Clear Water-Borne Lacquer for Maple

Tips for achieving a good clear finish on Maple using water-borne lacquer. April 9, 2007

I've been using WB pigmented lacquer on maple, but now I need to spray a big maple project and the finish must be clear. I still want to use water base lacquer. How can I do this?

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor B:
Contact Target Coatings. They will walk you through the process, step-by-step. They manufacture a full line of water-based coatings, lacquers, sealers, stains, etc. that will fit any application requirement.

From contributor W:
Do you want a schedule for clear over stain or a clear coat over a bright/clear/unstained maple substrate?

From the original questioner:
I would like to spray plain unstained maple

From contributor D:
It all depends on the look you are after. When spraying natural maple with a waterborne finish, the maple usually looks a bit flat or lifeless due to the clear nature of waterborne finishes (in my opinion). This also depends on the sheen of the finish. A gloss or semi-gloss usually looks a bit better over maple than sateen. But again, it depends on what you are trying to achieve.

If you are looking to enhance the natural color and bring out some of the grain, start by brushing or spraying two coats of a 1 – 2 lb cut amber shellac, de-waxed. Allow each coat to dry and scuff sand the final coat before applying your waterborne finish. For your topcoat, mix at a ratio of about 1/8 tsp TransTint Honey Amber to each cup of finish. Mix the dye directly into your waterborne finish, but allow the mixture to stand for about 30 minutes or longer before spraying. Mix frequently. I usually prepare this ahead of time in a mason jar or two. Adding the TransTint as a toner to your finish will improve the look of the clear finish and give your piece a little more shimmer in the light. Make sure you run the toner mixture through a strainer before pouring it into your cup. As a suggestion here, use a cone-shaped metal coffee filter as your strainer. These coffee filters give you a much finer filter than the paint strainers and they are washable and reusable. Spray down 2 – 3 coats of toner and then finish it up with 1 – 2 coats of straight finish.

Alternately, you can apply a natural oil based stain. That is oil based stain with no color pigment. This will also bring out some of the color and grain in the maple. If you do apply oil based stain, allow it to dry for at least 1 – 2 days to avoid having any adhesion problems. Again, follow the suggestion above about adding TransTint to the finish, etc.

If you are not interested in building the color, at the very minimum, I would suggest going straight toner to warm up the finish a bit. Spraying straight waterborne over maple just looks dead.

From the original questioner:
Thank you. In this case, I'm looking for dead or very light color, so I think I will spray straight lacquer. Usually I use the Campbell product. Do you have an opinion about a water base product?

From contributor W:
If you are looking for a clear, non-yellowing water-based finish that will not impart a straw/yellow tint to your substrate, then I suggest you consider using the Target 9000 SuperClear Polyurethane.

Simple, easy directions are:
1. Clean the substrate to remove all contamination.
2. Fine sand with 220-grit, then move up to 320-grit. Remove dust with a damp cloth (mix water 50:50 with denatured alcohol).
3. Apply 2 coats of Target Coating 9000 SuperClear Polyurethane (OHP9xxx). Allow each coat to dry for 20-40 minutes at 1-3 mils wet film thickness per coat.
4. Fine sand the 2nd coat with 400-grit to remove surface defect and apply one more coat.

Allow to dry for 2 hours, allowing for shrinkage and tightening of the films to take place. The 3 coats will melt into one another and will form a hard, clear shell within 24 hours.

If you want to impart a slight straw/amber tone in the maple or topcoat, substitute the 9000sc with the Target LAC1000 Ultima Spray Lacquer. This is a very easy, fast finish to apply. Keep your wet film thickness thin, 1-3mils wet per coat, and apply at 65-75 degrees F. This is an optimum temperature range for this finish.

From contributor D:
I have been using the ML Campbell products for many years, mostly their MagnaLaq. In the past two years or so, we have moved over to the waterborne side and have had very good results with Campbell’s UltraStar.

In the process of moving from solvent to waterborne, we tried a number of coatings including: Target Coatings EMTech8000 and Oxford USL, General Finishes Pro-Series Acrylic, UltraStar and a few others. In my opinion, the General Finishes and UltraStar gave us the best performance and results. Both the General and UltraStar flow nice and dry quick. They both have that nice silky feel off the gun without having to rub out the final finish. And when applied over dark colors, they gave the least amount of that bluish haze you sometimes get with waterbornes. We spray both of these using a 1.6mm needle setup, but sometimes add some retarder to get a smother flow with this setup.

The UltraStar seems to have the best bite of the bunch. Even when sprayed over oil based stain that is not fully dried (not that I recommend doing this). With some of the other finishes we tried, if the oil base stain was not fully dried, e.g. two days, the finish would not bite and would peel off. Not that this is a reflection of the finishes themselves, but sometimes you just don’t have days and need to get a piece out of the shop as quickly as possible and need a quick, dependable finish. The UltraStar also seems to give the closest match to the MagnaLaq in appearance and sheen with a slight yellow tone.

As for the Target finishes, I have had some mixed results here, so I am not going to comment. I think contributor W's previous post is a good suggestion for getting the look you're after.

The best suggestion I can give you is to buy a few gallons and try them out in your environment and with your equipment. If you have used and like Campbell, then start there. I find it to be an excellent waterborne finish.