sample boards
sample boards
sample boards

Ok, these sample boards I’ve been working on. I’m trying to show the difference in appearance between oil modified polyurethane and water borne urethane. The samples are on steamed walnut (that is the sample with the consistent colouration), unsteamed walnut, quarter sawn white oak and plain sawn red oak. On the white oak I’ve also stained 2 sections golden brown and dark oak. One half has had one coat of water borne applied but I haven’t coated the other stained half with oil modified yet.

Which do you like most? The oil modified Primero went on smooth as glass, but I have to fight with the water borne. The water borne is significantly lighter in all cases. Especially on the red oak it looks ‘sterile’. After all these years, I’m still not a fan of water borne. There are versions of this finish which amber and maybe that would help to enhance the appearance of the wood. The only occasion I can think of when a water borne, non ambering must be used is for pastel stain colours such as white. I’m not yet convinced of the water borne coatings being as long lasting as oil based regardless of the ‘taber’ test which have been done. How does the coating stand up in real world activity? For smoothness and depth of colour, I don’t think a high quality oil modified can be beat.

Do you know of a good source for information to give customers for oil finish maturity?

Q: Do you know of a good source for information to give customers for oil finish maturity? Like the PDF Glitsa has on their website under their “What to expect during curing process” link(http://www.glitsa.com/maintenance.php). We don’t normally use Glitsa for obvious reasons. We use Bona oil base and cannot find that kind of a list on their website.

And thank you for your advice on rolling on our finish. 10x better than the T-bar.

A: I haven’t been able to find a separate document on my computer outlining the rundown of what to expect of oil modified during the curing process. However, the label on the can of Primero does give the outline: Light traffic initially and normal traffic after 3 days. The finish reaches 80% full cure in 7 days and full cure in 30. No area rugs for the first 30 days.

You might be able to find something more substantial at www.woodfloorsonline.com.

Before I started using Primero I tried applying the finish with a weighted T bar because I was sick of dealing with streaking and mop stops when using satin. However, I found it applied much too heavy a coat and I couldn’t keep to the spread rate of 500 feet per gallon. I’ve never had streaking issues with Primero but just decided one day to try the roller. I had used a lamb’s wool for more than 30 years. It seemed a bit awkward initially, but it did lay down a good even coat and especially with a first coat on stain, there is no pushing, pulling and rubbing as the lamb’s wool does so it was less likely to disturb the stain if it didn’t happen to be 100% dry. I’ve been rolling ever since, over 2 years now.

Waterborne finish most durable regarding scratches?

Q: I just got my floors refinished and I was under the impression that the waterborne finish would be the most durable from scratches. I can easily scratch my floors with a light rub of my fingernail and I am concerned because I have 2 dogs who I’ve not let on the floor yet, and a baby on the way. My flooring refinisher said he put 2 coats down and I have asked him to come back to put a 3rd coat. Am I being unrealistic in my expectations? Is there something I should ask him to do in this last coat (like a hardening additive?) I understand that heavy or sharp objects will cause dents, but I hoped that the finish would be more durable for light object movement on the surface.

A: I’m still big on the solvent (oil based) type polyurethanes. Primero, my current finish of choice is very tough. Top end water borne finishes are tough too, however they require a cross-linker to be added and generally they contain iso-cyanate which is not a very safe, friendly solvent to have to handle. These 2 part finishes are also comparatively expensive. The single component water borne finishes such as Bona Mega are not very durable. Poloplaz has a water borne, 202 which has a proprietary cross-linker added to the finish so you don’t have to handle iso and there is no waste. It is also less expensive than Bona Traffic. Your floor guy likely used Mega or other single component finish and it won’t stand up. Have him coat with a good quality water borne, or go with Primero.

Incidentally, 2 coats is not adequate.

Similar Q: Our contractor refinished our hardwood floors with an oil based polyplaz satin and I am finding that it scratches very easily. Can this be top coated with a water based polyurethane designed for floors?

A: Did you mean Poloplaz? I’ve used both Primero and Supreme which are both excellent and tough coatings. If your contractor finished these floors he is not a professional flooring contractor and may be under the mistaken notion that if he applies the finish in thicker coats that it is better, instead of following the recommended spread rate of 500 sq. feet per gallon. That would be my guess.

