How to Choose a Top Coat

Another frequent question we get asked is: “What top coat should I use for interior projects?” Our answer: “It depends.” Do you prefer to work in oil? Or water? What sheen do you like? Are you spray or hand applying? Do you want the finish to darken or amber? What species of wood are you working on? How large is your project? Is odor or clean up an issue? Last, is dry time important? All will determine which top coat you choose. In our consumer line, we have two oil based finishes and two water based finishes. So lets start with the properties of the water based top coats. High Performance and Enduro-Var. Both of these are non-penetrating and clean up with water. And are easily sprayed, or hand applied. And are available in: Flat, Satin, Semi-Gloss, and Gloss Sheens. There are also a few differences between these two water based products. High Performance is water white in the can. And it dries crystal clear. It ready to re-coat in 2-4 hours. An can be applied over any paint or any stain, as long as it’s completely dry. Enduro-Var is also low odor and water clean up. It ambers over time and can be re-coated in 4 hours. Its recommended for use over any General Finishes water based stain, dye stain, and raw wood. It should not be used with any oil based products including shellacking and sanding . For people who are use to working with an oil based top coat, Enduro-var is an alkyd urethane. It’s a good transition to a water based finish. It looks much like an oil based varnish than a water based finish and produces a light amber color. Never use any water based top coat with any long oil such as teak, tung or linseed oil. Moving to our oil based top coat, we have the Arm-R-Seal and Gel top Coat. Both are hand application products which are not designed for spaying. The difference is viscosity. Arm-R-Seal is a liquid penetrating finish. It dries in12-24 hours. And can be wiped on with a cloth or brush style. The gel satin is thicker. You can see. It also can be wiped on but its easier to work with if there’s no drips, runs, or spills. Dries in 24 hours. Both have a low solvent odor and require clean up with mineral spirits and can be applied over existing finishes. Remember, always work in a well ventilated area when using oil based products. Gel is only available in satin because the thickening agents flatten the sheen. Arm-R-Seal is offered in satin, semi-gloss, and gloss. All finishes change colors as they age. Here is a comparison of how our top coats amber. If you do not want color in your top coat, choose High Performance. Its shown over white paint. Artificial light testing water finishes can yellow a bit but the changes is unnoticeable to the naked eye. If you want an oil finish that ambers, use Arm-R-Seal or Gel Stain. Oil finishes bring out the beauty of highly figured wood species such as, cherry or walnut. Here is a cheery door finished half and half with Arm-R-Seal and High Performance. You can see the difference in the intensity of grain definition when using Arm-R-seal. If you want a water based finish with a warm tone, use Enduro-Var. Which will also highlight the figure of the wood, but not quite as much as an oil finish. Not only does the color of the finish change over time, so does the wood. Here is 2 year old maple wood door finished in High Performance Stain that has yellowed. This is not due to the finish. Its because maple develops a yellow patina as it ages. And here it is next to a door that was recently finished in High Performance Satin. Every species of wood is different. Every tree is unique and will have a varying effect on the finished result. Be sure to test your top coat in a hidden area first. Another consideration is the amount of surface area involved. In a large kitchen for example, we recommend using Arm-r-seal or high performance because a liquid is just easier to spread. Finally General Finishes offer a full line of professional top coats designed specifically for spraying. Happy top coating!

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