Marc - Today we're gonna have a good old fashioned shootout
between four of the most popular wiping varnishes
on the market.
It's gonna be a good one.
♫ Hit it
- The four finishes are Minwax Wipe-On Poly,
General Finishes Arm-R-Seal, Waterlox Sealer,
and Waterlox Gloss Top Coat.
Now, in case you're not familiar, a wiping varnish
is really nothing more than a full strength varnish
that's been pre-diluted for us so that
it's easy to wipe on with a rag.
You don't need to use a brush,
even though you could if you wanted to.
It's a very beginner friendly finish,
easy to apply, lots of working time,
and it's super forgiving, and the cool thing is
you could apply as many coats as you want
to get the kind of look that you want.
So, the finish is very versatile,
and I can see why these things are so popular,
but if you do a little digging,
you're gonna find people having almost
religious level debates about which one
of these finishes is best, and why they like it the most,
or why one finish is a waste of money,
and the other one is a much better value.
So I wanted to really cut through some of that today
and show you various examples with some test boards
how these finishes behave, what they look like,
and let you judge for yourself.
I'm actually not here to pick a winner this time.
There is no winner.
I think all of these finishes are fantastic,
and they each have their place.
I just want to give you some information
so that you can make a buying decision.
Alright, so first we need test boards,
and my plan was to take some simple
plywood boards, I have walnut and birch,
because I really just wanted to have
a light and dark representation,
and each board is going to be treated
exactly the same way, finished exactly the same way
with the same number of coats so that everything
is equal when we go into our torture test,
which should be pretty cool.
Alright, so here's how it went down.
(air hissing) (gentle music)
Each board was sanded to 220 grit.
Pencil marks on the surface helped
me gauge my sanding progress.
From there, each finish was poured into
a secondary container, and applied using a sponge brush.
I chose the sponge brush because it allows me
to build the finish faster.
Even though these are wipe on finishes,
there's no reason that you can't apply them with a brush.
I let the boards dry overnight,
and then lightly sanded the surface with 320 grit.
Coat number two is then applied in the same manner
as coat number one.
A total of four coats are applied using this methodology.
Now that the finish is applied,
we can make some observations about
working time and absorption.
First of all, all of these finishes are easy to apply.
Because they're pre-thinned, spreading them
on the surface is a pure pleasure.
Depending on the temperature and humidity,
your actual working time will vary.
In my shop, all of these finishes gave me about
10 minutes of working time before I felt the brush
start to drag on the surface,
but both Minwax and Arm-R-Seal began to tack up
a little bit faster than the Waterlox products.
Absorption is not only a product of the finish,
but also the wood.
For instance, the birch panels are way more thirsty
than the walnut, as evidence by these dry spots
that develop almost immediately after applying the finish,
but when comparing these finishes, it's pretty clear
that the Waterlox products are absorbing deeper,
especially Waterlox Sealer.
In fact, the only reason that I applied four coats
was because after three coats the Waterlox Sealer
still had some inconsistencies in the surface.
The rest of the finishes looked nice
after only three coats.
Deep absorption may initially sound like a good thing,
and it could be, depending on your perspective.
It means you'll need more finish to cover the same area.
It also means that if you're using a wood
that's prone to blotching, there's a good chance
you'll see more blotching with a deep absorbing finish.
Now, even though most oil based varnishes
dry to the touch within a 24 hour period,
they take a lot longer to cure completely,
and it's that curing process that makes them as strong
as they could possibly be.
So, I intended to give them a couple of weeks,
but I got very busy, and a couple weeks
turned into a couple of months.
So, these things are well cured at this point,
which is perfect for the testing that we're gonna do,
but before we get to that stuff,
let's make a few observations, what we can see,
now that these boards are aged,
and we can kind of evaluate the quality of the finish.
When it comes to color (gentle music)
and grain enhancement, there's very little
difference between the walnut boards.
If anything, it looks like the Minwax board
is the lightest in color, but only by a slight margin.
Let's look at the birch boards, because that's where
we're gonna see some serious differences.
Both the Minwax and the Arm-R-Seal bring
less color to the wood than the Waterlox products.
Because of their darker amber color,
and deeper absorption, the Waterlox products
also show a lot more blotching.
Minwax Wipe-On Poly shows a little less,
and Arm-R-Seal shows no blotching at all.
Now let's look at clarity.
I'll judge the clarity using the walnut boards,
and the reflection from the LED light on the ceiling.
Waterlox Sealer is meant to be a medium sheen product,
so I don't expect much in the way of clarity,
and the reflection is fuzzy.