To directly answer your question, yes you can apply a waterbourne coating over solvent based finishes. I would however allow full cure before continuing with that. This usually takes 3-4 weeks. However, if the contractor applied it at thicker than recommended rates you may want to wait longer. Procedure is the same with all coatings. Abrade existing coating thoroughly, vacuum and tac up any and all dust and debris before coating.

How did you like the Poloplaz?

Q from the Wood Flooring Guy to a reader: How did you like the Poloplaz?

A: The main reason that I chose it was because of the fact that it could be rolled on. As a ‘Do it Yourself-er’ the thought of using lambswool and getting the product applied evenly scared me. I used 1/4′ x 18′ mohair blend rollers and the product flowed out very nicely. I have been following your forums for quite some time now and came across the Poloplaz brand through you. Thank you very much for all of your help.

Closest product to match Swedish finish?

Q: We have 2 coats of Swedish finish on our oak floor, still in great condition after 5 years of good care. We are downsizing a kitchen island and thus will be exposing an area around each side of the island by about 12″. The floor which will be exposed was sanded, but never finished. I would like to know what I can apply to the unfinished boards that will look compatible to what I have already. The Swedish sheen is soft, but not extremely shiny, and you can easily see the wood grain. I do understand that the newly exposed wood will be different in color, but wonder what product and method of application could be used to tie these boards together? Is there a water based product that we could use which would blend with the Swedish finished area?

A: I haven’t used Swedish finishes (aka acid cure) since the mid 1980’s because they are extremely noxious. However they are designed to be non yellowing, so a water borne would probably be you best choice. You could use a finish such as Poloplaz 202. However, if the present coating has darkened up somewhat, perhaps a product such as Poloplaz Prism might work better. It will amber slightly.

Is wax or poly best?

Q: We have 1930’s oak floors, waxed, but with areas of water damage. I like wax (I strip and wax every year or so), but should we change to poly or whatever is current? My husband is wanting to avoid the chemicals involved in the waxing. We have poly in other new/addition areas, but I really like the old waxed wood. What is best for the wood, wax or polyurethane floor finish?

A: It is difficult to answer a question like that. What is best is partly determined by the conditions the floor will face and what your personal tastes might be. I would think the only chemical in wax your husband might want to avoid is mineral spirits, which is the main solvent in all waxes and oil based finishes. The problem with wax is that it really isn’t very durable and spots whenever you spill something on it. A good quality polyurethane such as Poloplaz Primero or Poloplaz 202 commercial grade water borne urethane (if you prefer less colour change and low odour) or a true penetrating oil finish such as Waterlox will give much better protection from spills and general wear than wax will.

Which is the best varnish for Cabreuva flooring (Santos Mahogany)?

Q: Which is the best varnish for Cabreuva flooring / Santos Mahogany? We tried some different varnishes, but it could not dry.

A: These exotics can be quite a challenge given the oils or what might be referred to as ‘extractives’. A water borne finish may be your best choice because you would avoid any cross activity happening between the main solvent in oil modified which is mineral spirits and those naturally occurring extractives. You could use a water borne sealer first and water borne top coats afterward. I would highly recommend Poloplaz 202 which is a commercial grade finish without the risks of having to add or handle a cross linker.

See also: Coating Exotic Wood Floors

What kind of finish is best for use on White Birch wood?

Q: I am doing a project in class, and I need to know what kind of finish is best for use on White Birch wood. I can’t seem to find it anywhere else on the Internet, so I figured I would ask you.

A: What is the ‘best’ finish is not easy to answer, and is probably as much subjective as objective. It depends what you are trying to achieve. If you have a need to keep the colour as light as possible, you would want to use a non yellowing finish such as a water borne coating. If you prefer the deeper richer tones of an oil modified, then a good quality solvent based finish is the choice. If you are looking for something that has a more natural, old fashioned type of look, perhaps a penetrating tung oil product such as Waterlox is the product to choose. In the polyurethane department, I use Poloplaz Primero and 202. I have also used Waterlox on a number of floors, all of which worked out quite well.

