Wipe-On (also called oil-based) polyurethane blends the best of both worlds of finishing: the high durability and protection of polyurethane with the simple wipe on application of an oil finish. Unlike water-based polyurethanes, you don't have to worry about drips or brush marks. This type of finish is ideal for a piece that may experience a lot of wear and tear inside your home. I like to use the Minwax brand. Here is how I apply wipe-on poly to my woodworking projects.
Step 1: Materials
Lint free rag or cloth
220 grit or higher sandpaper
Step 2: Prep the Work Piece
Begin by preparing the wood surface for the finish. This means sanding the finish as smooth as you want. For most indoor furniture, I will move my way up through the sanding grits on a hand-held random orbit sander, beginning at 120, then going to 150 or 180 and finally finishing at 220.
Before applying finish, it is important to remove as much of the dust as possible from the work piece. I staring by vacuuming the piece with shop-vac. Then, I dust the entire piece with a micro-fiber tack cloth to remove any remaining dust.
Step 3: Wipe on First Coat
Give the can a shake before getting started. Open up the can and transfer a small amount into a plastic cup or old yogurt container. Put a small amount of finish on the cloth and rub it over the wood. You should be trying to apply an even finish over the whole piece - this is very easy to achieve. Don't flood the surface and don't leave any excess on the surface. It will take 3-4 hours for this coat to dry.
Step 4: Sand and Reapply
After 3-4 hours check to see if the piece is dry. They dry time will vary depending on temperature and humidity. If the piece is dry give it a light sanding with a high grit sandpaper. I like to use 220 grit, but you could use a higher grit like 320 if you want. You could also use 0000 Steel Wool.
One you are done sanding, wipe off any dust with a lint-free cloth or a micro-fiber tack cloth. Repeat the steps to reapply as many coats as you want. For most of my projects I will apply 2-3 coats, but you could apply more.