Minwax shows some decent clarity,
but I can't make out the individual strips like I can
on the Arm-R-Seal, and the Waterlox Topcoat boards,
but without a doubt, Arm-R-Seal provides
the clearest reflection and visual clarity.
I'm not even 100% sure how important that result is,
but my gut says that a finish that's capable
of reflecting an image clearly is one
that is also good at highlighting the grain beneath it.
Now, we'll look at build quality
by inspecting the grain and pores.
The less open grain we see, the better the finish is
at building the film.
Minwax did a decent job, but there's still some
significant open grain.
Arm-R-Seal looks nearly filled.
In fact, with a light sanding and one more coat,
the surface might appear glass smooth.
Waterlox Sealer doesn't have much pore filling at all,
and definitely has more of a natural look to it,
and because it's not super glossy,
this effect is really pleasant.
Waterlox Topcoat looks to be comparable
to Arm-R-Seal, but because it's not quite as glossy,
the open pores don't appear as offensive to the eyes.
Just like Arm-R-Seal, a sanding and one more coat
would likely result in a glass smooth surface.
Now even though my goal is for you to
look at these finishes and make a choice
based on what you see, the reality is
I've got these right in front of me,
and the video is pretty good for showing
you some things, but it's not quite as good
as having this stuff right there in front of you.
So, I'm gonna give you my perfectly biased opinions
about which finishes look the best to my eye.
Okay, so right out of the can,
I would say the Waterlox Sealer product looks the best,
but it's kind of unfair, because this is
a medium sheen product, and I don't really like
high shine glossy finishes.
Even if I use one of these glossy finishes,
I'll abrade the surface, and knock it down
to a semi-gloss or a satin, because I just prefer that look.
So, it's a little bit unfair, but if we're
just judging right out of the can,
Waterlox Sealer no doubt about it
would be the one that I would pick.
Now, the other three gloss products
are much more comparable, and it's a little
more fair to compare them.
What I'm looking for in a gloss product is clarity,
and the interesting thing is I've never
finished things at the same time with these three finishes.
Usually I'll use them in isolation.
I'm finishing a product, I'll grab this can,
use this product, and move on, but it's when
you can compare these things together
side by side that suddenly we start to see a difference.
It reminds me of buying a television, right?
They all look great once you get it
into your house, but in the store side by side
you can see these little differences.
So, the Minwax product, which is something
that I've used quite a bit in the past,
actually does have that sort of plastic-y look,
which is it's primary criticism from people
who favor things like Waterlox and Arm-R-Seal.
It has a haziness to it that's a little bit
difficult to describe.
If it were alone, I might not even notice it,
but next to the other two products,
Arm-R-Seal and the Waterlox Topcoat,
it just lacks clarity, and between these two,
I would have to say the Arm-R-Seal has the leg up.
There's just a little bit more clarity to it.
It looks like there's a sheet of glass on the surface,
as opposed to a sheet of plastic, or plexiglass, right?
So, the Waterlox Topcoat is still pretty good.
It's got quite a bit a clarity.
It's certainly better than the Minwax,
but Arm-R-Seal I think is probably
your best bet if you're looking for a true gloss
clear finish from an oil based varnish product.
So now we can look at the lighter colored birch boards,
and you got to wonder, do my opinions that were
established on the darker wood,
does it hold true on a lighter one, too?
My preferences are gonna be different on this one.
So, when we look at this lighter wood,
we have to be fair, this is birch,
and birch is gonna blotch a lot.
So, it's kinda consistent with what we saw
with the application that the ones
that absorbed more, that we had to apply more finish,
and it seemed like it was more thirsty
and absorbing deeper, are the ones that are
going to blotch a little bit more, and we do see that.
Both Waterlox products have a much more blotchy appearance,
and the one that absorbed the most and deepest
is the one that looks the most blotchy, the Waterlox Sealer.
So the Waterlox Sealer on this birch material
is actually my least favorite out of all of the finishes.
It's just too much contrast, and brings in
a little bit too much of a dark orange-y,
yellow, amber sort of color to it.
The one I like the most, I would have to say,
is the Arm-R-Seal, because it built to a finish faster,
it clearly did not absorb as deep,
or what did absorb didn't have as much color to it.
So, it's a little bit more of a cleaner,
consistent look on this birch.
The Wipe-On Poly isn't bad either.
There's not much blotching to speak of,
but it certainly does bring a little bit more
of a darker color.
So, I think it's a matter of a strategy on this one.
When you have a blotch prone wood, you can usually
do things to help stop that blotch from occurring,
and then use the topcoat you prefer.
