Using Waterborne Finishes

How do waterborne finishes measure up, in practical use? September 9, 2004

I know the AWI's opinion of waterborne, but I would like to hear from the troops. Jeff Jewitt praises Fuhr; any others worth a fig? Anybody actually doing kitchens with them on a regular basis?

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor T:
I use them and love them. I would still give them an A- compared to some solvent based systems, but I can live with an A-. I use Sherwin Williams clear and whites and have great success. I have used ML Campbell's Ultrastar and liked it too (switched because supplier did not support colors). I use Fuhr's stains and like them a bunch. I have heard great things about their topcoats as well. All in all, I love the waterbased products.

From contributor D:
I have been using waterbornes for about three years and love the fact that they are safer to handle and do not have the potential explosion hazards that lacquers have, plus they don't have the nasty odor.

That being said, I just finished a project for a prior customer that I had done with solvent based finishes about five years ago and used the same products I did for the original project. I almost forgot how smooth a finish can be with only two coats with hardly any sanding. With the WB stains and finishes, it takes so much sanding to get rid of the grain raise and takes more coats to get the build I want. Also, the waterborne stains dry way too fast compared to oil based stains and are more prone to leave dark spots and lap marks than oil based or solvent based stains. I am leaning toward switching back.

From contributor J:
I am not against WB finishes and I am constantly looking for a comparable finish to the solvent based. However, I have yet to see one. I have used Fuhr and like it, as it sprays well out of the can, builds fast, and dries relatively quick. That said, I find the finish scratches very easily. A fingernail leaves a very noticeable scuff in the finish, while the same action with a pre-cat or post-cat does not. Has anyone else using Fuhr or other WB found this? The MLC Ultrastar does not scratch anywhere near as easy as Fuhr, but I have seen articles where tests show Fuhr holds up to chemicals, etc. much better than Ultrastar... I think it was acentone? I guess there's never a perfect system.

From contributor T:
I have found that the Ultrastar and Sherwin Williams stuff is pretty scratch resistant. I don't have a lot of experience with the Fuhr topcoats, other than the samples I have sprayed, but it has a fantastic reputation.

I believe that WB finishes are still a little behind solvent finishes, but I feel the benefits outweigh some of the disadvantages. I have never had a customer complain about the quality of the WB finishes. It does take a little more time, but in the grand scheme of things it is not that much more.

From contributor B:
You should definitely take a look at the Target line. They have a spray-on WB lacquer (Emtech 6000, used to be called PSL) that performs just like an NC lacquer. They even have a WB shellac.

From Paul Snyder, forum technical advisor:
I've used hundreds of gallons of waterborne finishes on all kinds of furniture and have seen that there's a pretty wide range in performance. Once you narrow the list down to the ones that work the best, it can take a long time to identify traits that are problematic (that's why I've used so much of some brands before switching).

I've used Crystalac, Sherwin Williams Kem-Aqua, Fuhr, and Target Coatings the most; I've tried a couple others (e.g., Polycrylic) but only used a pail or two before I decided I didn't care for them. Of these, I like the finishes from Target Coatings the best. After Target, the Sherwin Williams would be next on my list for a general purpose finish, but they don't have a selection to choose from when you need more durability or a water-clear finish.

I've noticed Jeff Jewitt also speaks highly of the Target finishes and posted a while back about using their varnish on his office furniture. Said it looked great and was very durable. He doesn't carry the complete line, though, and some of the finishes you might be interested in, like the super-clear poly or polycarbonate urethane, you'll have to order direct. For an all-around finish, the Ultima Spray Lacquer (USL) is a good choice for most finishing needs.

My advice is to try a few of the brands that are most recommended. Do some sample tests to see if they have any obvious problems. First stain/dye a good size sample of mahogany very dark and apply the waterborne (make sure oil-base stains are completely cured before topcoating with a waterborne). Look for a bluish color in the finish and/or white spots in the pores where the finish bridged rather than filled the pores. Spray some bare oak and see what the grain raise is like. See how it sands and if sanding marks are a problem in the next coat. Check adhesion. Check appearance. See how long it takes to get hard; some take longer than others and this can be a problem in a production environment. See how they buff out if you do that type of work.

From contributor Y:
Chemcraft has a good waterbase paint, Aqualux. I just did a shelf and cabinet with it and like the look and so far have had no problems with scratching, but will find out this weekend when I install.

From contributor L:
I have been using waterborne finishes for years. I used the Enduro product for quite a while and had good results, but the shipping was too much to get it here. I switched to Ultrastar and had good results using it as well. We just switched to an Italian finish called Sayerlac and I really like the results we are getting. We put on 1 sealer coat and 2 topcoats. We could probably get by with 1 topcoat, but the extra coat adds a certain depth and luster. I am using the AZ 5720 Sayerlac for the top coat and the AU 468 for the sealer. It is very high in solids. We do a lot of tinting of the topcoat for our clients and we are having excellent results with the Sayerlac.

From contributor M:
I need advice on handling or spraying water based lacquer. I have been spraying lacquer of all types, as well as auto body products, for many years in my shop. I have a job where water based lacquer is well suited, so I brought in Sherwin Williams Chem-Aqua, and products from General to try out. Dusted off my HVLP turbin, and bought a new Acuspray #10 gun just to use for water based materials.

Using WB for the first time, I have mixed opinions. First the good news - it does dry hard and has good build, and seems to be very durable. But it is not forgivable to use as NC lacquer. I'm having great problems in getting a level finish that's not seedy right after I spray. Yes, the gun is clean, the paint is strained, the turbin air is clean, and the turbin has plenty of power to push the heavy bodied WB material. I tried thinning with water, heating the coating, different turbin settings. I was able to get a good finish with Sherwin Williams top coat, but their sanding sealer will not level out. As for the General products, their sanding sealer is much better than SW, but I still get that seedy, pitty finish after I spray. The only thing I could do and I have done is order a different needle, tip and air cap. If that doesn't work, I'm out of ideas. While I'm waiting for the air cap to arrive, can anyone help?

From Paul Snyder, forum technical advisor:
Waterborne can look rough after you lay down a wet coat. Give it time to flow and level out. I know the SW Chem-Aqua likes to go on with a heavy coat for best results; not sure about the other brand.

Waterborne takes more atomization air than you might be used to. Try cranking up the PSI a little to see if that helps.

Not sure what needle/nozzle/air-cap Accuspray recommends, but I use a 1.5 on my gun.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor A:
I have been using ML Campbell Agulante for a while and have had very nice results. My gun is a C.A. Technologies gun that I run 29# at the gun with the trigger depressed. I thin the product down to a viscosity of 40 with a number 4 ford cup. This product is self-sealing and you won't need a sealer. I put on a coat and sand it smooth with a fine sanding sponge then blow it off and then wipe it with a not too tacky tack cloth. I then spray three more coats and sand with a micro fine sponge the last two coats. There is not much odor, and being waterborne I use this for just about everything I spray in my shop.