Warming Up Water-Based Poly

Water-based clear finishes sometimes take on a "dead" bluish tint. Here are some tips for adding a warmer amber glow. October 18, 2005

We switched from solvents a month ago to WB poly. We're known for our finishes and although I'm very happy with it, I do not like the bit of whitish blue tint on our clear coat jobs. What can I add to our WB poly finish that will give it some amber? Would water base stain work?

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
I know exactly what you mean. WB can really make wood look dead. There are some easy fixes, though. Wizard tints or transtints are available from Woodworker Supply and countless other catalogs. They are already mixed concentrated dyes in various colors. Play around and you'll find what you like - just don't add too much color or it'll show everywhere your finish isn't perfectly even. Or you can go to Lockwood dyes and mix your own concentrated tints and stains. This way is probably the most economical and flexible. And if you're not already using them, you should definitely try coloring wood with water based dyes. The results are outstanding and the colors are unlimited.

If it has a milky white appearance in the pail, you may want to look at a different formulation to begin with. For example, if you were to use VanTechnologies 482, you would get a urethane finish that has a golden amber appearance right out of the bucket. You will get a look much closer to a solvent with this finish, without the milky blue tint, and it will probably be a better finish in terms of durability and chemical resistance. It also can be applied at something like 8 or 10 mils wet on a vertical surface without sagging, which is a big step in the right direction for a WB, as most of the products out there will sag at about 3 or 4 wet mils, from my experience.

You need to look at other brands. There are a number of good companies out there that will deal directly with the problems you're having. I'm in SoCal and use Compliant Spray Systems Enduro/poly and I'm very satisfied with their products.

The white/blue tint usually comes from repeated or heavy coats, and not allowing the slower solvents to exit the film. Allow each coat to flash off, then apply the next coat. If you don't allow the previous coat to flash out, and hit it again, that may cause the solvents to get trapped and remain in the coating. In some cases, they may exit later. In other cases, the colors may remain.

To warm up the W/B, add 1 ounce of yellow dye to the gallon. (Check with your supplier for the right dye, and amount needed for their coatings.)

I strongly suggest that you consider two products manufactured by Target Coatings. The first is their Oxford Hybrid Varnish, which is made from a water reducible tung-oil varnish. I have used this extensively in my yacht refinishing work for a major yacht builder for which I do contract work. They have been using this varnish exclusively for their interiors for the past 13 years with excellent results. The Oxford Varnish turns a deep amber tone all on its own, without the use of colorants or other tinting tricks that the other mentioned manufacturers tend to use. This varnish actually has a tung-oil in it, so it turns a deep amber. It is water-based and is non-flammable. The other Target product I suggest that you look at is the EM8000cv. This turns a nice straw color over time, again, not due to dyes or color tricks but from their unique chemistry.

From Paul Snyder, forum technical advisor:
You can add water reducible dye or stain to your finish. I often do it myself just to add a little color and depth to the finish. When adding stain, I use 1-2 ounces per quart. For dye, it depends on how concentrated it is. For the dyes that aren't very concentrated, I'll use between 1/2 - 1 1/2 ounces of dye per quart.

With water-base finishes, it's not unusual to have to give the dye or stain some time to incorporate into the resin system. For example, I like the finishes form Target Coatings and they recommend stirring in the colorant and letting it sit for an hour before spraying. I've pushed the time on occasion, but usually mix it up in advance so there are no problems.

If you're getting a bluish cast to the finish, something's not quite right. It could be the brand. Some do have that look and that's one of the first tests I used to use when I was looking for a better brand than the one I was using. Or it might be a batch problem...? A little golden brown dye should overcome the bluish look as long as the finish is still clear (not cloudy), and give it a solvent look.

If it's the brand, I'd try the other finishes that have been recommended and see which you like best. Having to add color to your finish all the time is a hassle.

From the original questioner:
Thank you. I appreciate all the advice. We are happy with the durability of our product and the look, also. However, once in awhile the build will get just thick enough that I can pick up the dead look, and only on cherry and maybe sometimes maple clear coats. Most other woods are no problem at all and I've never had a problem with a stained or glazed job. I don't think my customers would ever pick it up... but I'm sure picky when it comes to my finishes. I'll stick with my brand because it's the only one I can pick up locally and overall I'm very happy with it. Thanks for letting me know about being able to add stain - that's the route I'd rather go than adding tints... familiarity and all.

Along with Target's Oxford Hybrid, you might want to try Absolute Coatings Ultra Gold - this is an oil in water blend, looks amberish in the can, and looks more like a traditional varnish. You can also wash coat with orange shellac, for a warmer look.