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Top Coats


I have had a boat load of questions lately about top coats, so I thought I would dedicate a post to them.

First of all, let me say that there are dozens, maybe thousands of techniques and products out there, so I’m just sharing the ones I use and like.  It’s also pure coincidence that all of the products I am sharing are by Minwax.  Those are just the images I found easily.

Paste Wax –

How it’s applied: Wax on, wax off.  Rub the wax on with a soft/clean cloth.  Allow it to dry to a haze and then buff it off.

What I like it for: Natural wood, painted surfaces, especially when I want a soft luster to the finish, not a shine.  I also like that it provides a hard finish and no brush strokes.

What I don’t like it for: Pieces with a lot of texture or detail.  The wax gets clumped in the details and it’s a mess and a pain to get out.  I stick with smooth pieces.

Creative Uses: Dark Wax is a wonderful way to antique and provide protection all in one step.

One piece I used it on: My dining room table top.

Polycrylic –

How it’s applied: This can be brushed or sprayed.  It’s water based, so it’s easy to wash out of brushes and equipment.

What I like it for: I use this most on chippy pieces that need to be sealed.  I can slather it on with a brush and it provides a hard, satin finish that protects my family from lead paint.  I also use my paint sprayer to apply this to painted furniture when I want a clean finish that isn’t distressed.

What I don’t like it for: Natural wood or pieces where the brush strokes are going to show.  This product leaves a lot of brush strokes, so I prefer to use it on pieces with texture (like chipping paint) or apply it with a sprayer.  Also, it does dry clear in most cases, but it can slightly yellow some whites or change the color of some paints.  You may want to test it on a small area before applying it to the entire piece.

Creative Uses: You can mix paint with it and use it as a glaze or extender.

One piece I used it on: My traditional hand painted dresser.

Wipe-On Poly –

How it’s applied: Wipe it on with a clean, soft cloth.  Lightly sand with a fine sand paper or steel wool between coats.

What I like it for: Natural wood and dark painted pieces.

What I don’t like it for: Light painted pieces, because this product will really yellow paint.

One piece I used it on: The top of my vanity.

Spray Polyurethane –

How it’s applied: Self-explanatory, I think!  Remember to use long, even strokes and hold the paint can an even distance from the piece you’re painting.  It’s better to apply several thin coats, instead of one thick (and drippy) one.

What I like it for: Sealing rusty metal pieces or finishing smaller pieces like accessories, chandeliers, etc.

What I don’t like it for: Furniture (just a personal preference) and light painted pieces (again this product yellows.)

One piece I used it on: A rusty chicken feeder.

Does anyone have anything else they’d like to add?  How about any other questions?

I’m getting ready to go to Blissdom!  My flight leaves tomorrow morning and we’re expecting 3-5″ of snow, so please pray I get out safely and without delay.

**Please remember to follow all manufacturer’s instructions for use, safety and proper disposal of these prodcuts.  Also use extreme caution when sanding finishes that may contain lead paint.  Please educate yourself before diving into a project!

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  1. Thank you for writing this post, it is very informative. I've bookmarked it and will be sure to go back to it multiple times.

  2. Thanks!! Just refinished a dresser and was wondering what would work. So perfect timing!! :)

  3. Goodness, what a great blog.
    Just beautiful. This is my first visit, I landed on a page where you shared different furniture finishes. Very nice, and thank you.
    Have you heard of Country Living's Caromal Colours? they have a beautiful past wax called Liberon, made in England-smells really nice. On my blog I have some photos posted, please take a peek? I'd love to know if you've heard about Caromal Colours or used it.

  4. I have to disagree that Polycrylic leaves brush srokes. If used properly it will not. Brush on light coat in one direction only. If basecoat is smooth-you can lightly sand between coats of desired. If base coat is textured-don't sand. If your base coat has dark colors that might bleed- especially true if craft paint has been used, Polycrylic comes in a spray can. The spray can leave a texture so immediately after spraying smooth with a brush. Spray on first coat and apply following coats with brush on Polycrylic. This will keep basecoat from bleeding. As for whites being stained. Polycrylic doesnot change that coloring of any basecoat. I have been using this product for 4 years on my heavily textured and multi colored projects with excellant results. I prefer a high gloss finish and use up to ten coats on some pieces. I highly recommend this product.

  5. wish I read this before using poly spray on my white coffee table ):
    It yellowed and now I have to redo it…uggh
    Great Post! I will come back for reference.

  6. k(is)sing says:

    Thanks so much for the great info! I'm excited that I can spray the Polycrylic through my sprayer! I've been looking all over the web with mixed results, but I know I can trust you. :)
    God Bless!

