How to Make Wipe-on Polyurethane? DIY Photo Guide

Is it possible to DIY wipe-on polyurethane in your shop? What are the things that you need?

You can make wipe-on polyurethane by mixing the regular polyurethane with a suitable thinning agent in the right proportion. Generally, a 1:1 mixing ratio is preferable for oil-based polyurethane, whereas a 2:1 ratio of polyurethane and water is recommended for thinning water-based polyurethane. 

This article provides a detailed guide on how to make wipe-on polyurethane in your workshop while shedding some light on the benefits of wipe-on polyurethane over regular polyurethane.

Wipe on Polyurethane- How to Make it?

Stirring the wipe-on polyurethane mixture
Stirring the wipe-on polyurethane mixture

Wipe-on polyurethane is a thinned-down version of regular polyurethane that is applied using a rag or a sponge instead of a brush or a roller

The ability to apply the wipe-on finish with a rag makes it an easy-to-apply alternative for beginners who otherwise can struggle with brush marks and roller marks.

It is easier to apply, dries faster, produces a smoother finish than regular polyurethane, and requires less time between coats.

Thinner than regular polyurethane, it often requires more coats to get the desired durability and finish.

Moreover, it allows you to gradually build the finish, reducing the risk of drips or bubbles often caused by thicker coats.

While wipe-on polyurethane is available in stores, making it yourself allows you to customize the mixture to your needs and save money.

However, there are some basic steps that you need to perform carefully to make your own wipe-on polyurethane.

Step 1Gathering supplies
Step 2Deciding the right mixing proportion
Step 3Storing the mixture
Steps involved in making wipe-on polyurethane

Step 1: Gathering Supplies

Supplies needed to make wipe on PU
Supplies needed to make wipe on PU

To make wipe-on polyurethane, you’ll need to gather a few supplies.

These supplies are common, and you might already have them in your woodworking shop.

1. Polyurethane

Choose between oil-based or water-based polyurethane.

Oil-based offers a durable protective finish but has a strong odor and longer drying time.

Water-based has a lower odor, dries faster, and is easier to clean up.

2. Thinning Solvent

Next, you’ll need a suitable solvent to thin the polyurethane and reduce its viscosity, making it easy to apply using a wipe. 

Use mineral spirits for oil-based poly and water for water-based poly to reduce viscosity and make it easy to apply with a wipe.

3. Clean Rags

You’ll need some clean rags to apply the wipe-on polyurethane. Ensure the rags are clean and lint-free to prevent dust or debris from getting stuck in the finish.

4. Mixing Container

Any clean container, like a plastic cup or bowl, can be used for mixing the polyurethane and solvent.

A cut plastic bottle works well for a disposable mixing container.

5. Stir Stick

Use a clean stick like a popsicle stick or wooden dowel to stir the polyurethane and solvent together.

6. Gloves

It’s always a good idea to wear gloves when working with polyurethane as it can be difficult to wash off your skin, so wearing gloves can protect your hands (Learn how to get polyurethane off your hands).

Step 2: Deciding the Right Mixing Proportion

Water-based Polyurethane and water in 2 1 ratio
Water-based polyurethane and water in a 2:1 ratio

Deciding the right mixing proportion for wipe-on polyurethane is essential, and there are a few things to remember.

Different brands of polyurethane may have varying mixing ratios, so check the manufacturer’s instructions first.

For oil-based polyurethane, a general guideline is to mix 1 part polyurethane with 1 part mineral spirits.

However, you can adjust this ratio depending on how thick or thin you want the finish.

Some prefer a thinner consistency, using a 2:1 ratio (2 parts polyurethane to 1 part mineral spirits).

With water-based polyurethane, the ratio is different since water is used to thin the mixture.

Mixing two parts polyurethane with one part water is a good starting point. Again, adjust the ratio based on your desired finish.

Ensure that the amount of polyurethane and thinner matches the size of your project.

Mixing enough for the entire project at once is best to avoid inconsistencies in thickness and finish.

When stirring the polyurethane and thinner, do it gently and thoroughly to avoid introducing air bubbles into the mixture.

Step 3: Storing the Mixture

Storing the wipe-on poly in a labeled container
Storing the wipe-on poly in a labeled container

Properly storing your wipe-on polyurethane mixture is important to maintain its quality and effectiveness. Here are some easy steps to follow:

Use a tight-sealing container

After mixing the polyurethane with mineral spirits, transfer it to a container with a secure lid.

This prevents air from getting in and keeps the mixture from thickening or drying out.

Label the container

Make sure to label the container with the type of polyurethane, the mixing proportions, and the mixing date.

This helps you keep track of and use the mixture before it expires.

Store in a cool, dry place

Find a cool and dry spot to store the container. Avoid direct sunlight or high-humidity areas, as they can cause the mixture to thicken or become gummy.

Benefits of Using Wipe on Polyurethane over Regular Polyurethane

Fast drying wipe-on polyurethane
Fast drying wipe-on polyurethane

Polyurethane is a popular finish for wood surfaces due to its durability and resistance to scratches, spills, and stains. 

Traditionally, applying polyurethane to a surface involves using a brush or sprayer to create a thick coating that needs to be sanded between coats. 

However, wipe-on polyurethane has become a popular alternative for finishing wood surfaces due to its ease of application and many benefits over regular polyurethane.

