Considering Waterborne Finishes

A finisher who wants to switch from oil-based to water-based asks about durability. November 27, 2007

I am considering switching over my shop to a water-based finishing system. I am hesitant based on the durability of these finishes. What has your experience been and what products can you recommend?

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor C:
I have had very good success with General and Target. Both offer good products at competitive prices. Depends on where you are located. I have heard shops on the west coast say that Target is expensive to ship from NJ. Target has a forum that you can get any answers from. I purchase both of those products from Jeff Jewitt at Homestead Finishing in Cleveland.

From contributor W:
Tell us more about what you are looking for in a water based setup. There are some good options available.

From the original questioner:
I'm looking to replace our current setup. We currently spray ML Campbell Clawlock primer, Resistant pigmented lacquer, and use Duravar or Crystal for all of our clear. I want a product that doesn't have issues with durability, has a fast drying time, and is easy to work with. I want to use a more environmentally friendly product and also make our finish shop more appealing to good employees because there is no fume issue. I also want a product from an established company that has good distributors who offer a high level of service and product support, as well as custom tinting. That's not too much to ask, is it?

From contributor A:
There are a lot of finishes out there. Your best bet is to determine who has the best system for your needs. Things to consider will be cost, shipping, quality of finish, and availability. The product can be the best stuff in the world, but if it takes three weeks to get it, you may run into some issues. I experimented with a dozen different waterbornes and found that Target had the most complete system.

From the original questioner:
Oh yes, I forgot. We use Kremlin 10-14 airmix systems.

From contributor I:
There are many options to look at, but since you are already using ML products, give their Aqualente a shot. It is a good product and should give you a starting point.

From contributor W:
I've sprayed a variety of water based products through my CAT-AAA and it handles them well, with the exception of a few old formulas that sheared very badly from the pump action. The key with AAA is to get the right tip size and find out what pressures to set the fluid and atomization air to, just like solvent based. I've found that the Target WB's spray better at lower pressures than what I use for solvent finishes - not sure why, since the few solvent products I've used are thinner than WB. Get samples of different WB finishes and make lots of test panels. Find a dealer that will work with you and will help dial in your AAA.

From contributor P:
I see no one answered the durability issue. I spray only WB stuff, and have tried a bunch of the products. In general, the WB products are not as durable as, say, a solvent based conversion varnish. That said, most of the WB companies offer a high end product that's more durable than the typical WB lacquer. However, they cost twice as much. I have firsthand experience with a few of them, and they work pretty well. Fuhr 260 and Target Hybrivar are two examples. The Campbell Agualente comes in a post-cat version, but I haven't tried it yet.

My sense is that WB finishes seem to take longer to reach full cure, usually measured in weeks. They're often finicky to use, sensitive to temp/humidity, incompatible with other vendors' products, prone to run and sag, etc.

There's a learning curve to go waterbased. An AAA setup will work fine, but you'll probably need to adjust fluid and air settings, and maybe use different tips in your guns. Micro-bubbles do happen. Ask your WB product vendors for recommended tips and pressure settings. You can get great finishes with WB products, but you'll need to put in some time to get used to them.

Some feel the WB finishes don't look as good as solvent-based finishes. Some products may add undesirable coloration to the finishes - cloudy, milky, even blue/purple. Some vendors are addressing this by making WB products that mimic their solvent-based counterparts. Hybrivar comes to mind. It has a slight amber hue.

There are few vendors offering a full line of WB pigmented finishes. I still use good old MLC Polystar for my painted jobs. Ask the vendors for KCMA testing results if you're looking for specific info on durability. It's probably worth it to at least try using WB finishes in your shop. Seems the industry and the regulatory environment is headed that way, so you might as well get some experience with the WB stuff.

From contributor R:
Like it or not, we'll all be spraying nothing but water in a few years, so you might as well get on the bandwagon now. The Architectural Woodwork Institute gives the better WB's a 3 on their scale of 5 for durability. That is pretty good. I've used mainly Becker 212 and 318 and those are very durable. In fact, I spilled some lacquer thinner on a piece once, and wiped it off with so little damage some 3M pads buffed it out!

I've yet to try the Target Hybrivar, which sounds like it looks good, but their 9000 series is more durable. One selling point I use to customers is that WB's are more repairable than conversion varnish. As I said often, a good rub with the 3M is enough. If more is required, a little scuff with 320 or 400, then a thin coat with a foam brush, and then the 3M will be good as new.