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Thread: Polyurethane floor finish: Water base vs Oil base

  1. #1
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    Default Polyurethane floor finish: Water base vs Oil base

    Does anyone here have an informed opinion on the advantages of water-based polyurethane versus oil-based for use on oak and fir flooring? This is for use in a house, NOT on a boat. A buddy of mine is sprucing up his old house for sale. The house is ~100 years old and is not currently occupied.

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Polyurethane floor finish: Water base vs Oil base

    We did new Cherry flooring in our house 2 years ago. I love the look of the cherry, but we went with water based & I'm not thrilled. The big thing is that it seems to scratch more easily - or at least show scratches more, and it gets the occasional odd color spot (UV maybe? Not sure as they are small - 3-6" diameter reddish spots in 3 or 4 places) that seem to come & go.

    If not occupied I think I might go with the older tech.

    We're certainly similar weather to Brunswick (wish the Starfish Grille was still there) - but probably a little colder.
    "If it ain't broke, you're not trying." - Red Green

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Polyurethane floor finish: Water base vs Oil base

    Mostly you will notice the color difference, and on oak, I would prefer not to use the very clear water base finish. Unless this stuff works as advertised, I would go with the oil base on oak. Since this is an unoccupied building, odor and drying time are less of an issue. Since it is for sale, the appearance and cost are more important than long term durability.

    The water base has improved over the years, but it still seems to be less wear and water resistant. I have attached some links that go into more detail on the pros and cons. My experience with water base is about 15 years out of date. At the time, the water resistance of the water base was poor.

    https://www.familyhandyman.com/floor...nish/view-all/
    https://woodworking.stackexchange.co...d-polyurethane
    http://theflooringgirl.com/featured/...od-floors.html
    http://theflooringgirl.com/hardwood-...recommend.html

    The last part of this is interesting; latex dark tint base as a varnish:
    http://www.woodmagazine.com/woodwork...ater-resistant

    A Union Carbide rep once told me that the base urethane resins are made by maybe four manufacturers worldwide. They are expensive, and pretty much the same. All polyurethane paints and varnishes are a mix of that small number of urethane resins and other less expensive less durable resins. If the PU is cheap, there isn't enough PU in the mix. If it is expensive, there could be enough PU, except when it is just overpriced.
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  4. #4
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    Default Re: Polyurethane floor finish: Water base vs Oil base

    Use tung oil myself.

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Polyurethane floor finish: Water base vs Oil base

    Another thing to consider is , even if the water base lasts well and looks fine, down the road it will want a touch up or a few more coats.
    Water base finishes tend to not sand very well. So , without good sanding technique, re finishing becomes problematic.
    I use Minwax gloss poly "oil" from Home Depot for floors in one of my houses(fir and oak), stairs, wood trim, the inside of both sailboats and Bingo .

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Polyurethane floor finish: Water base vs Oil base

    I'm in Brunswick. The house in question is in New Jersey. The owner will not be doing the work himself, though he has done a lot of other work on the house himself. I'm recommending that he choose oil-based poly.
    Thanks to everyone who replied.

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Polyurethane floor finish: Water base vs Oil base

    Not sure about oil based finishes, but I did a Jarrah (Australian hardwood) floor in two pack polyurethane and it came up brilliantly and was very durable and hard wearing but was a real effort and time consuming job to do.

    When I did a small extension to the floor I used a water based polyurethane because we were living there and I couldn’t easily manage the drying times required between the two pack coats. The water based finish actually ended up just as good as the two pack finish and you couldn’t tell that they were a completely different product.

    The great benefit of the water based finish is how quickly you can re-coat and get the job finished and the lack of odour if your friend is living there while doing the job.
    Larks

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  8. #8
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    Default Re: Polyurethane floor finish: Water base vs Oil base

    Oldest son is a professional installer, installed floors in Robert Ballard's house, the ocean explorer. This is what he uses, I have it on all my floors, good finish and very reasonably priced.

    http://leeseflooringsupplies.com/fin...ishes-fabulon/

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Polyurethane floor finish: Water base vs Oil base

    Are moisture cured polyurethanes still available? Great durability but a terrible odour.
    There is nothing quite as permanent as a good temporary repair.

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Polyurethane floor finish: Water base vs Oil base

    Quote Originally Posted by Stiletto View Post
    Are moisture cured polyurethanes still available? Great durability but a terrible odour.
    Single component polyurethanes are all moisture cure. Someone will now work furiously to prove me wrong.
    Management is the art of counting beans. Leadership is the art of making every being count. --Joe Finch

  11. #11
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    Default

    Out here in the PNW — home of fir flooring — "Swedish Finish" is the shizz. "Swedish Finish" is a high-solvent, 2-part, acid-catalyzed conversion varnish.

