Making the Switch to Waterborne Finishes

Given the continuing progress with improved formulations, even some skeptics are beginning to adopt waterborne finish systems. September 3, 2010

Recently a customer hired us to change the color of a project which had a waterbased finish in the beginning. Through the process we concluded Sherwin Williams waterbase polyurethane was the answer. I was pleasantly surprised at the end result. I have been toying with the idea of going waterbase over solvent base for years.

My question is with the durability of waterbase over solvent base. Have they come far enough with the technology? I'm a small shop building kitchens, bath vanities, etc. I would like to make the switch but want to make sure the customer is still getting a good finish.

I know there is a learning curve with this product, but I'm going to be upgrading my spray equipment and it may be a good time to make the switch.

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor M:
I have been using solvent based materials for a long time, and have been cautious about making a complete switch to waterborne myself. There are pros and cons to the benefits of shop use, but my main concern is with what the customer will experience. The first waterbornes I used, 7 or 8 years ago, were not that great. I feel they have improved somewhat over the last few years.

With paints, I still do not get the coverage (mils, not s.f.) I prefer, especially when using colors. I have to make more passes with my spray technique, and the final coats still look thin to me. I also tend to get more runs, but that is more of a spraying problem than a performance issue. I tend to be more critical than my customers, and my customers have had no issues with the finished products so far. The degree of gloss I get with waterborne is not as predictable as with oil. I can add dryers or thinner to help with drying and setting the gloss when using oil, but with the waterborne there is not much you can do. I seem to be more at the mercy of humidity and temperature, so my gloss finish may not be as glossy. My semi-gloss looks a little more flat than usual.

The other thing is the overall finish never seems to be as smooth to the touch. Nothing bad, just not what I am used to. I have been selective about which jobs I use waterborne on, and will continue to be this way for some time. With clears, I like the finished look versus the paints. I've not done a lot of waterborne clears; I usually stay with lacquer. I do have one job I did that spec'd a Minwax clear poly. I had to bring it back in and refinish, but that was our problem for not being familiar with the product. We had to apply more coats than our normal finish schedule, but the final result was beautiful. I did some shelving in my office, same material and finish. It's been in place 3 years, and the wood tone looks dry to me. Like the stain color has faded some and the clear finish no longer looks as glossy or thick as it once did. I know my solvent clear finishes will look better than this for years.

I guess overall, other than the small things, the finishes are fine. But I still prefer the solvents. Touchups with a brush are more difficult with the sprayed waterborne. Maybe with a complete switchover I would get better at using the stuff.

I typically use either Sherwin Williams or Ben Moore paints.

From contributor J:
Yes, they have come that far. I don't know about SW, but I do know that Target Coatings products are all top notch.

From contributor T:
I switched from solvent to water based about 4 years ago and would never go back to solvent. There is a slight learning curve, but well worth the effort. We have been using Target Coatings from the very beginning but have tried different brands and as far as I am concerned, none of them come close to the finish that we get from Target. As for equipment, we use a Greco AAA pump.

From contributor M:
Man, you guys really talk highly of Target Coatings. I had never heard of them before WOODWEB. I just did a search for a distributor/dealer, and could not locate one within our area in the Southeast. I am in South Georgia and the closest I saw was in PA. I know we will all be spraying waterborne before much longer. Are any other brands out there really that good?

From contributor J:
Target is the best that I have used, and I have used several brands. They have great online ordering, offer monthly discounts, awesome product support, and you get to speak directly with the owner. If you can plan your purchases, ordering and shipping is not that big of a problem.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for your input. I contacted Target Coatings and got a call back with some good information. Will try their product and go from there.

From contributor W:
I am finally going to be making my switch to waterborne soon. We have tinkered with it for years but have not switched because of holes in the system. This supplier has finishes but no stains. The other supplier has topcoats, but the most durable is not water clear. The next one has clears but no white base. It goes on and on.

Finally, Mohawk finishing products has come out with a complete water based finishing system. They have wiping and dye stains, glazes, sealer, pre-cat lacquer and conversion varnish and they are all waterborne and all compatible with each other. They are even compatible with some of their solvent products and they can tell you what works with what. The last piece of the puzzle for me was waiting for them to come out with a white sealer that can be tinted to paint colors, which we do a lot of. As far as the durability, the CV I tried is just as good as the solvent CV that we use. They also have worked on the formula for the pre-cat lacquer that gives it a solvent feel when it is dry. It is not as plastic feeling as some waterborne lacquers I have seen. They are also coming out with waterborne touchup and repair products. There should be a Mohawk dealer close by.

From contributor C:
Try SW Kem Aqua Plus. This product comes in both pigmented and clear. It has been modified from the original version of Kem Aqua Lac and is very user friendly.