Both water-based and oil-based polyurethane provide durable, clear finishes that can be used on bare wood or finished or painted surfaces. Minwax has several lines of oil-based polyurethane, including Fast-Drying Polyurethane and High-Build Polyurethane. Minwax's line of water-based polyurethane is called Polycrylic Protective Finish.
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On Bare Wood
Oil-based polyurethane imparts an amber or yellow hue to bare wood that brings out the natural beauty, warmth, and grain in many woods. Oil-based polyurethane creates a more traditional-looking finish that many woodworkers prefer. Water-based polyurethane remains "crystal clear" with no yellowing, and won't change the look or colour of lighter bare woods, such as maple.
Putting a coat or two of polyurethane on a painted surface will add durability. Water-based polyurethane remains clear and won't alter the colour of the paint. Oil-based polyurethane may add a yellowish hue to paint, especially lighter colours. Either finish can be used on previously finished or painted surfaces.
For most indoor furniture projects, both water-based and oil-based polyurethane provide a sufficiently durable surface, but oil-based polyurethane is considered the most durable clear coat, making it appropriate for high-traffic areas or high-use tabletops or bar tops.
Some advantages of water-based polyurethane are its fast dry time and low odour. You can apply another coat of water-based polyurethane after only two hours, making it possible to put two to three finish coats on in the course of a day. Oil-based polyurethane must dry for four to six hours before you can apply another coat.
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