  7. Anonymous says:

    Help, I think I just messed up!!! I removed the stain off the top of my dinning room table, restained the top, then applied the Minwax rub on poly instead of the dark wax that you recomended. The finished product is not as shiny as I would have like it to be, can you go over the top of the rub on poly with a dark wax and then buff or do I start all over again?? I know you are on vacation but I just had to ask. Can I just say I love your blog, I have learned so much and attempted more in the last two months because of you and your generous tutorials. Thanks and I sure hope you can help. Much love, Tamela Moore at [email protected]

  8. Anonymous says:

    Hi Miss Mustard Seed :)
    I have a question for you about waxing on stain. I sanded and restained a coffee table top and then put Hannant's clear wax on top of that. I brushed on a pretty thin coat and then left it to dry. When I went back it didn't feel like there was any wax on it at all! It felt like bare/stained wood and there was no cloudiness or sheen whatsoever. So, I just assumed that it had simply soaked in completely and I needed to add another coat of wax. I added a slightly thicker coat of wax and left it to dry overnight. Then I left it to dry for 7 more nights! It never did feel like it wasn't slightly tacky even though I polished my heart out. I have resanded and restained and plan to use wipe on poly instead this time. My question is whether Hannant's wax can be used on stained wood or if it must be the Minwax Paste Finishing Wax you reference at the top of this page?
    I cannot tell you how much I have learned scouring your website. I feel so reassured knowing that if I am having a problem doing something I can most likely find the answer here :)
    Thanks so much for any guidance you can provide,
    ([email protected])

  9. WOW! Receintly found your blog and I'm so inspired and in LOVE with this type of decorating! So much the so that I'm planning a whole house makeover! My husband is not nearly as excited as I am, but I think he's warming up to it, LOL! Thank you so much for sharing all of this increadible info!! I find myself up all hours of the night searching and reading. You have just a plethora of info, WOW!

    So your dining room table is gorgeous and I wanted one! On my first outing I found exactly what I was looking for(6 chairs & table with leaf with a danty look) YAY! And it was only $150. YAY YAY!!! Now my question is do you have to reaply the Minwax over time? Does it hold up to cleaning chemicals?

    Thank you bunches again!

  10. Thank you so much for sharing so many tips for painting furniture. I used the Minwax paste for the first time today and I have a question. Do you put on coats of paste like you do for poly? Or is it just a one coat finish? Thanks for your help.

  11. I already asked this once, but I got an undeliverable message back to my email. I know you said you've had some wacky stuff going on with your site right now. Anyway, I used the Minwax paste recently and wanted to know if you are supposed to put on more than one coat. Thanks so much for all the great information you provide on your blog! ([email protected])

  12. Oh, I am just so thankful that I found you! I have a desperate question and am hoping you could help! I bought this beautiful table at Luckett’s. (link to image of table)
    It was scratching what metal rubbed on it, so I decided to coat it in polycrylic. Over time(about a year), it’s become almost tacky; where the paint can be easily peeled off with your finger nail. I have no clue what the next step would be. I’m desperate to protect it and avoid it from happening more. Thank you!

  13. Julie says:

    I’m getting ready to refinish a large dining room table and have tried to find all the details of how you did yours. I think it is absolutely beautiful!! Could you tell me if you only used the paste wax to seal it and if that is enough protection to keep it from getting ring spots? Any details you could give me would be greatly appreciated! Thanks!

  14. lauren says:

    Do you have any thoughts on bar top resin? I have been dying to try it on a shell mosaic shelf i did, but i am terribly afraid of it(bubbles, getting an even top, not drying properly, act).
    Thank you.

  15. When you use a wax sealer you don’t use anything else?? It seals it well enough?

  16. Meredith says:

    Do you have a tutorial of how to do the table (you said it is your dining room table top) that is the top picture of this post? It is absolutely beautiful!! I love the stain color and your paint color.

  17. Thanks for the auspicious writeup. It in reality was once a enjoyment account it.
    Look complicated to far added agreeable from you!
    By the way, how can we keep up a correspondence?

  18. I am going to use some chalk paint to re-finish a crib. I want to finish it with Minwax finishing paste. Is this paste safe to use on a crib where a baby’s mouth may come in contact? I want to be sure I’m not using a product that could harm the baby.

    Thanks for you help!

  19. Thank you so much for sharing so many tips for painting furniture. I used the Minwax paste for the first time today and I have a question. Do you put on coats of paste like you do for poly? Or is it just a one coat finish? Thanks for your help.

  20. Elaine says:

    I would like to know if there is some kind of white or gray paint I can mix into polycrylic paint to use inside kitchen cabinets I am remodeling to put in our kitchen. I have one coat of the clear polycrylic on (to cover the old lead paint in them) and then got to thinking I should add some white or gray to it to make it a one step process for the next and last coat of paint. Can I do this? What would you recommend me to use to add to it so it would kind of be like a whitewash look? The old paint is a baby blue color. Thanks.

  21. Elaine says:

    OK, another question for you. My husband got me a can of Zinsser Bulls Eye water base Primer (white) and can I mix this with the polycrylic to paint the inside of my cabinets? I already have one coat of the clear polycrylic on them. OR can I paint them again with the primer by itself over the polyacrylic and then paint over the primer with the clear polyacrylic as my last coat? Also, there will probably be a day or so between the painted coats. Would it be better to just paint the white primer on and not use any more of the polyacrylic? Thanks so much!

    • marian says:

      I’m a little confused as why you would want to put polycrylic over primer. Primer is meant to be a base coat to “prime” the piece you’re painting. Some help paint adhere (adhesion/bonding primers) and others seal in smells or colors. You would then want to apply a coat of paint over the primer. If you use a paint with a satin or semi-gloss finish, you don’t need to add polycrylic on top. Just allow the paint 30 days to cure. If you use a matte finish paint, you can apply a polycrylic or other top coat to make it durable. I hope that helps!


  1. […] wrote a post a long time ago about the topcoats I used and it’s been hanging out in the painting section on my side bar ever since.  A reader sent […]

  2. […] will. {Miss Mustard Seed also uses Polycrylic to seal pieces that DO have lead paint… see here} A little bit went a long way, and I actually only ended up using one can for the whole bed. I used […]

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