Polyurethane Varnish

For the homeowner, using polyurethane varnish to finish or refinish your cabinets is a great idea.  Professionals will usually spray lacquer's on kitchen cabinets, but a pro will use polyurethane varnish for finishing windows, floors, and decks.

POLYURETHANE (VARNISH) IS EASY TO USE - SOME POINTERS:

  • If you don't have access to spray equipment, it is easily applied with a brush.
  • It can be applied with spray equipment, too.
  • Use solvent based polyurethane to give your wood the most protection and durability.
  • Different polyurethane varnishes are used to finish floors, decks, and your kitchen.  Get the right product from your supplier for the specific application you will be using it for.

There are also water based polyurethanes.  Go to our Water Based Cabinet Finish page from this Polyurethane Varnish page for more information on water based polyurethane.

POLYURETHANE VARNISH - WHAT IT IS

Polyurethane was developed in the 1930's and is a synthetic resin, and actually a type of varnish.  It has different enough characteristics from the two other traditional varnish types that it has become a finish onto itself. (see How to Varnish Wood for more information on varnishes).

If you've heard that using polyurethane on kitchen cabinets makes them too "plastic" like, don't let that myth deter you from using it.  Although, if applied too thick, it can appear cloudy, it is not anymore "plastic" than any other film finish (like lacquer, conversion finishes, other varnishes, water based, etc.), because all film finishes, except for shellac, ARE a plastic.  It is a terrific finish.

Polyurethane is a polymer, and is used in making other products.  Things like flexible and rigid foams, sealants, adhesives, gaskets, carpet underlayment, and hard plastic parts contain polyurethane, too.

THE BEST POLYURETHANE VARNISH FOR KITCHEN CABINETS

In our cabinet shop we had good luck using Minwax Fast-Drying Polyurethane.  Because there are many different types of polyurethane, ask your supplier what they suggest is best for your specific application.

PROPERTIES OF POLYURETHANE VARNISH

  • Polyurethane is transparent.
  • Polyurethane kitchen cabinets will be resistant to water and water vapor (humidity).
  • Polyurethane is resistant to fungus and mildew (which makes it a good choice for wooden windows as well).
  • Poly, as it is sometimes called, is very durable, tough, and abrasion-resistant.
  • Polyurethane is easy to apply with a brush or foam brush.
  • It dries more quickly than the other varnishes.
  • It is available in a variety of lusters, from flat to glossy.
  • Water based polyurethanes are safer for you and the environment than solvent based polys.  The caveat is, water based polyurethane is not as wear-resistant as solvent based polyurethane. (see Water Based Cabinet Finish)

APPLICATION OF POLYURETHANE VARNISH - REALLY ONLY FOUR BASIC STEPS

When you use polyurethane for kitchen cabinets or for other wooden pieces, follow the manufacturer's directions, but here's some basic guidelines to follow:

  • Apply a thin and even coat with a regular or foam brush. Brush with the grain.
  • Let the surface dry, two or more hours.  Even with fast-drying polyurethane, we like to let it dry completely overnight before applying another coat.
  • When the surface is completely dry, scuff it (sand it lightly) using 320 to 400 grit sand paper.  If your sand paper is gumming up, the finish is not completely dry (or you need to use stearated, self-lubricating sandpaper).
  • Apply another coat of finish.
  • Keep repeating the above steps until you have applied as much as you'd like.  Usually, three or four coats is enough.
  • Do not scuff after your final coat.  This is the finish coat.  If you scuff it, you will need to apply another coat.

BE SAFE

All finishes, other than water base, are susceptible to flames and combustion.  Just like any other finish, keep use of polyurethane away from heat and flames.

Have adequate ventilation and use a respirator mask when applying the finish.

If you can smell the fumes while you are using a respirator mask, something is wrong.  Check to make sure you don't have a leak.  If you don't, you need to change the cartridge in the mask.

Follow all manufacturer's guides and be conscious of their warnings.

KEEPING POLYURETHANE (VARNISH) CLEAN ONCE YOU'VE APPLIED IT TO YOUR WOOD.

Simply washing your kitchen cabinets with a mild soap and water is the easiest and best way to keep them clean.

Remember to not let water sit on your cabinets or in crevices.  Although polyurethane is quite resistant to water, water will have adverse effects on it if left to sit.

See our Cleaning Wood Kitchen Cabinets page for more information.

Return to Cabinet Finishes from our Polyurethane Varnish page.

OTHER RELATED SITES:

Cleaning Wood Kitchen Cabinets - It's Easy - you don't need to have "secret" cleaners or be a Pro!  This page tells you how.

How to Varnish Wood - 7 properties, 3 types, 6 application steps to follow.  Helping you keep it all STRAIGHT!!

Water Based Cabinet Finish - Pros, Cons, How to apply it so it lasts.

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