So, in this case, if I wanted a topcoat
that wasn't going to blotch, I would definitely
go with the Arm-R-Seal, but maybe I want that,
maybe I like that look, or I'm using a fig
or maple or something where you actually
want to make the grain pop, well maybe the
Waterlox Sealer is gonna be your best choice there,
because it's gonna give you a little bit more
of an intense contrast.
Now, here's a quick word from today's sponsor Bloxygen.
Well, as I'm sure you already know,
good quality finishes are not cheap.
Some of my favorite wiping varnishes
can cost as much as $40 a quart, and as a one man shop
I don't often use all the finish in there.
So, a lot of times I'm go back to the finish
and find that it's skinned over,
and it's gone bad, and I pretty much have wasted
half of the material in the can.
So, for years I have been a huge fan
of a product called Bloxygen.
This stuff is amazing.
It costs about 16 cents per use,
and sometimes all I need is one use
to get me through a full can like this.
So, I want to show you how it works.
Whenever I'm done using a particular finish,
I basically just spray a little bit
of the Bloxygen in for about two seconds,
and what that does is it layers on a bed of argon gas.
It's an inert gas that displaces the oxygen
and the moisture, leaving that bed of gas
on top of the finish.
So, the finish can't cure if it doesn't see any oxygen.
So, I'll just tighten that back up, and it's good to go.
Now, I've been using this stuff for a very long time,
and it has saved me money in the long run,
because I don't waste any finish.
I use it until it's gone, which is a really nice advantage.
Bloxygen has some of these samples
that show you just how well it works.
Check this out.
In this vial we've got a finish that has
obviously cured, and it's pretty much solid in there.
So, they just poured it into this vial,
capped it up, and the oxygen has caused it to cure up,
and unfortunately we have all seen this before.
Now this is one that was sealed up with Bloxygen.
It displaced the oxygen in the vial.
They capped it up, and this was done about three years ago.
So, you can see how the finish is still very much viable.
There is no skin on there whatsoever,
and this would be perfectly good to use.
Now, my primary use for Bloxygen is oil based finishes,
oil varnish blends, or wiping varnishes, things like that,
but this is also good for products that
might be damaged by moisture.
Alright, basically the argon is heavier
than the oxygen and the moisture,
puts that bed of protective gas on top of
whatever the finish or material is,
and just keeps it safe and makes it last longer.
So, highly recommend the product, bloxygen.com.
You got to check this stuff out.
Well, now for the fun part.
Let's torture some poor, innocent plywood.
The first test was heat. (gentle music)
I picked a mug with a flat bottom
and filled it with 180 degree water,
hotter than most of us drink our coffee or tea.
Unfortunately, no matter what I did,
I couldn't get any negative results
from this test on any of the boards.
So, I upped the ante and tried a hot pan of boiling water.
Finally, I decided to do a killer combo
of heat and moisture with the pizza box test,
but instead of pizza, I'm using a moist washcloth
with a clothes iron on top.
I left this setup in place for 15 minutes.
We'll see if it yields any results.
The next test was cold.
A nice cold glass of water was placed
on the board with no coaster.
Once the water was up to temperature,
the glass was removed and any water
on the surface was just left there.
Next was the spill test.
I want to know if water can penetrate the finish
and get into the wood, but also if colored liquids
can stain the finish.
To contain the liquid, I used some of my kid's
Play-Doh to create a dam.
Using water with food coloring,
I simulate a spill by pouring a tablespoon
of liquid inside the ring,
and now they'll sit overnight.
The next day, the remaining liquid was soaked up,
and the Play-Doh removed.
Next up, the nail polish remover test.
I simply drop a teaspoon of acetone on the surface
and watch the carnage.
Next up, a teaspoon of alcohol to simulate
a spilled adult beverage.
Now we'll do a crosshatch adhesion test.
Using a razor, I make a crosshatch pattern
that cuts through the layers of finish.
I'll then put down a piece of packing tape
over the crosshatch, making sure that I've got
good contact across all the little squares.
I could then rip up the tape, and see if
any of the finish came loose.
Next is the writing test.
I simply write the word wood on a piece of paper
using typical hand pressure.
Next up, the car key test. (keys jingling)
Standing above the board, I drop a set of keys
onto the same spot five times.
The final test is a simple scratch test.
I started with a mug, dragging it across the surface,
but all the boards showed zero damage.
So, I moved up to a brick.
I simply pull the brick across the board five times,
letting the weight of the brick do it's damage.
Well, all the tests are done.
So, let's have a look at the results.