Here are some of the benefits of using wipe-on polyurethane:

Easier to Apply

Rubbing the wipe on Polyurethane on the workpiece
Rubbing the wipe on polyurethane on a workpiece

Wipe-on polyurethane is easier to apply than traditional polyurethane. 

Since the polyurethane is thinned down with mineral spirits, it is easier to spread and allows for more control. 

This also means it is easier to achieve a smooth, even finish without brush strokes or roller marks.

Quicker Drying Time

Wipe-on polyurethane dries faster than traditional polyurethane due to its thinner consistency. 

This means you can apply multiple coats in a single day and complete your project much faster.

Better Penetration

Wipe-on polyurethane penetrates deeper into the wood fibers, providing better protection against moisture and wear over time.

More Natural Look

Wipe-on polyurethane coated wood
Wipe-on polyurethane-coated wood

Wipe-on poly finishes create a more natural look on wood surfaces than traditional polyurethane. 

The thinner consistency allows the wood grain to show through, creating a more authentic appearance.

Fewer Fumes

Wipe-on polyurethane is a diluted solution with fewer fumes than traditional polyurethane. 

This makes it a better option for people sensitive to strong chemical smells or those working in an enclosed space.

Each of these benefits can make a significant difference in the outcome of your project, and it is worth considering using wipe-on polyurethane over traditional polyurethane.

How to Apply Wipe-on Polyurethane?

Step 1: Prepare the Surface

Sanding the workpiece before applying wipe on PU
Sanding the workpiece before applying wipe-on PU

Before applying wipe-on polyurethane, ensure the surface is clean and free from dust, dirt, and debris. 

After that, use fine-grit sandpaper (320-400) to sand the surface and remove any imperfections while preparing the surface for better adhesion of the PU coating.

Once the sanding is complete, use a tack cloth to wipe the dust from the surface and render it clean.

Step 2: Stir the Polyurethane

Stirring the mixture gently
Stirring the wipe-on polyurethane gently

Before applying the first coat, stir the wipe-on polyurethane thoroughly to ensure it is mixed well. 

You can use a paint stirrer or a stick that reaches the bottom of the container to mix the polyurethane gently.

Never shake the container, as it can cause bubbles to form in the solution.

Step 3: Apply the First Coat

Applying wipe-on polyurethane using a rag
Applying wipe-on polyurethane using a rag

Dip a clean, lint-free cloth into the wipe-on polyurethane and wring it out. 

Apply the first coat of polyurethane onto the surface in long, even strokes. 

Make sure to apply a thin coat and avoid leaving drips or bubbles.

Step 4: Let it Dry

After covering the entire surface with the first coat of PU, allow it to dry completely before applying the next coat.

Generally, water-based poly dries faster than oil-based poly. Apart from that, the drying time also depends on the temperature and humidity in the room.

Step 5: Sand the Surface

Once the first coat is dry, sand the surface lightly with fine-grit sandpaper (400 – 600 grit). This will help the second coat adhere better.

Sanding between coats also helps improve the surface finish by removing any imperfections and bubbles.

However, if the coats you applied are too thin, sanding them can lead to removing the entire coat.

Therefore, it is advised to maintain very light pressure when sanding between coats.

Step 6: Apply the Second Coat

Dipping a clean cloth in the wipe-on polyurethane
Dipping a clean cloth in the wipe-on polyurethane

After sanding the surface, use the lint-free cloth to apply the next coat with long, even strokes. 

Apply the second coat in the opposite direction to the first coat to ensure even coverage.

Step 7: Let it Dry

Final finish on the workpiece after applying wipe-on poly
Final finish on the workpiece after applying wipe-on poly

Allow the second coat to dry completely. Once dry, inspect the surface for any imperfections. If necessary, sand lightly and apply a third coat of wipe-on polyurethane.

Step 8: Buff the Surface

Using a brown paper bag to buff the surface
Using a brown paper bag to buff the surface

Once the final coat is dry, buff the surface with a clean cloth to achieve a smooth, glossy finish.

Final Thoughts

Wipe-on polyurethane is a great alternative to regular polyurethane if you want a more convenient and efficient way to protect and finish your woodworking project.

A DIY wipe-on polyurethane provides you the ability to customize the formula to your specific needs and preferences. 

However, use the right thinning solvent and maintain the right proportion for proper results.

Also, analyze your requirement and make the wipe-on polyurethane for your project in one go, as it avoids the risk of inconsistency in different batches.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What types of wood are best suited for using wipe-on polyurethane?

Wipe-on polyurethane can be applied to most types of wood, but some woods are better suited for it than others. Generally, woods that are more porous, such as oak or ash, will absorb more of the finish and require additional coats. Woods with tighter grains, such as maple or cherry, will require fewer coats of wipe-on polyurethane.

Can I apply wipe-on polyurethane over an existing finish?

Yes, you can apply wipe-on polyurethane over an existing finish, but it’s important to ensure that the existing finish is clean and free from dirt, wax, or any other substances that may interfere with the adhesion of the wipe-on polyurethane. Sanding the existing finish lightly with fine-grit sandpaper and cleaning it with a suitable cleaner or solvent can help ensure good adhesion.

Is there a minimum or maximum humidity level required when applying wipe-on polyurethane?

Humidity can affect the drying time and the final finish of wipe-on polyurethane. Ideally, the humidity level should be between 40% to 60% for optimal drying time and finish quality. If the humidity level is too high, the finish may take longer to dry and may not cure properly. Conversely, if the humidity level is too low, the finish may dry too quickly and may not level properly.