Finishes for Spraying On Site

Finishers discuss the pros and cons of waterborne and oil-based finishes for spray application inside houses. March 12, 2006

My home building company sprays Magnamax on all of our interior doors, baseboard, and casing. We really love how it sprays and the results have been perfect every time. Unfortunately, we don't have a spray booth, so we end up spraying everything in a room in the house. Due to the potential risks to our health, we want to try a water based finish. Here is what is important to us:

1. We want the amber color that Magnamax gives us.
2. We currently do two nice coats of Magnamax. We would be willing to bump that up to three if needed, but not more than three.
3. Since we spray our baseboard, we need some moisture protection, which Magnamax gives us.

From what I am reading on the net, it seems like Target offers some of the best water based stuff out there. We were thinking about switching to one coat of Target's shellac to give us that amber tone followed by two coats of their Ultima Spraying Lacquer. Would this system be comparable to our Magnamax finish? What about the ML's Ultrastar?

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor M:
This has been discussed recently, but WB products aren't necessarily healthier to breathe then something like Magnamax. They are less explosive and if you're spraying in a house, you do have to be careful, but it sounds like you already have some sort of system down if you haven't blown yourself up yet.

From contributor B:
I've been using the Target EM8000cv for about 4 years now, and other products from Target for over 10 years. I've tried other brands, but I keep going back to Target because of their quality and customer service.

The EM8000 is closer in performance and durability to the Magnamax than the Oxford Ultima Lacquer. The EM8000 dries quickly, sands easily and is a very strong finish once it's done curing.

I'd compare the Target Ultima lacquer to the Campbell Ultrastar in terms of durability, but the Target USL and the EM8000 will look a whole lot nicer than Campbell WBs. Run a side-by-side test and see what you think.

From contributor A:
I have to offer a rebuttal to your comments. When spraying finishes, there are two inherent health hazards. First, the particles in the air mixed with a solvent. This is usually easy to get rid of with a decent high volume fan, regardless of location. Second is the solvents off gassing after the application process is complete. This is the major difference between WB and solvent systems. The WB off-gas water and a couple of co-solvents similar to ammonia. While these are obviously more toxic than most breathable air, they are not that bad. More importantly, they do not hang around. Solvent systems, and especially catalyzed versions like Magnamax, are notorious for stinking up a shop for days after their application. These solvents are very toxic.

From contributor T:
I use Magnamax two to three days a week in our two-man shop. Two coats does it! I'm convinced it's well worth the risks (but we have a spray hood), so long as adequate safety measures are used.

I'm not a fan of waterbornes. I'm quite willing to wear a respirator all day if it means giving the customer a superior product than Jo Blo's Cabinets down the road (everyone in our area still uses CAB and NC lacquer, which I don't get - it's really no cheaper than precat). I've just never read much good about the durability of waterbornes. Once they can get them to truly rival a precat lacquer, they'll have my attention.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for the responses. I talked to the guys at Target and they are going to send me a sample of the EM8000 since they agreed that it would more closely match the characteristics of Magnamax. I'm certainly not going to switch if the quality of the test is way down from Magnamax. I'm also going to contact Becker to see if they can ship me some samples.

The off-gassing that is mentioned in the responses is a big reason for our concern. We have subs coming in all the time that have to then work in our stinky house. Plus, in our Wisconsin winters, it is hard to open up the house as much as we would like, so it would be nice to eliminate any explosion risk. Magnamax is a great product, though, so we'll see if any of the waterbornes can match up.

From contributor D:
What's the scratch resistance of waterbase brand X compared to Magnamax, both after a thirty day cure? I do not like betting, but I feel more comfortable with Magnamax than I do with any waterbase. Another thing about waterbase which always bothered me and probably always will is the way that it strips off. You get a gooey mess. The stuff is just no fun to strip and it never will be. That means to me that the reversibility of waterbase finishes is a royal pain in the tuchus.

From contributor J:
I use ML Campbell's Ultrastar and Polystar finishes for all my work and have been very happy with them so far. I know that these days, hardness of finish is the main criteria, but I also think it's worth considering environmental impact. I don't know definitely that the overspray from water based products is any better than the others. But just the fact that you can clean up with soap and water instead of having to use even more solvents seems beneficial to me.

I know this is probably the unpopular view, but really how hard does a finish have to be? If my cabinets have to be completely invincible to any environment, I'll have to start building with plastic! As it is, I build one of a kind cabinetry for people who don't want off the shelf. And I like to consider my woodwork high end. But it is still wood and as such, will always be susceptible to abuse. I do realize also that real world applications need a sturdy finish and am not recommending going to oil rubbed finishes for cabinet doors. Just that if more of us start switching to environmentally safer products, the industry will follow by creating better products.

From contributor B:
If you are going to get samples from Target, then call up Van Technology. I feel they have a superior product in their 480 or 482. Has amber cast and I have coated close pored woods with exceptional build. Really, the closest to Dura-var or any other post cat I have used. Probably more scratch resistant than Magnamax, in my opinion, after full cure.

From contributor O:
I am a custom cabinetmaker and trimmer. I also do much of my finish work on the job site. I switched to a product called Crystalac 2000 a few years back. It's WB, and flows out beautifully. Never more than two coats and you can shoot the second coat within 30 minutes. Dries to the touch in 5-10 minutes. It is about as harmless as a finish can be. I always wear a respirator, but with HPLV there is no perceptible over spray. I tried it once a few years ago only because I was in a jam and had to finish some office cabinets quick. I've been using it ever since. The stuff is great. Very hard, very clear finish with a touch of amber just like regular lacquer.