Objectively Comparing Finish Brands

When two companies compete for a finisher's business, how should he compare their products? March 12, 2006

The Chemcraft rep is likely going to show up soon at our shop with some sample products to show us. We currently use Campbell for all our finishing, which varies from glazed/distressed opaques to shaded/toned stain grade, and everything in between. I'm looking for some objective and real world opinions on Chemcraft. If their products are comparable in use and durability, ability to match colors in good time, and customer service are roughly the same, is there any reason to switch? We only use precats for cabinets/doors and CV for rough and tumble items.

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor M:
Ask them what their TR ratings are for each finish. Campbell reps should be able to quote these in their sleep. These are ratings formerly used by AWI to classify hardness, abrasion, chemical resistance, etc. Very objective.

Also compare solids by volume with price. Campbell may be higher priced, but a better value.

The third thing I looked at was customer support. Campbell will give you very specific responses to your questions. When I started comparing, I called a national company to find out about their TR ratings and it took 30 minutes for them to tell me who made their product, and then another two days for someone to tell me that they did not have an answer for me.

From contributor D:
I would not put too much faith in customer service at the MLC 800 number unless you are talking directly to the formulator. Anyone can read a tech sheet. But a tech sheet does not dig you out of a hole or do any trouble shooting for you. MLC has a product called AC Sealer. On their 800 number, I got varied responses depending on with whom I spoke. It's their product and for me to not get concrete answers as to what this product is designed to do and the best ways to use it bothers me. Just for the record, I attended an MLC presentation when the product first came out, so I was familiar with the product already.

That said, my local supplier of MLC products has superb tech support, the kind that is worth bragging about on this board.

Chemcraft has a website that is at best vague. They are redesigning it and someday they will have online information that is useful to a finisher about their products. Right now, their website is only good for directing you to a distributor.

My local Chemcraft distributor, Welco, is superb. Their tech support is superb, also the kind worth bragging about.

Don't look at a rep's finish samples. Instead, buy some product and use it on one of your projects. If the product line is part of you making money and it works well for you and the tech support is superb and the availability of the materials is easy, that ought to sum it up.

Both are good companies. Except Chemcraft has polyester and ML Campbell does not. Maybe that tips the balance scale.

From contributor S:
You are starting with the assumption that "their products are comparable in use and durability, ability to match colors in good time, and customer service are roughly the same." If in fact this assumption is accurate, it seems the other thing is price. Of course, when getting into a business relationship with anybody that I'm going spend money with, whether it's Walmart or the local paint store, I always consider that person's/entity's integrity and values.

From Paul Snyder, forum technical advisor:
I'd recommend you do some actual finishing with the finish(es) that you are considering to see if there's a difference that makes the switch worthwhile. The Chemcraft products are certainly good quality, but color matching, paint mixing, and other services are completely up to the company that's supplying the product. They may or may not have some really good people working for them... that's true of any supplier.

I'd also say don't feel like you have to only use one brand. I use the finishes from Chemcraft along with their glaze and some of their stains, but ML Campbell has some stains that I like a lot and keep in stock.

Below is a link to the short version of the chart. You can see from the chart that all catalyzed lacquers are TR-2 and CV is TR-4. Manufacturers sometimes point out that their products cross from one rating into a higher rating in one or two categories, which seems to indicate the finish is something more than it actually is. But... finishes all fall neatly into one category or another and the fact that they cross over into another category in certain criteria is not that unusual. Don't be fooled by the marketing information that points out a finish crosses over into a higher TR rating in one or two categories... if you want the properties of the higher TR rating, get the finish that defines that category.

AWI Guide to Sprayable Finishes

From the original questioner:
Thanks for the help. I was not aware of TR ratings. I'll certainly keep them in mind.
Can someone give me the skinny on polyester? I'll do some research in the Knowledge Base as well.

From contributor J:
Just learning about polyester myself, but have worked with both MLC and CC for 10 years. Have grown to appreciate the sanding qualities and workability of MLC, especially Duravar Plus and Krystal. They do seem to take a slightly longer time to dry on the seal coat than Danspeed, but seem to create a more durable finish in the end. Often use an extra coat of Danspeed to achieve same depth as Duravar.

When it comes to stains, I have gone almost exclusively to MLC WoodsongII. Partially because of my distributor and Kent, the stain man who works there. The other reason is working time of die based stains is easier right out of the can. The bane of my existence was a Dark Cherry stain applied to a maple veneer project that included small pieces but also 5- 88" by 80" panels. Any flaw created serious issues.

Just personal preference, but found tech help better also at MLC.

From contributor B:
I've been fortunate to be able to use many different finishes in my career and each manufacturer has a coating that's superior to the others. I will give you a run down on the top finishes and reasons why I use them.

ML Campbell euro x polyurethane for exterior finishing. It's expensive, but is a good product.
Mcfadden conversion varnish and stains for any clear interior finish over stain. Economical and very user friendly.
Becker Acroma pigmented conversion varnish and spray glazes on kitchens. Color, sheen, and flow are the c/v. The glazes are easy to use and the colors are more custom.
Chemcraft (Melesi) Polyurethane for interior finishes on maple or cherry. Fast build, fast drying time, and very durable. Used on bar tops or conference tables.
Chemcraft polyurethane/polyester/polyurethane system on any wood from teak to ebony. Used to rapidly fill grain on the most oily and porous of woods. Not user friendly and can be very dangerous if not used correctly. Boat interiors, bar tops, or conference tables have no signs of wear and tear if this product is used correctly.

These products vary from tr 4 to tr 7 and are designed to be used for certain situations. When I design a finish for a project, the first thing I ask is what type of traffic is this product going to face? Then I design a color scheme into, over, and under the coating. Each has its use. It's all about what the finisher using the product feels comfortable with. But, in order to grow knowledge, one must be willing to change, and change can be good.