How to Apply Polycrylic Finish to Wood?

Applying Polycrylic Finish to Wood

Polycrylic is a water-based protective coating that serves the purpose of protecting the wood.

It is available in a number of different types of finishes, including satin and high gloss.

Not only does it protect the wood from types of damage, such as moisture, but it also enhances the overall appearance of the wood.

Depending on the color or type of Polycrylic you use, it can add a nice, glossy finish or attractive color to wood.

Polycrylic is commonly used to finish items such as cabinets, doors, furniture, and similar wood pieces.

Different Types of Polycrylic

There are two main types of Polycrylic that can be used for your project. These include:

a) Spray-on Polycrylic:

Spray-on Polycrylic is a good choice because it can be applied with ease if you only want to swiftly apply a thin layer.

The ease of application is thought to be the biggest perk of this method.

It dries quickly and comes out in a thin layer, but applying an even layer without causing any air pressure marks can be tricky.

There is also the fact that aerosol cans aren’t that great for the environment, and Polycrylic in aerosol form is usually quite limited in terms of supply. It is better for smaller projects.

b) Roll-on Polycrylic:

Conversely, roll-on Polycrylic usually is sold in a standard can, much like paint.

They are usually quite large and therefore used on bigger projects. There are also more types of roll-on Polycrylic to choose from.

The biggest drawback of roll-on Polycrylic is the fact that it is difficult to apply without leaving behind any brush marks.

It also dries swiftly, so when you use a brush or roller, you’ll need to apply it quickly to ensure the best appearance before it has a chance to dry fully.

Different Types of Polycrylic Finish

Applying Polycrylic Finish to the Wood

You will need Polycrylic and a sanding sponge with extra-fine grit.

Once you have the materials, follow the steps below.

Step 1. Prepare The Surface to Apply the Polycrylic

When it comes to cutting wood, there is a saying: “Cut once and measure twice.”

When you’re applying the finish, it is instead “finish once and sand twice.”

If you don’t, it can be hard to get a good finish on poorly finished wood.

Here are some tips for preparing the surface:

  • Start with coarse-grit sandpaper and work your way through finer and finer grits until the desired level of smoothness is achieved.
  • Don’t move in swirls. If you’ve ever used a random orbit sander, you’ll notice that the lines it leaves behind do not disappear before the finishing process.
  • NO DUST. Be sure to use an air compressor to get rid of any fine dust before you finish. Avoid using a damp rag, as you’ll just raise the grain that was once sanded.

Step 2. Light Stains Work Best for Polycrylic

When putting up Polycrylic on wood, remember that it should be the final layer and not an intermediary layer.

What this means is you should first put the stain for coloring the wood and then apply the Polycrylic finish after the stain is dried completely.

IMO, lighter color stains will help you get better results with this type of finish.

And also, don’t try to finish a piece of wood the same day you apply the stain.

Step 3. Applying The First Coat of Polycrylic

The basic steps to applying Polycrylic:

  • Stir the can to mix the contents well. Do not shake it.
  • Use a high-quality synthetic brush to apply the product.
  • Work quickly and apply an even coat of Polycrylic to the surface with a plan to apply as many as four coats.
  • Apply the Polycrylic with the grain. Try to use as few brush strokes as you can manage.
  • Clean the brush and any other surfaces with water.
  • Check the finish after the recommended drying time to see if another coat is needed before you move on to the sandpaper step.

If you’ve ever applied polyurethane, you’ll have a much different experience using Polycrylic.

It is much thicker, dries faster, and needs more accurate application.

Step 4. Sanding The First Coat

This is an important but quick step to take.

Once the wood and grain variation has been filed, sand it to produce a glass-like surface.

You’ll need to have the right sanding supplies on hand and use the right techniques.

Some tips on sanding include:

  • Most Polycrylic instructions will tell you not to use steel wool, and you should listen to that advice.
  • A sanding sponge, like a 3M extra-fine grit sponge, is usually the best tool.
  • Use an air compressor or a dry cloth to rid the surface of the sawdust.

