Why use water-based finish?

With all the problems, why bother? April 17, 2002

I've been spraying lacquer for over 20 years with good consistent results. It seems like there are a lot of problems with water base. Why use it?

Forum Responses
Most people want a cleaner working environment, and may have health concerns. Some don't have the facilities needed to spray solvent coatings. When done properly, there really aren't lots of problems and water base technology has come along way with durability, too.

I started out in this business using WB, and after 2 years of trying, I hadn't gotten a good finish with consistent results. I switched to nc lacquer, and now know why this is the finish of choice for most manufacturers and refinishers.

The only reason to use a waterborne is because you have no other choice or in order to gain experience with the stuff before it becomes mandatory. I have enough experience with it to avoid it whenever possible. Yeah, waterbornes have come a long way, but that's exactly what they said 10 years ago when I first gave them a real go. After about 2 years I gave up in favor of a finish that really works. Except for lower VOC's, I experienced nothing but unsatisfactory results with waterbornes (from cost to performance).

I have no doubt that there are some finishers who use waterbornes and are satisfied with the results and performance, but relative to what? I know I use a finish that is a couple steps down the chain of the highest durability, but I have my reasons for not stepping up to post cat varnishes. I believe that pre-cat nitrocellulose lacquers are a near perfect solution to cost, shelf life, ease of application, reversibility/reparability and durability for low production kitchen and bath cabinetmakers like myself.

My choice of coatings is solvent as well, but I keep an open mind to the development of all products in our field. If we didn't, nitro would still be the coating of choice. Plus, from what I understand, there are some great water base products being used in Europe, but I believe they are unavailable to us in the States.

I've not experienced the problems with waterborne finishes that some have. I've used some brands that are better than others, just like solvent finishes. My customers are the final judges, and I haven't had one return or complaint in over seven years of using WB finishes. The other advantage is being able to work on-site with wb, like hospitals, restaurants, motels, etc.

I haven't had much experience with water base material, but from my experience with solvent based coatings, if it's new you'll have problems until you learn. My first experience with a catalyzed varnish about 11 years ago was a total nightmare, but now I am comfortable using it (and a long list of other coatings) on anything. The more people use water base coatings, the more problems will be overcome and the more knowledge will be gained. I have heard that lacquer was a nightmare when it was first being used in mass production and now is probably one of the easiest coatings to work with.

I don't see where one coating would be good for everything. I wouldn't want to put lacquer on kitchen cabinets. Kitchen and bath cabinets as well as dining tables should have no less than a conversion varnish. When finishing, I consider what the piece will be used for and how much abuse it will take and the amount of maintenance it will get.

I started out using WB lacquer. It depends on the manufacturer as to what problems you will experience. The number one rated WB lacquer is Sherwin Williams. It has to be a water based lacquer, not a water based acrylic lacquer. It is great for on-site refinishing and repairs. I couldn't find anything local for WB in the middle of a project and bought some n/c lacquer and had a lot of problems with it the first time I used it. The water based lacquer is harder to deluxe, but it is a harder finish. I prefer WB to n/c lacquer.

Consider the following:
- no explosions
- no fish eyes
- no blushing in hot weather
- no lacquer thinner, toulene, xylene, methyl ethyl ketones, acetones...
- no water filters on the compressor
- ability to do repairs and touchups in the customer's house without the worry of ignition or persistent odor

I've been experimenting with several WB and flam solvent finishes and, although they are different, I wouldn't say one is really better than the other. The Van Technologies WB finishes are great in that they have virtually no odor, extremely low VOC, 0 HAPS, can be sprayed with little ventilation straight from the can. But I'm having trouble with veneers soaking up too much and bubbling and cracking. On the other hand, the SW cv is nasty stuff and harder to get a good smooth coat. It doesn't cause any veneer problems, though, with the flash cure. There are pros and cons to both and I'll probably end up keeping both available in the shop for different uses.

The EPA will make it mandatory to switch one day. So you might as well get used to it now. This does not mean that you need to go to WB and not use NC, but you should become used to the handling and quarks of the WB before you have to switch. I don't use the conventional sprayers - I use the HVLP and have found this sprayer system better for the WB application.