Just Ask Bruce

By Bruce Johnson

Here is one of my latest ‘Just Ask Bruce’ videos where I explain how to pick the right Minwax® clear protective finish for your project. Watch as I demonstrate a variety of clear finishes including Fast-Drying Polyurethane, Polycrylic® Protective Finish, Wipe-On Poly & Helmsman® Spar Urethane.

I was asked which protective finish was best for a beginner’s DIY project. There are a few different options to choose from when sealing wood, but it’s important to note that every wood project needs a clear protective finish, whether or not the wood has been stained. A clear finish not only protects the wood, but also keeps it looking great through years of wear and tear.

Fast-Drying Polyurethane is a good choice for most projects that need a simple finish. Wipe-On Poly is great for applying quick coats without the need for a brush. If your wood will be exposed to the elements outdoors, use Helmsman Spar Urethane, which blocks sunlight, water, and temperature changes.

Keep in mind that most clear finishes add a slight amber tint to the wood. If you need a true clear coat, try Minwax Polycrylic, a clear, water-based finish for fast drying and easy cleanup.

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.

10 comments on “Just Ask Bruce

  1. Kathy

    I have a chest and dresser that my grandmother tried to renew the finish of with Formsby’s facelift. I don’t think she completely removed it all and the finish is scaly and dull in large areas. This was 30yrs ago. Is there a product available now similar to Formsby’s?

    1. Bruce Johnson Post author

      My recommendations, Kathy, would be to sand your pieces down until the surface is even and then apply a coat of Minwax Wipe-On Polyurethane. It is easy to apply with a cloth, according to directions on the can, but you should plan on rubbing on 3 to 4 coats to build up a great looking protective, clear finish. Good luck!

  2. Phil Croft

    I’m having trouble getting Minwax water based, oil modified satin polyurethane to level out. I’ve tried a good quality bristle brush but still get brush marks, making me have to really heavily sand my coats. The weather has turned cooler and very dry here, could this be a factor?

    I’m thinking of moving the piece from the cool temp shop to inside the house and thinning the poly with water by about 20%; is this a good way to reduce or maybe eliminate the brush strokes?

    1. Bruce Johnson Post author

      Rather than changing the formula of the product, Phil, I would do 3 things: make sure the temperature is in the 65-80 degree range, humidity is at 50% or lower, and don’t over brush the product. It does tend to dry quickly so anyone used to excessive brushing with oil-based products may find that they are leaving brush strokes in this faster drying product. Work quickly, lay down an even coat and let it flow out without over brushing and see if that eliminates the problem. Thanks for writing.



    1. Bruce Johnson Post author

      Not a thing, Douglas. Maple is one of the most dense woods that stain can hardly penetrate. It is so hard it is used for bowling alleys and gym floors. And that’s the reason that it’s generally finished “natural” with either light or no stain at all. You aren’t doing anything wrong but I don’t think you’ll ever get maple to go as dark as you are wanting. As an alternative, you may want to experiment PolyShades in which the stain is mixed with the Polyurethane in the can enabling you to apply your stain on top of the maple rather than soaking all the way in. If you go this direction, be sure to test it on some scrap wood to make sure you’re please with the way PolyShades looks on your maple wood shelves. Thanks for writing and good luck!

  4. Susan

    I would like to know if Minwax Spray on Poly Urethane clear satin finish can be used on the outside of a candle… once dry, is the spray on finish flammable? would it be flammable in this useage? It’s on the outside of the candle that is covered in red sugar on elmer’s white glue. The spray urethane seals the sugar and gives it a shiny coat. When the candle burns, the wax in the center will melt, the finish is an inch and a half away from the wick, and the glitter is only on the sides of the square candle. Thanks.

    1. Bruce Johnson Post author

      Sorry, Susan, but I cannot recommend any wood finishing product for what you have in mind. They simply weren’t designed for what you describe and I am afraid of what might happen in this situation. Hope you find an alternative solution.

  5. Lillian

    I used minwax to stain my maple floor after using the pre-stain conditioner and it is very sticky. It has been overnight and it is still sticky so I can not walk on it. What went wrong and how do I fix it?

  6. Steven Lewis

    I have put pre-stain and 2 coats of clear finish on an unstained table. When I came down this morning to put a third coat on the table had white “powder?” on parts of it. I could brush it off, but not completely. Now, I am wondering what to do.
    I am in Nantucket and am doing the table outside. Could it be that the finish was too thick or that it didn’t penetrate completely and dried on the surface of the table? Should I try to put another coat over the one that turned whitish? The table was almost done, but for the third coat. How can I fix it?
    Steve Lewis

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