Can you wipe on a water-based finish?
Pro-finisher and Fine Woodworking author Teri Masaschi alerted me to the fact that Minwax is now selling a water-based version of their wipe-on poly. It is only available in a few states including California and Florida so I had to call Minwax and have them send me a quart. The first thing I noticed is that the application instructions are identical to those for the solvent-based Wipe-on Poly, word for word, including a recommendation to shake the container thoroughly before use. Something I’d never seen for a water-based finish where foaming is normally something to be minimized. I tested both types of poly on opposite ends of white oak and cherry boards. The first thing I noticed was that Minwax have tinted the water-based poly to warm up the wood. This avoids the gray appearance water-based finishes often give to cherry in particular, but on the other hand, this tint would be a drawback if you are trying to keep woods such as maple and birch as pale and natural looking as possible.
Following the rules, I applied three coats of each finish, sanding between coats with P220-grit sandpaper. Neither finish produced any build, but it was impossible to get an even sheen with the water-based one. The liquid just didn’t seem to like being applied with a cloth. Out of curiousity, I then brushed on a couple of coats of the water-based poly and found that not only did it build nicely but it leveled well and gave both woods an acceptable color.
Has anybody had good results wiping on a water-based finish? It would be nice not to have the solvent smell while finishing or to have to worry about the rags burning the shop down, but I’ve yet to discover this holy grail of finishing.