Rollin, Rollin, Rollin…

I just wrapped up a project made from almost five sheets of plywood. As you can imagine, that’s a lot of surface area to cover with finish. And, here in the North Country, we’re still in the “deep freeze,” so all of my shop windows and doors are closed up tight. Good ventilation was going to be a challenge during finishing. I also needed to complete the entire finishing process in the shop, which definitely isn’t a “clean room” situation. It’s dusty, especially with the furnace running. So, I knew I’d need a fast-drying finish, too.  At least that would help cut down on the magnetic effect that wet finish seems to have on dust and grit.

After considering my options for a while, I settled on Minwax Polycrylic, because it would satisfy this project’s finishing conundrums pretty well. It dries quickly, has very little odor and is reasonably tough. It also looks good on light-colored woods (mine is maple).

Now, my usual approach to apply this stuff has been to use a low-nap paint pad. But, I could never figure out a way to keep those tiny, loose whiskers on the pad from getting trapped in the finish. I didn’t want to brush it on and leave brush marks, either. And, with all of that surface area, a speedy solution would be ideal.

What to do?

Well, I took a risk and tried something different this time: instead of the nappy pad, I grabbed a foam roller—the same kind you use for paint. And, just like paint, I rolled it on. However, I noticed immediately that, while the roller was working swimmingly to lay that finish down fast, it was leaving tiny bubbles behind. Would the bubbles pop out before the finish dried? I wasn’t going to wait and find out.

Once again, painting tools came to the rescue. As soon as I was done with the roller, I simply took a cheap foam paint brush and tipped off the surface, just barely stroking the edge of the foam along the varnish.

It worked like a charm. No bubbles, no little bits of whiskers and a very smooth surface in the end. I’m really pleased with it. The next time you’re applying water-based poly, give it a try. Treat it just like paint. It seems to adapt quite nicely.

Catch you in the shop,

Chris Marshall, Field Editor

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About Chris Marshall

Chris Marshall has been writing for Woodworker's Journal as a contributing editor and field editor since 2001. Prior to that, he spent five years developing home improvement and woodworking books. He's written five of them and has served as a contributing writer on many more. A wood and tool junkie since childhood, Chris thoroughly enjoys building projects and reviewing woodworking tools for the Journal. When he's not assembling new machinery, sawing parts, taking photos or crunching text for an upcoming story, he enjoys spending time with his family and a houseful of pets at their home in rural Ohio.

11 thoughts on “Rollin, Rollin, Rollin…

  1. Bonk, I coulda had a V8. I’ve applied wb poly on several projects using a foam brush. It never occured to me to use a roller for the larger surfaces. Great tip.

  2. Caveat: I’m somewhat a newbie at finishing (and lots of other ww aspects!). Is the cheap foam brush dry? Or do you dip it first?

  3. Pablo: I dampened the edge of the foam brush with finish. Didn’t soak it, but had it wet enough to help slide over the surface. In some cases, there was enough excess finish left from the roller to wet the brush automatically. In others, I dipped the brush back in the finish tray, pressed out the excess and then applied it to the workpiece. Thanks for asking that question—it’s a helpful clarification.

  4. This technique has been used by boaters for years. It is called “rolling and tipping”. We use it for certain finishes where you would normally spray on the finish for the best result, but can’t for various reasons. I have used it on 2 boats that I have built with great results. I used a short napped roller and a good badger hair brush, but for the polycrylic I bet the foam does work great.

  5. Jerry, that foam brush really did work wonders. No streaks! This was a quick way to get a lot of finish down well.

  6. I just sprayed a Bookcase outside in the sunshine with the Polycrylic. It was very hard to see how well the coverage was. Three applications and sanding and I was still not 100% sure. I think I will try your method with the next project. The spraying was quick and easy water clean-up. Any other tips we could use?

  7. Bill,

    Ff the sun was high overhead, that may have been the trouble for you. I really find it best to have a raking light (low and shining across the surface) near the bench so the wet areas and overall surface quality are easy to see. Hard overhead lighting makes that really difficult. But, you should be set with three coats, one way or the other.

    Did you use an HVLP gun to spray it on, or did you buy it in the aerosol can? I’ve tried the aerosol before and wasn’t real pleased with the results. The surface quality was really inconsistent, unlike aerosol lacquer. I’ve gotten nice results from that before.

  8. I used a Porter Cable HVLP that I have had for several years and I really like it. The tips about the angle of the light were spot on. I had to work outside and the temp did not get warm enough until just after lunch. (bright overhead light) I have a very small work shop and the bookcase had to be assembled and finished outdoors. 39” wide x 48″ high x 12″ deep, finished size. I really learned a lot as this was the largest project to date.

    Chris thank you for the nice reply

  9. I’ve used this finish more and more over the years. I really like it, for the most part. But I did use my HVLP sprayer once and it dried very “rough”. Normally I use a foam brush, and have also used the roller. I can see where using the roller, then going over it with the foam brush would help.

  10. Chris
    Over a year ago I built a large chest of drawers that the six drawers made from 1\2″ baltic birch were sealed inside and out with Minwax oil base Poly. As of today, because of oder transfer to the clothing the chest is unuseable.

    Since than the drawers have been removed and let to air out for several months. Thay still are unuseable.

    What is the solution? Asking for your input.

    My last thought is to sand the drawers and reseal them with water base poly.


  11. Jerry,

    Here’s a solution for you that Michael Dresdner has recommended before for similar odor problems: Instead of sanding the drawers down, topcoat the poly with shellac instead. There will be no adhesion problems between the two finishes, and you don’t have to rough the poly up first. Shellac works well to seal in odors of any kind. This should correct that stinky polyurethane problem for you. Zinsser SealCoat is the way to go here, because it’s clear and ready to apply straight from the can. Good luck!


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