Tips For One-Step Polyshades

By Bruce Johnson


When Leigh Ann and I first met, my house was 90% office and 10% home. Each time I took on a new project, I took over the dining room table or the coffee table. Well, she politely (but firmly) suggested that I build a separate office over our two-car garage, which I did. And when it came time to stain and finish the three unfinished pine doors, I went looking for a way to save myself some time. If you’d like to see what I did, just click below.

Typically, I use the traditional two-step method:  apply my stain, wiping off the excess liquid before it dries, then the next day apply a clear finish. Before staining any softwoods I always add a third step to the beginning of the process by first brushing on Minwax® Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner to reduce any blotchiness.

But by the time I got to my doors, I was running out of steam, so I decided they were perfect candidates for Minwax® PolyShades®, a combination stain and finish in one can.

Years ago, on one of my first PolyShades® projects, I learned that foam brushes make sloppy applicators, as they apply an uneven coat and leave behind a trail of bubbles.

Instead, I use a quality natural bristle brush and just dip half an inch of the bristles into the can.

I then brushed on a thin coat of PolyShades®. On this sample I experimented with Antique Walnut, (I ended up choosing Pecan for my pine doors) lightly smoothing out my brush strokes with a long, uninterrupted pass on the final stroke.

And here’s another tip I learned: PolyShades® will always work best on flat surfaces, simply because carvings, spindles, and corners naturally pull excess liquid out of your brush. My rule: the more intricate the project, the more apt I am to fall back on the two-step method.

As you can see, the Pecan Minwax® PolyShades® added just the right amount of color and plenty of protective polyurethane finish. Six years later they are still looking new, and Leigh Ann is happy to not have to live where I work!

Until next time,

Thanks for stopping by!






About Bruce Johnson

Author-craftsman Bruce Johnson has introduced millions of do-it-yourselfers, craftspeople and antique collectors to the world of wood finishing and antique restoration. As the official spokesperson for Minwax®, the leading manufacturer of wood finishing and wood care products, Bruce motivates people to take the initiative to beautify their surroundings. Through his many books, magazine articles and columns, as well as frequent appearances on national television talk shows, Johnson is recognized as an authority in the do-it-yourself community. Appearing on PBS, HGTV, The Discovery Channel, and currently hosting “DIY Woodworking” and “Build A Log Cabin”, on the DIY cable network, Johnson has brought the illustrious craft of wood finishing to the forefront of the American home. An expert in wood refinishing, antique restoration, and home improvement, Bruce has published more than a dozen books on these topics, including Fifty Simple Ways To Save Your House, The Wood Finisher, The Weekend Refinisher, and The Official Identification and Price Guide to the Arts and Crafts Movement. For more than 20-years, he penned an antique refinishing advice column, "Knock on Wood," which ran in dozens of antique/collectibles publications. Currently, he writes a column on Arts & Crafts for Style 1900 magazine. A rare combination of craftsman and journalist, Johnson began his career as a high school English teacher, but left teaching to set up his "Knock on Wood Antique Repair & Restoration" shop. He spent the next 10 years as a full-time professional refinisher, but eventually returned to writing. Yet, Johnson says, he won't ever be without a workbench and a couple of refinishing projects down in the basement. Johnson is also the founder and director of the Arts and Crafts Conference and Antique Show held every February in Asheville, North Carolina, at the Grove Park Inn. The conference, which includes the largest Arts and Crafts antiques show, attracts more than 1500 Arts and Crafts collectors each year to its many seminars, tours, demonstrations and exhibits. Johnson is proud to have played a role in reviving interest in designers like Gustav Stickley, who founded the Arts and Crafts movement. His latest book, “Grove Park Inn Arts & Crafts Furniture,” was awarded the 2009 Thomas Wolfe Literary Award. These furnishings are treasured by such collectors as Steven Spielberg and Bruce Willis, among many others.

8 comments on “Tips For One-Step Polyshades

  1. Audra@RealityToDreams

    I just stained two wooden crates for my boys last night. I am so excited to have found your blog!! I was at SNAP! Conference last year and loved your presentation! Now I’m the blogger behind a Disney inspired Home blog. I’m looking forward to following along Bruce!

  2. elaine mutrphy

    My finance and I have been long time users of Minwax. It has always given us a professional and quality finish. We had 2 different projects we were doing a chest of drawers and and end table that I converted to be used as a Lego table for my Grandson. The items were sanded and prepped. We decided to use your new product Minwax Poly Shades. What a mistake that was. You have no control of the stain color,it drys to quick and irregular. I figured after I put the first coat on and let it dry and lightly sanded that the second coat would fill in the unevenness of the color and the poly. No that was not the case. So I re-sanded the entire piece again and started all over. My finance said I must have done something wrong. He is sanding the chest for a third time and throwing whatever was left over out. You have disappointed us and caused additional work. We will not be singing your praises anytime soon !!!!!!!

    1. Bruce Johnson Post author

      While there are some situations where Polyshades work very well, the traditional two-step method, stain the bare wood the first day, then apply the finish the next, will always be the most reliable way to have total control over the color of your stain and the sheen of your finish. Good luck on your future projects, Elaine.

  3. D PLeiss

    Decided to use the “one step” approach and am regretting it. I just got started back in woodworking and built my Daughter a hope chest for Christmas. All of the hard work in design and building went down the tubes after using this product. The finish is below average at best…hard to work with and little control on shading. I’m now back to sanding everything down and starting over on the finish. Wouldn’t recommend this to anyone

    1. Bruce Johnson Post author

      Sorry to hear of your experience with the PolyShades. Some people love it, others still prefer the two-step method that gives you more control as you apply the stain first, wipe off the excess, let it dry, then apply two or three coats of a clear finish. It sounds like this would be the best approach for you in your projects. Hope you continue to give Minwax a chance.


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