For the pizza box test, the only board
to show any effects was the Waterlox Sealer.
There's no major damage, but the moisture
did seem to agitate a small set of scratches.
Not sure where they came from, but the moisture
caused them to swell and become noticeable.
The cold glass test proved to be no match
for these modern wipe on varnishes.
No effect at all.
The acetone test was a bit more interesting.
Acetone is nasty stuff.
So, I expected some serious damage.
Minwax Wipe-On Poly definitely didn't enjoy the treatment.
The finish split and became flaky.
Arm-R-Seal faied quite well, and showed only
the slightest amount of tackiness at the exposure site.
Waterlox Sealer has some damage in areas
where the finish is pretty gummy,
though it doesn't appear all that bad visually,
and Waterlox Topcoat has the worst reaction of all,
with the finish pretty much destroyed.
The alcohol test only seemed to
affect the Waterlox finishes.
Waterlox Sealer had some tackiness,
as did the Waterlox Topcoat, but the Topcoat
had a few spots where the alcohol
seemed to pool while drying.
Those areas became particularly gummy.
The crosshatch adhesion test was
pretty uneventful on all samples.
No finish came up at all.
The car key test was pretty brutal.
Maybe I should have held the keys a little bit closer.
In each sample, the dents go through the finish
and into the plywood.
For the writing test, they all failed
as you can clearly see the word wood on each board,
but the one that fared the best
seems to be Waterlox Topcoat.
The one that fared the worst is the Waterlox Sealer.
For the water dye test, Minwax showed no water penetration,
but it did take up a slight amount of dye color.
Arm-R-Seal showed no water penetration,
but has pretty obvious dye staining.
Waterlox Sealer showed slight water penetration
as evidenced by some raised grain, and also has
a fairly obvious dye stain.
Waterlox Topcoat fared the best
with no water penetration, and almost no staining at all.
For the scratch test, Minwax did pretty well
with obvious scratches, but it didn't feel very deep.
A light buffing would most likely remove them.
Arm-R-Seal fared the best, with only one noticeable
scratch that's just on the surface.
Waterlox Sealer did the worst with numerous deep scratches,
and Waterlox Topcoat fared slightly better with
plenty of scratches, but they didn't feel quite as deep
as the scratches in the Waterlox sealer.
Now, two other things you should probably consider
are pricing and availability.
So, of course, Minwax is a product that's gonna
be available in just about any hardware store,
and also online, and it is 75 cents an ounce.
The other three you can pretty much
only get them online or at a woodworking retailer.
General Finishes Arm-R-Seal is 56 cents an ounce.
Waterlox Sealer is $1 an ounce,
and the Waterlox Topcoat $1.16 per ounce.
So, now that we've beat the crap out of these boards,
there's one final test we can do,
and that has to do with repair ability.
So, I'm gonna abrade the surface,
clean it up a little bit, and apply one final coat
of finish, and we're gonna see
what it looks like afterwards.
Were we able to hide some of these flaws,
or do they actually stand out, right?
Let's get to it.
(sander grinding) (gentle music)
Each board was sanded thoroughly with 320 grit.
The dust was removed, and then one final coat
of finish was applied.
Now, let's look at the results.
The Minwax Wipe-On Poly looks almost flawless.
The only spots we see are the crosshatch test cuts,
and the car key test, and those are obvious
on all of our sample boards.
So, we won't mention those again.
The Arm-R-Seal looks as good if not
slightly better than the Minwax.
With Waterlox Sealer, I can feel and see
a little residual staining and marks
from the acetone treatment, and I can still
make out the word wood from the writing test.
For Waterlox Topcoat, the acetone damage
was still very noticeable, but everything else
looked pretty good.
In all cases, the brick scratches and the dye color
were completely repaired.
So, what's the take home message here?
Well, these finishes are all pretty good.
The cool thing is regardless of which one you purchase,
I don't think you're really gonna be
totally disappointed in it's performance,
but you might have reasons to go with one or the other,
and hopefully we've given you enough information here
that you can make those decisions when a time comes
to pick a finish for your project.
Now, remember none of these tests are what I would
consider really scientific.
These were just things that we're trying to do
as like quick practical real world tests,
and what they showed us is that most of the stuff,
the finish is gonna be perfectly fine,
and easily repairable.
So, you know, ultimately (funky music)
it's sort of a wash in a way, but again I don't
want to pick a winner here.
I want you to look at the results
and see which finish you think is best
for your particular situation,
and it might be more than one finish
depending on what you're building.
Alright, thanks for watching.
We'll catch ya next time.