Topcoat Selection and Application


Proper topcoat type and application will preserve and protect your project for years after its completion.

Suggested Supplies

  • Fine Grade Sandpaper or Nylon Sanding Pad
  • Tack Cloth
  • Stir Stick
  • Dropcloth
  • Quality, China Bristle Brush
  • Mineral Spirits or Paint Thinner
  • Rubber Gloves

Topcoat Selection


Topcoat Application

Applying a protective, clear finish is the final step of most staining and finishing projects.

Before you begin, ensure there is adequate ventilation. Clean the surface with a tack rag or damp rag to remove dust. Stir the product thoroughly before and during application. DO NOT SHAKE. For larger projects requiring more than one container, combine containers and mix to ensure gloss uniformity. Test the finish on an inconspicuous part of the surface prior to finishing to ensure adequate adhesion. Do not apply in direct sunlight or areas of extreme air movement. Do not use tack rags when using water-based clear finishes.

Follow these steps when apply a clear finish to properly prepared wood:

  1. Use a pure china bristle brush to apply. Use a 2” to 2 1/2” brush.
  2. Apply in light, even coats. Avoid thick coats as this may cause drips and wrinkles as the finish dries. Apply in the direction of the grain. Flow on with minimum brushing to achieve a glass-like finish and to avoid creating bubbles.
  3. Allow the finish to dry. Consult the back of the label for drying times, as dry times for various clear finishes will vary.
  4. Sand lightly between coats with fine sandpaper (220 grit) to produce a finer finish and promote adhesion. If sandpaper gums up, allow more dry time. Remove sanding dust.
  5. Reapply. Follow label instructions for recoat times. For interior applications, at least two coats is advisable. For exterior applications, at least three coats is recommended. Carefully read the back of the label for detailed information on each particular product.
  6. Wait 24 hours before subjecting surfaces to light use. Care should be used during the first week after application as the finish is curing to its ultimate hardness. In floor applications, avoid heavy traffic and replacing of furniture for 72 hours after the final coat. When replacing furniture, do not slide. Do not install rugs or clean floors for 7 days.

Helpful hints

  • An artist’s brush with firm bristles is handy for picking off lint before the finish dries.
  • Before finishing, be sure to secure a dust-free work area to keep the finish clean. Due to vapors involved with solvent-based finishes apply in an area with good ventilation.

Why A Topcoat?

Selecting the appropriate topcoat and correctly applying it will help to provide lasting, durable protection for the life of your project. A clear top coat finish will protect surfaces from abrasions, marring, chipping, and damaged caused by water and alcohol. Exterior finishes provide superior Ultraviolet protection and also help surfaces resist damage caused by water exposure, wind and weather.

Correct topcoat selection is very important. Each clear finish is uniquely formulated for different applications. For example, Gel Polyurethane is an excellent finish for furniture or antiques, but would be a poor finish to use on a floor application. Be sure to read each label carefully, as each one will clearly advise you about suitable applications. Old Masters Clear Finish Selection Guide can also assist you in choosing the correct topcoat.

Lastly, remember to sustain the beauty of both interior and exterior surfaces by ensuring the surface is being properly maintained. This is extremely important for outdoor applications as these surfaces are constantly battling Mother Nature’s fury. A good rule of thumb is to reapply exterior clear finishes every two years; however, exterior surfaces that receive extended exposure to the sun may need to be recoated each year.

Suggested Products

Oil-Based Polyurethane Great for use on interior stained wood surfaces such as floors, countertops, cabinets, woodwork and doors. Water-Based Polyurethane Crystal clear finish that creates a hard, durable coating on a variety of surfaces. Will NOT amber. Dries quickly with low odor and cleans easily with soap and water. Brushing Lacquer Crystal clear, fast drying and self-leveling lacquer provides a durable finish resistant to water and alcohol. It is easily repaired and recoated without removing the old finish. Oil-Based Gel Polyurethane Thick, gelled formula enables multiple hand-applied coats without drips or brush marks. Ideal for use on antiques. Interior/Exterior Water-Based Polyurethane Old Masters® Interior/Exterior Water-Based Polyurethane is a clear finish that creates a hard, durable coating on wooden craft projects, bird houses, painted signs, furniture, picture frames and a variety of other surfaces. Spar-Marine Varnish Exterior finish, provides protection to withstand water, weather and sunlight. Spar-Urethane This clear exterior finish resists water and weather, and contains Ultra Violet absorbers for advanced sun protection. Tung Oil Made from penetrating Tung Oil and creates a beautiful, hand-rubbed finish. Provides a durable water and alcohol resistant oil finish that will not crack, chip or peel. Tung Oil Varnish Made from a blend of Tung Oil and fine varnishes, it dries to a durable, non-oily finish which is water and alcohol resistant.