Tung oiled floor taking a beating

Q: I have a pine floor which was stained and then tung oiled. I don’t think there was enough tung oil applied. Like maybe there should have been 5 or 6 applications instead of 3? The floor is taking a beating. In some places the stain is actually worn (we have several dogs and lots of people in and out). Could waterlox be applied over this floor now?

A: Pure tung oil isn’t really practical as a floor finish. Waterlox is an excellent product. Smelly though. I think you would be fine going with that now, but would probably email the manufacturer to get their view. You could get a small tin of it and try a sample spot, but given that in each case you are using a penetrating oil, I don’t anticipate any adhesion issues. You will need 4 coats of Waterlox.

Do you sell Waterlox or just really believe in this product?

Q: I see on your site that you recommend Waterlox versus 100% tung oil. Do you sell Waterlox or do you just really believe in this product?

A: No, I don’t sell it. I’ve had some very good experience with it and at least for staining pine, mixing the stain with the Waterlox saved me hours and hours of ‘on my knees’ staining. Excellent water repellency and decent durability to foot traffic in a real penetrating oil which is easy to apply with no adhesion issues between coats.

Contractor said to use a tung oil finish

Q: We had new wooden floors installed in our kitchen/living area in 2000. We were advised by the contractor to use a tung oil finish, saying it would last longer and be durable, and because we have a southern facing 12’x9′ window, for reduced fading. I hate it! It has faded, scratched, spotted and can’t be cleaned with traditional cleaners. I feel we are abusing it. How can we better care for it to restore our floors luster and condition. If necessary, what is involved in having someone refinish it? What would be more suitable?

A: Tung oil on it’s own won’t work, as wonderful as it is. I had to get into this when a customer with 3700 feet of new pine wanted it stained and finished but didn’t want polyurethane or wax! What to use then?

I tested 6 so-called ‘penetrating oils’ and had a lengthy consult with a technical adviser with Lee Valley. He explained that pure tung oil would take 2 days per coat to dry and I would need 10 initial coats, all of which would have to be repeated every 3 months. That’s not going to happen.

Then I found Waterlox which has tung oil as one of the top 5 ingredients in the product along with Mineral Spirits, linseed oil, another resin and I forget what else. This product was different from all others which had to be applied, left to soak 20 minutes and all the residue removed with a cloth (which was practically all of what had just been applied). With Waterlox you apply a good coating and let it soak in. Next day apply another and then another on hardwood and 4 coats of softwood. Excellent penetration and water resistance. No need to buff between coats to gain adhesion. There are no adhesion issues. After the second application it starts to build a film that stays on the floor surface. Touch ups are simple. Clean the board or area well and apply a thin coat to affected boards. I also finished some floors with this product while major renovations were ongoing. In spite of the pounding over 1 year, this floor appears to need only a good cleaning and another coat. I was impressed. It also offered a brilliant way to stain pine since I was able to add the stain to the Waterlox at 4 parts WL/1 part stain and just mop it on. I couldn’t have done a more even stain on pine, and since I didn’t have to apply and wipe off the stain as a separate step it saved me hours and hours on my hands and knees. You may need to contact them to see if it is possible to apply their product over what you have without a full sanding. I suspect it can work. http://www.waterlox.com

Polyurethane is a good choice to, but somewhat different that this penetrating oil. Certainly a harder surface than WL, however the general upkeep with Waterlox is so easy any home owner can do it themselves and not have to call in a professional every so many years to buff and coat the floor again.

Wood floors coated with tung oil

Q: I have wood floors coated with tung oil. What is the best way to keep them looking good?

A: I had a discussion with a technical rep of Lee Valley tools regarding the use of Tung oil as a floor finish. He said you would need an initial 10 coats with 2 days drying between coats to be repeated every 3 months. Not very practical and quite expensive to maintain tung oil floors. A better way to go is to use a product that combines Tung oil as a major ingredient with other oils and resins. The best I’ve used is http://www.waterlox.com I would look over their product and get their advice.

Poly or varnish?

Q: We have a 218 year old home with original maple floors. We are in the process of sanding them and refinishing them. We have used poly in the past, but recently someone told us varnish was better. What do you think, is polyurethane or varnish finish better? We really want low maintenance and something that will last a long time.