    These guys are the go-to guys here in Seattle for this.

    http://www.seattlefloor.com
    You would not enjoy Nietzsche, sir. He is fundamentally unsound. — P.G. Wodehouse (Carry On, Jeeves)

  12. #12
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    Default Re: Polyurethane floor finish: Water base vs Oil base

    I have no experience of finishes that are specifically for floors,but I have found that water based household varnish gives a rather lifeless finish compared to oil based or two component finishes.

  13. #13
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    Default Re: Polyurethane floor finish: Water base vs Oil base

    Quote Originally Posted by woodpile View Post
    Oldest son is a professional installer, installed floors in Robert Ballard's house, the ocean explorer. This is what he uses, I have it on all my floors, good finish and very reasonably priced.

    http://leeseflooringsupplies.com/fin...ishes-fabulon/
    woodpile.
    On that website you link to, I find 30-40 different products. Now you say you have "it' on your floors.
    What, exactly do you have on your floors?

  14. #14
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    Default Re: Polyurethane floor finish: Water base vs Oil base

    Our old oak floors and new baseboards, door frames and window frames are all water-based (Varathane Diamond Polyurethane) over water based stain because we did all the work during the winter when my business was slow and we didn't want the fumes. It's held up quite well, even where I've built sails on it for about 15 years. The color isn't quite as warm as oil-based and you have very little time to rub out water-based stain, but I really can't complain about it - especially considering the ease of application (we actually rolled and tipped the floors). The water based stain is a bit more opaque than oil stain, and it's good to test your finished color before diving in, but at least in our case, the stuff is pretty tough. The oak half of our living room floor is our primary work space - whether I'm building sails, framing paintings or my wife is cutting out wool to sew garments. It also held on when out former 110 lb. black lab would go screaming around on it with his claws. The wood would crease, but the varnish stayed attached. It's about due for a Scotchbrite pad and a new coat of varnish, but that will be pretty easy.


  15. #15
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    Default Re: Polyurethane floor finish: Water base vs Oil base

    Quote Originally Posted by jackster View Post
    woodpile.
    On that website you link to, I find 30-40 different products. Now you say you have "it' on your floors.
    What, exactly do you have on your floors?
    The Fabulon Professional floor finish, I prefer the satin.

  16. #16
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    Default Re: Polyurethane floor finish: Water base vs Oil base

    Since the 1980's, I've tried every new water-based clear topcoat that came along. Read reviews. Took the advice of other industry professionals. I wanted our product to be more 'green'. I wanted our workplace to be less 'toxic'.

    I have yet to find one that compares favorably with an oil-based equivalent. After too many disappointments... too many assurances that 'we've got it figured out now' from suppliers... too many failures that had to be made good with the client (costing me way too much money... and invaluable goodwill)...

    I have given up on them.

    Sure - the next generation of water-based finishes might just be the one that gets it right. But I'm in my 60's now - and don't have time to do the testing, over a long enough period of time, that would allow me to feel comfortable using it on a client's project. So I'm done doing their beta-testing.

    For those of you who haven't reached that stage - let me recommend shellac as a sanding sealer. It penetrates in a way that the co-polymer-based chemistry of water-based product doesn't allow. It warms - substantially ameliorating the 'plastic' look of water-based topcoats. It goes on easily, dries quickly, and sands beautifully.
    David G
    Harbor Woodworks
    http://www.harborwoodworking.com/boat.html

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  17. #17
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    Default Re: Polyurethane floor finish: Water base vs Oil base

    The modern floor coatings while hard and long wearing are not as easy to maintain as the older shellac treatment. I have a home that was built in 1889 and has fir floors. The former owner had coated them with a water base poly finish. We had a plumbing problem and the floors were badly soaked and damaged. They had nasty stains! The coating was so bullit proof that we had to sand them bare. This time I used shellac on them. They need only an occasional waxing to be maintained. If damaged, an alcohol rub dissolves it and the damaged area can be built up and the end result is really undetectable as to the damage.

    I like shellac so much that I have used it in several rental units I own. Renters can be hard on floors but, the damage is always easy to repair. The beauty of shellac is that it is simple to apply, a pad on a handle is what I use. And, did I mention that it is CHEAP? The new stuff costs ten times more than the shellac and, often, requires a floor refinisher to apply it!
    Jay

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