Along with its unlikely name, Unaxol has a rather unusual provenance. This waterbased polysiloxane coating recently found its way to the U.S.A. thanks to a ship's chandler.
Now, unless you are a former merchant marine, you are probably wondering, as I was, what a ship's chandler is. It turns out a chandler is a supplier that sells all the goods and materials ships need to operate, from tie-downs and toilet seals to fresh vegetables and eggs for the crew. Among other things, chandlers supply maintenance products, like paints and coatings for the ship itself, and that is where this all starts to make sense.
Michael Teo is the director of the family-owned Moby Dick Supplies Ltd., a ship's chandler. While in Malaysia, he became familiar with a fairly small company called United Paint and Chemical of Malaysia, and more intrigued with one of their products, Unaxol. He decided to become the distributor for it. Two years ago, he added a North American distributorship called Moby Dick Supplies LLC.
Unaxol is a silicone-based waterborne, as opposed to the more familiar polyurethane-based ones. Technically, it is an acrylic modified polysiloxane, a highly flexible, durable type of finish widely used for buildings, bridges, boats and trains.
The U.S. division of Moby Dick is headed by Jon Ruud, a woodworker who was initially highly suspicious, and very reluctant to even try a new breed of coating, much less distribute it. Ruud comes from a long line of professional woodworkers and carpenters and, in spite of a college degree in sociology, found himself building bass reflex speaker cabinets soon after leaving law school. Eventually, he morphed into a cabinet and furniture maker who owned his own business. Like most cabinetmakers, he regarded pitchmen for "revolutionary new" finishes with the love most of us reserve for used car salesmen and politicians.
Teo contacted Ruud through a mutual friend with the hopes of finding someone to run an American distributorship. Ruud told Teo that in his experience, waterbased coatings were all crap. They spoke for several hours and Ruud said he had little hope for the product. In spite of that, Teo hired him, took him to Malaysia, and convinced him that Unaxol was something very different than the materials he was used to.
"I walked into the United Paints facility, and they put brushes and spray guns in my hands and had me try the stuff," Jon explained. "By the time I was done, I was giddy. Here was a waterbased coating that sprayed as well as any nitrocellulose lacquer, but with much faster build and less solvent. Then, they told me to take a brush and just slop it on, and not to even bother brushing it evenly. I did, and watched in amazement as it leveled before my eyes. Then they showed me how durable the final product was, and I was completely turned around. I decided then and there to become the American distributor."
"The first challenge was to promote it in a way that was more suitable for the Occidental market. The company was trying to look and sound American, but I convinced them to be proud of the material's Asian roots. Consequently, we changed the packaging, but not the name."
"Generically, Unaxol is a one-package, waterbased coating that performs more like conversion varnish or other acid catalyzed finishes," Jon continued. "It boasts excellent stain, water, heat, and abrasion resistance; good chemical resistance, with limits; and better flexibility than most interior finishes. Thus, it is less likely to crack, chip or peel, and can handle industrial strength cleaners."
"Because it is so tough, even very thin films have excellent performance characteristics. Hence, you can get a finish that looks as thin and woody as Danish oil, but with much better durability, or you can build it up to look like a rubbed-out, high-gloss bar finish. Unaxol is glass clear no matter how thickly it is built up, and it will go over all types of stains, including oil-based ones. You don't need a sealer, but there is one available which both speeds up build and limits grain raising."
Because the finish is non-flammable, it can be shipped easily, so for now, Moby Dick sells direct, though Jon hopes to have it in stores before long. They offer three lines: a regular interior, a high-build interior, and an exterior version. All three are sold in both sprayable and brushable versions, the latter of which can be applied with a brush, paint pad, foam-on-a-stick applicator, or even a paint roller. The same finish is sold both as a furniture and floor finish, but for more durability, they offer an add-in hardener that Jon says many of the floor contractors opt to use.
"Our primary goal is to provide a beautiful finish," Jon summed up, "but we also want to make sure the materials are healthy for both the worker and the environment. It's got to be as good, as safe, and as easy to use as anything on the market, and preferably better."