Water-Based vs. Oil Based Finishes
Water-based polyurethanes provide a clear finish and have low odor. You can recoat them in 3-4 hours.
Oil-based polyurethanes leave an amber glow. But the 16 hour wait between coats and 24 hour wait after the last coat will put a bedroom out of commission for a few days — and you’ll have to put up with a strong odor.
Both offer good protection; the biggest difference is in appearance. If you love the natural look of maple, apply water-based (water-borne) polyurethane. They appear milky in the can, but go on clear and remain clear. They will slightly accent the character of your wood, without giving it the amber tint of an oil-based poly (However, some woods, like the oak shown, cry out for that amber tint).
Water-based finishes dry fast — most within 3-4 hours — so you can apply several coats in a day and use the room that night. They have minimal odor and clean up with water. But water-based polys have their tradeoffs. They cost twice as much as oil-based polys. They will not give wood the rich glow that oil-based polys impart; some even consider them cold looking.
These are the most popular choice and involve applying a stain to achieve a particular color, followed by a top coat of polyurethane or varnish to give a protective coat. Surface finishes are durable, they resist moisture, and are easy to maintain. There are four options for the top coat, and each has its own benefits:
OIL-BASED URETHANE is the most commonly used floor finish. Available in gloss, semi-gloss and satin sheens, oil-based urethane is generally applied in two or three coats, with drying time of up to 16 hours for each coat. This type of finish emits fumes as it dries, so adequate ventilation is important. Clean up is accomplished with a solvent similar to paint thinner. An oil-based urethane finish ambers with age.
WATER-BASED URETHANE provides a clear, non-yellowing finish and produces fewer odors than other choices. This product dries quickly and clean up can be accomplished with soap and water. Some manufacturers make available additives called "cross-linkers" and “hardeners” that can be mixed into the water-based finishes for added durability.
MOISTURE-CURED URETHANE is solvent-based polyurethane that is more durable and more moisture-resistant than other surface finishes. It is mostly used in commercial, high-traffic settings like stores or offices. This finish is available in a satin or gloss non-yellowing formula, as well as one that will take on an amber hue with age. This finish has a strong odor and its application is best left to the professionals.
SHEEN High gloss, low gloss, satin finish - your choice is a matter of personal preference. Keep in mind, however, that high gloss finishes show scuffs and scratches more readily than low gloss or satin finishes. High gloss finishes reflect more light, are typically used in more commercial or contemporary settings, while satin finishes reflect less light and are favored for settings that are more traditional.
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