Applying Wipe-On Polyurethane




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

Wipe-on Polyurethane

Disposable gloves

Lint free rag or cloth

220 grit or higher sandpaper

Sanding block

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.



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    7 Discussions


    3 years ago

    I've found 0000 steel wool to knock the bumps off works excellent, right before the final coat.

    1 reply

    Reply 5 months ago

    Agreed. Additionally, steel wool is better than sanding if you have a beveled edge, eliminates the risk of damaging the lines.


    Question 10 months ago on Introduction

    Does wipe on poly have heat resistant and water resistant qualities? Can I use it on a table which has had a teak oil finish for some years to make it heat resistant?


    3 years ago on Introduction

    If you ever find yourself doing a lot of wipe-on poly finish work and don't want to keep buying the little cans, just get a can of regular poly finish, mineral spirits, and do a 50/50 mixture of the two and you'll save a good bit of money for more projects down the road.


    3 years ago on Introduction

    I've always been told not to use steel wool on oak. The iron reacts with the tannins in the oak to produce black marks. Hence why you use brass screws with oak furniture.


    On porous wood like oak, I may use 320 grit wet/ dry paper to form a slurry while oiling, it helps to fill the wood pores thus giving a more uniform reflective surface. Always finish by stroking off the excess slurry in a slight angle with the direction of the grain so as not to pull out your hard work. Finally, unfold and spread out any rags used to dry thoroughly to prevent spontaneous combustion, this is an oil- based product that cures by chemical reaction, not evaporation.