• Tuesday, December 27th, 2022
GF Water Base satin

When I am considering no finish at all but just want to add some sheen, silkiness, and decent protection, I use a clear water based finish that produces no (or trace) color change and stays that way. The best example is pearwood to preserve its delicate beauty. Oiling pearwood should be considered a felony crime. Port Orford cedar, with its Zen-like beauty, is another example, though I usually use another finish for it, which I will discuss later in this series. 

General Finishes Water Based High Performance – Satin, a water based polyurethane-acrylic blend, is my go-to player for this. It is very transparent with only a trace of yellow color. It flows out and levels exceptionally well.

The method: I sand a tight diffuse porous wood like pear to 400 grit, which, when practical, may be nothing more than a light pass over a finish hand planed surface. I apply the finish with my Gramercy Tools Waterborne Finishes Brush. A Taklon brush is another good option but the GF flows out so well that even a foam brush works well enough. 

I lightly very fine sand when the first coat is dry enough to produce dry powder – about two hours if humidity is medium/low. Two fairly light coats are enough for the look I want. If I lay down the second coat carefully, it will need little rubbing out with a 2500 Mirlon pad and/or brown paper to end up with a silky surface. 

Other brand options that I have tried include: Hydrocote Resisthane Plus Pre-Catalyzed Lacquer, Clear Satin. This is an excellent product, nice and clear. It seems to brush close to as well as the GF, and is less expensive but not available local to me. I can pick up GF at my local Woodcraft but it is rather expensive. Minwax Polycrylic, also available locally, is also very clear but did not brush out as well for me. [Caution: I do not know if manufacturers’ formulations have changed since I last tried them.]

In summary, this is the finish I use when I want hardly any finish.

Next: a finish to consider that is hardly ever discussed in finishing books and articles

Category: Techniques  | Tags:
You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

8 Responses

  1. 1

    Is this good for finishing maple and keeping color to a minimum.
    I have a maple desk that I am rehabbing for my daughter and scraped and sanded the usual colonial brown finish off. The wood is not bright white but she likes the light colored wood.
    I usually use Danish Oil, Minwax wipe-on poly, Polycrylic or Polywhey.

    I prefer wipe on finishes as they are much easier to apply. I have never tried General Finishes and I suppose mid winter is not the best time to get water based finish shipped. Any tips or should I just make a test board and let her pick? :)

  2. 2

    Hi Rick,

    I like some amber tone on maple as do most people, but if she wants the wood to remain as light as possible, water based is the way to go.

    I like your idea of showing her a test board or area first and letting her pick. Maybe you’ll end up going with your familiar wipe-on products. Note that Minwax Wipe-On Poly (a wiping varnish, which is a film finish) will very likely give a lighter look than an oil-varnish mix like Watco Danish Oil “Natural”. I would avoid Waterlox Original (also a wiping varnish), only because it’s pretty dark.

    If you do go with the water based, I think you will find the GF product (above) easy to brush on – much easier than brushing on a regular solvent based varnish. Unfortunately, it’s pretty expensive and I don’t know if it is stable to be shipped in winter. Try out a decent foam brush first although a Taklon or the Gramercy brush are better.

    Hope this helps.


  3. 3

    I am a big fan of General Finishes products. I have not tried the gel varnish in your earlier article, but now I will.
    I just wanted to add here that they have one of the best customer service groups I have dealt with. Give them a call about winter transport and I’m sure they can help. Maybe there is a nearby retailer. I deal with HPI a pro source in my area that will sell retail. They have all kinds of nice stuff including the full GF line of products, and the Mohawk products including the few items remaining under the Behlan name.

    Now that I think about it over the years I have received great customer service from many finish manufacturers.

  4. 4

    How is the durability of the General Finishes ArmASeal? I have a few projects coming up where shellac (my usual go to) won’t be enough. Thinking of kitchen table tops and the like. Thanks.

  5. 5

    Joe, I have not tried GF Arm-R-Seal but my understanding is that it is a wiping varnish, as is GF Gel Topcoat in gel form. Consider the varnish combo method that I described in part 3 of this series. I used it on a kitchen table top last year and it is doing well, and it has held up well for years on other tables that I’ve used it on. Most protective would be two-part finishes, which I’ve never used.

    GF, though they make good products, gets my award for the most confusingly named products. So it is good to read Dan’s comment that they have good customer service!

    Again, I cannot recommend highly enough Bob Flexner’s book Understanding Wood Finishing. As I have mentioned elsewhere on this site, it is one of the best explanatory books of any kind – not just finishing, not just woodworking, but any field – that I have ever read.


  6. 6

    Quick question. Do you have experience with Bloxygen? I have never used it but the demo jars at Woodcraft are intriguing. I usually try to buy finish in the quantity needed but I still end up with old unusable finish.

    I have nearly a full quart of Minwax wipe on poly. I made a series of “finishing schedule” samples using it but chose the ArmRSeal for my project instead. I used some of the Minwax on a small project recently but the dry time was quite extended and I think it may be going bad.

  7. 7

    Sorry, I can’t be of help on that. I used a can of Bloxygen years ago and did not find it much help but I probably did not use it properly.

  8. 8

    Thanks for the advice! I was thinking that GF might be the best, but I was also thinking that shipping it to Maine in mid winter might be an issue.

    I suspect that she will want Poly Whey or PolyCrylic. We shall see!

    For the moment, I just “whittling” drawers to make them functional. :)

    At the rate I am going, it might be mud season before we need finish.