Oil vs. Film, Choose Your Finish
Quick drying, quick cleanup: Water-based finish sprays or brushes on easily, but it dries quickly enough that you have to work fast to avoid brush marks. Water-based finishes release fewer odors than oil-based varnish or lacquer, but still contain solvents. Apply them in well ventilated locations while wearing a respirator. Soap and water take care of cleanup before the finish dries.
Moderately durable, but a problem to patch: Water-based finishes won't redissolve like lacquer or cure thin like an oil/varnish mix, making them harder to repair than lacquer or drying oils. Waterbased finishes compare to lacquer for durability, but deteriorate from chemicals such as glass cleaners with ammonia, and from constant contact with bare skin.
Success secrets: To minimize grainraising problems with water-based finishes, first moisten the grain to raise it and gently sand away nibs before applying a sealer coat. Water-based finishes dry slowly enough to form runs, so apply light coats and sand lightly between coats with 220-grit abrasive. Avoid rebrushing freshly applied finish, which can leave streaks and bubbles. Also, apply water-based finish when the temperature is 60 -- 90° F and the humidity is 50 percent or less.
Try it on projects where you'd use oilbased varnish but don't require its abrasion and moisture resistance. The clarity of water-based finishes makes them ideal for light woods such as maple, where you want to preserve the wood's natural color.
But avoid it for projects where you need exceptional water and chemical resistance.
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