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Polycrylic Vs Polyurethane: Which Is Best For You?

The debate over polycrylic vs polyurethane continues today. Both protective substances serve the same purpose for wood projects.

The difference between the two is how polycrylic is water-based and polyurethane is oil-based. Here, we’ll show how the sealants work and their benefits. Both styles can be found at local hardware stores. 

Polycrylic Vs Polyurethane

Polycrylic Vs Polyurethane

When working with wood surfaces, use the best sealant. Before choosing one, understand why wood sealants are important.

The Importance Of Sealing Wood 

Sealing is more important than staining. While stain changes the color of wood, sealants protect it. 

Wood sealant is the difference in your furniture being scratched in a week or not getting a scratch throughout its lifetime. There are wood surfaces that don’t need to be resealed every few years, but you’ll know when wood needs to be resealed. 

Polycrylic & Polyurethane Sealants

Now it's time to get to know the different types of Polycrylic and Polyurethane sealants.

Urethanes are sold as high performance sealants. Polyurethane sealants are at the top because their properties are superior to others.

Most woodworking professionals use two protective finishes. Before you decide which one is best for your wood project, understand the differences between the sealants.

Water based polyurethane and oil based polyurethane have unique benefits.

Oil Vs Water

One of the biggest differences between polycrylic vs polyurethane finishes is that one is water-based. Polyurethane is both water-based and oil-based, unlike polycrylic.

Oil-based polyurethane is heat resistant and moisture resistant. Water-based polyurethane contains dries faster and is safer to use because it gives off fewer fumes when you are using it.

Polycrylic is water-based and less toxic than polyurethane options. It doesn’t tolerate heat or moisture well but it works great if you are susceptible to breathing problems or want a safer coating. 

Tinting Vs Shining 

Oil-based polyurethane dries with a glimmer that is tinted with a warm tone. Water-based polyurethane dries clear, making it a better option if you want to maintain the wood’s natural color.

Polycrylic is ideal when applying a thin and even coat. When used incorrectly, a thin, white, milky consistency will appear on your wood surface. As you cover the wood surface, it will be white, but it dries clear when applied correctly.  

Strength Vs Strength 

Water-based stains are strong but not as durable as oil-based polyurethane. Furniture that has been covered with an oil-based sealant will last longer. 

One trade-off is how water-based stains do not emit toxic fumes. They are safe to use and do not require a mask. If this sounds like what you’re looking for, then a water-based polycrylic sealant would be the best. 

Oil-based sealants are flammable. They aren’t as much after they dry but they should never be applied in intense heat nor near a fire. The same can be true for water-based polyurethane but oil-based is more flammable. 

Polycrylic Or Polyurethane? That Is The Question

Minwax Polycrylic

Minwax Polycrylic Topcoat

Minwax Polycrylic may be the best option for polycrylic protective coatings. It is known for drying with a crystal clear finish and works for light woods like maple, ash, and birch. It can even be placed over another stain.

Allow two hours for the finish to dry, before applying a second coat. It’s easy to clean up because it’s water-based and won’t yellow. The coating is available in gloss, semi-gloss, satin, matte, and ultra-flat. 

Minwax Polyurethane

Minwax Polyurethane  Protection

Minwax Polyurethane is known for providing long-lasting protection and beautiful shine for almost any wood surface. It can be used on both finished and unfinished wood because it is oil-based and won’t absorb into unfinished wood.

If you are looking for an oil-based coating for your topcoat then this will probably be your safest bet. Everyone loves Minwax and this particular can gets amazing reviews time and time again. You can’t go wrong with it. 

What Finish Should I Choose? 

Polycrylic Vs Polyurethane

The finish is relevant when choosing polycrylic vs polyurethane. Sealant finishes are just like paint finishes. Here are the main types of finishes to choose from and what they mean. 

  • Flat or matte – gives the most natural look. 
  • Satin – offers a slight glimmer that hides scratches and imperfections. If you can’t decide which finish to choose then go with satin because it is a safe to use. 
  • Semi-gloss – a middle-ground option. It is shiny but also hides imperfections. Semi-gloss is gorgeous and is almost as safe as satin. However, it doesn’t hide imperfections as well. 
  • High-gloss – the shiniest and most reflective choice. It may be impressive, however, it does show imperfections the most. If your wood isn’t perfect, or if there is a large natural light source that will shine on the wood, then use something else.

How To Apply Polycrylic and Polyurethane To Wood 

Polycrylic Vs Polyurethane and How To Apply Protective Coat

Applying a protective coating to wood is easy. If you’ve painted or stained wood, you know how to do it. However, if let’s review the steps on how to use polycrylic and polyurethane on wood. 

Step 1: Remove Previous Coats

It’s best if you remove any previous paint, varnish, or other finishes before applying anything new. So do this by sanding down the wood. For best results, use 120-grit sandpaper on refinished wood and 80-grit on new wood.

Yes, even if the wood is new, it will need to be sanded down because sometimes an invisible protective coating is added in the factory or warehouse. This can also remove any stamps used to date or label the boards.

Step 2: Clean The Piece

After sanding, wipe off the dust and sand with a clean cloth. Then, sand with 180-grit lightly to remove anything left not smooth by the stronger sandpaper. With sandpaper, the higher grit, the smoother and softer the finish will be.

Dust one more time. Vacuum and clean the surface with a damp, lint-free cloth or sponge. It’s a good idea to do this all in a well-ventilated area s both sawdust and sand grit can affect your lungs. 

Step 3: Apply First Coat

Apply the first coat of finish, with a soft-bristle brush. Start with a very thin coat. If there are hard-to-reach areas, you can take care of them with spray polyurethane which usually coats wonderfully. 

After you apply the first coat, let it dry for a couple of hours. Then lightly sand it. You don’t want to make it too rough or remove the first coat. Just sand it enough so that the second coat will apply easily.

Step 4: Add Remaining Coats

Step 4: Add Remaining Coats

After sanding the first coat, apply another one. You should anticipate three coats. depending on the type of wood you are covering. Unfinished wood requires more coats than finished wood. 

With any woodworking project, wear a mask when using oil-based polyurethane. For indoor environments, the room must have good ventilation. You may need to invest in a small fan to keep the air circulating.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)FAQ

What Is The Benefit of Waterborne Polyurethane Paint?

Waterborne polyurethane (PU) paint releases fewer volatile organic compounds (VOCs), has a lower temperature flexibility, acid and alkali resistance, and superior weather resistant capabilities. Its application for wood furniture is favored by professional woodworkers and furniture restoration experts.

vWhat Is Green Glued Finger Jointing?

Green-glued finger joints refer to wet wood that is bonded before it dries.

What Is A Bio-based Prepared Polyurethane?

A vegetable oil-based wood finish made with peanut oil has beneficial coating properties. The bio-adhesive could replace petroleum-based materials.

Polycrylic Vs Polyurethane: Wrap Up

Comparing polycrylic and polyurethane is like comparing apples with oranges. The type of sealant you’ll need for your wood project will depend on a few circumstances. 

The sealant you choose will depend on the wood’s character. Other factors to consider involve water resistant outdoor furniture, exposure to high heat, and wood grain surfaces.

When sealing heavy foot traffic floors, water based polyurethanes won’t last long. Meanwhile, oil based polyurethanes would provide long-lasting protection.

Wood finishes for DIY projects aren’t complicated. You need to know what you’re working with and how many sealant coats your should apply. After your wood project is complete, make sure to properly dispose of the sealants.