A: I would consider polyurethane to be a type of varnish. It is the combination of various resins along with other additives that will give any product it’s distinctive characteristics. I use Poloplaz Primero polyurethane which is the best such product I’ve ever worked with. It is nice to apply, and very tough when cured.

However, on your very old pine floors* you may prefer a different type of product which may be more complimentary to the age of your pine. I have used a penetrating oil finish which contains linseed oil and tung oil as 2 of the top 5 ingredients. Excellent penetration into the wood, which will build to a film after several coats. Buffing is not necessary to gain adhesion between coats, making it a very easy finish to refresh and keep looking it’s best. You can read about this product at waterlox.com and in other Q&A here.

*Note from Rachel: sorry about the obvious mix-up I spotted when editing this Q&A- the person has maple floors, not pine!

What is better: water based or oil based finish?

Q: We just bought a house and are having the floors professionally done. What is better: water based or oil based polyurethane finish?

A: I still believe an omu will out perform a water borne finish, but it depends on the situation. There are circumstances where a water borne is superior. I don’t know your situation…

Similar Q: We`re just about to have previously waxed hardwood floors professionally sanded and refinished with a sealed finish. We have had 2 estimates done, but both use very different products. One is oil-based, the other waterbourne. I`m finding it very confusing. I`ve checked out various sites comparing both but there seems to be as many opinions as sites. Could you help please?

A: Each type of finish carries with it certain advantages over the other. I’m still more convinced that oil or solvent finishes tend to have better long term durability because they take longer to set up and dry, therefore they actually penetrate better into the floor surface. Some of the higher end water borne finishes are very tough. This doesn’t mean they are necessarily very safe and environmentally friendly as they almost all use a cross linker containing Iso-cyanate. They tend to also be quite expensive compared to the solvent type counter parts. One distinct advantage a water borne may have with an old floor that has been waxed is that it won’t activate wax that is lodged between the boards, causing wax bleed out. If there are no personal issues with finish odour and slower cure times, I would tend to still go with the oil based finish.

Please tell me all you know about Waterlox

Q: Please tell me all you know about Waterlox. Will it work on 10′ wide pine planks (not reclaimed) and look good? Do you need to sand between coats? Can I stain first and then apply or should I just put the waterlox down?

A: Waterlox is amazing on pine, especially if staining. Mix he stain with WL 4-1 and apply. No adhesion issues. No need to buff between coats. Easy to apply another coat. What more can I say?


Q: I bought some antique maple beech flooring 3/4 unfinished and put Duraseal on it. I think I made a mistake. I wanted the patina to come through. Can I apply an oil based sealer? With screening or not?

A: I think you will need to sand over, but if you are intent on now applying an oil based (polyurethane) sealer to the finish coat, absolutely screen. I don’t see what applying this way will accomplish however. The polyurethane sealer is meant to penetrate the wood, which it cannot do now that you have applied a poly finish coat.

Choosing a finish

Q: After applying the stain to the hardwood tread what do you suggest should be applied next? Any suggestions on types, brands, etc.?

A: It depends the look you want. You really only have a few choices. Oil modified which can be a tough finish but will darken with age to some degree. Water borne which is clear and won’t change as much. A product like Waterlox which is a penetrating oil which has more of a natural look. I prefer Poloplaz coatings. Great finishes. Great company. Their Primero is the best finish I’ve used in 35 years.

Amateur friendly finish?

Q: I have spent an excessive amount of time preparing my hardwood floors in my home for refinish. I have come to the conclusion (through reading in forums) that oil based polyurethanes are the most durable, therefore, that is what I want to use. My question is, what are your thoughts, as a professional floor refinisher, of M***** Super Fast Drying Polyurethane for floors? Have you ever used it? Is it a long lasting finish? Is it user friendly for amateurs as myself? Would you recommend it? Thank you very much for your opinion.

A: I have not had great feedback on that finish. So, no I would not consider it user friendly. Professionals go through a lot of stress with finishes. For an amateur, I would suggest Circa1850, and though I had used that finish for a number of years, it won’t stand up to what I now use. This is not do it yourself work. You are trying to do this work as cheap as you can with the cheapest products. In the end, you will be lucky to get satisfactory results.