Though it is optional for some people, it’s recommended that you wear a mask during this step so as not to inhale any of the airborne finish.

Step 5. Apply Final Coats of The Polycrylic Finish

Before beginning, double-check that all of the dust is gone from the surface.

Then, apply one or two more coats of the finish as you like to give it that final shine and thickness.

When you’re done, just follow the same steps as above and clean up the excess with water and soap.

Step 6. Allow Enough Time For Your Finished Work to Cure

One of the biggest mistakes you can make with a wood project is rushing to finish it without allowing it to dry.

The finishing process needs plenty of time for the finish coat or stain to cure. And with Polycrylic, this is especially crucial because of its chemical makeup and its potential to react to the stain.

Do not use any artificial heat methods to try and get it to dry faster, like a hairdryer. This will mess up your end project.

Additional Tips

Besides the above, keep these things in mind as you stain and apply Polycrylic:

Dark woods are a problem as it’s not very compatible with a Polycrylic top finish.

Fix any issues at the start. If you see any imperfections in the wood, go ahead and take care of them while staining.

Take advantage of all safety measures. Not all chemicals are safe to inhale, so you need to use masks, gloves, and other protective measures to spare yourself the fumes of polyacrylic.

Humidity is bad. Not only will a high humidity level possibly cause the wood grain to rise, but it will also prolong the time it takes for it to dry.

Because of this, it’s best to move your project into a humidity-controlled place if possible.

Polycrylic drying and curing time

How Long Does It Take for Polycrylic to Cure?

Applying Polycrylic and allowing proper drying time takes a little know-how.

Polycrylic is fast-drying and does so much more swiftly than other kinds of finishes or even varnishes.

Even so, it does not dry or cure right away. Whenever you are working with Polycrylic, it is suggested that you apply at least three coats.

This is because, in most cases, one or two coats will not be enough to give you the results you’re hoping for.

Polycrylic will dry to the touch in only half an hour.

Once it has been sitting there for about an hour, you can begin to handle it without disturbing anything.

Do keep in mind that you should add another coat to it, so you should be applying the second Polycrylic coat two hours after you first applied the original coat. You can repeat this process for the third coat as well.

Once you have applied the third and last coat of Polycrylic, you should wait for at least 24 hours for the product to completely cure.

In a general sense, you can expect it to take around 24 hours for the Polycrylic, depending on how much of it you applied.

What is the Best Polycrylic Finish to Use for Your Project?

There are different brand names for Polycrylic on the market today, but much like with other products, there tends to be a favorite among woodworkers.

In the case of Polycrylic, that favorite is the Minmax Polycrylic Protective finish.

This type of finish works well, has a good price, and comes in various colors and finishes.

You can also get it in both cans and aerosols.

For only $20, you will get a full quart of the product.

When it comes to Polycrylic, that is a good price for such a large amount of it.

It is important to keep in mind that this price is in reference to the roll-on kind, so that will mean you’d need a roller or brush to apply it to the wood, much like you would with a varnish or paint.

For this reason, it is best to use this particular brand with a large, flat piece of wood.

Beyond this, this particular type of Polycrylic is quick-drying and will only take a few minutes to start drying.

It does dry clear, so it doesn’t add any extra color saturation or any kind of gloss.

So while it doesn’t add any aesthetic qualities, it does a great job protecting the wood.

– Pros –

  • Ultra-fast drying
  • Cleans up with ease
  • Good quantity for a good price
  • Offers great wood protection

– Cons –

  • Not good for intricate, small projects
  • Requires a roller or brush to apply

Final Thoughts

Polycrylic is key to getting a satisfactory finish applied to your wood projects. Above, we discussed what Polycrylic is and where it can be used.

We also provided some tips on using Polycrylic on your next wood project so that you can apply it efficiently.

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