I can see brush strokes on a dining table from a previous application of polyurethane.

I want to sand these and re-apply polyurethane. I do not know whether the previous application was a water-based or oil-based product.

What should I do?

  • Is there such a thing as water-based polyurethane?
    – Martha
    Commented Jan 12, 2012 at 23:38
  • @martha: Yes. Minwax Poly-Crylic comes to mind. amazon.com/Minwax-23020-Water-Based-Polyurethane/dp/B0044FHRVM
    – JoeFish
    Commented Jan 13, 2012 at 1:15
  • Table tops I use polyurethane(oil) in a pot sprayer,@50lbs. Also called a automotive sprayer. And Water born has greatly advanced quality for floor finishs. They don't yellow. However I notice water born tends to white cloud when wet. That's why poly urethane is best. Hint: In poly urathane(oil) the shine retardant falls to the bottum of can so stir it up, don't shake. By adding 10% thinner to poly makes it duller. Air in oil paints causes pre mature hardening. So don't shake.
    – user52370
    Commented Apr 6, 2016 at 12:58

5 Answers 5


What you will want to do is to get a polyurethane stripper with brush, a pair of rubber gloves, a scraping tool, fine grit sandpaper (200), a clean cloth, and a well ventilated room.

Start by applying the polyurethane stripper liberally and evenly over the wood using the brush. Let it stand for about 5 minutes or whatever the directions instruct you to do.

Using the scraping tool, gently scrape off the polyurethane in the direction of the wood grain, taking care to remove the scrapings as you go along using a clean cloth.

Once the scraping is completed, lightly sand the wood in the direction of the grains until the surface is smooth.

You're now ready to apply the finish of your choice, whether it be polyurethane, a stain, or paint. :)


Without seeing how deep the brush marks are, it is hard to advise if a simple sanding or more drastic stripping is needed. If they are fairly superficial, I'd try sanding with 150 grit paper on a DA or vibe type sander first. If it seems like it's gonna take sanding all the way to the wood to get rid of the marks, then stripping may be easier.

As far as what type of urethane to use. I usually prefer oil based because it gives a deeper coat and usually only needs 3 or 4 coats for a really nice finish. The down side of oil based is that it takes longer to dry, can smell a bit and must be applied smoothly to avoid those brush marks. I almost always use a high density foam brush for small pieces. Apply it, smooth it quickly and don't overwork it. Always sand lightly with 220 or finer paper between coats.

Water based urethanes are easy to use, clean up after and dry fast. They are very thin (watery) and tend to be much more self leveling than oil based. The big disadvantage of water based urethane is that it takes three coats to give the same depth and look as one coat of oil. I did a bar with water based for a customer once, and it took 15 coats to give the look they wanted. So I determined that water based was fine for protection and utility use, but oil is best suited for furniture and surfaces where looks and durability count.

  • 30 years ago I finished my bedroom floor with Varathane oil based poly. They were showing their age with minor scratches and wear. I did a light sand and applied Minwax Polycrylic (water-base). I agree it takes many more coats to get the same appearance as oil. I put down eight. The plus is the fast dry time precludes dust, dog hair etc from getting into the finish. I was able to put down three coats a day. It has now been two years with now issues with lifting, bubbles or peeling.
    – mikes
    Commented Dec 10, 2023 at 20:52

Just did a little research: http://woodworking.about.com/od/finishing/p/polyurethane.htm

I couldn't find out whether it needs to be the same as the previous application. IMHO, I don't think it needs to be the same, unless you're trying to match how it looks with other parts of the table.

I would decide based on:

  • how tolerant you are the odor of the finish (if 'not tolerant' than choose water-based)
  • is there a high chance of water stains on the table (if "not", choose water-based)
  • do you need it to dry quickly (if "yes", choose water-based)

The general answer to your question is yes, you can apply one over the other - with a caveat - since oil and water don't mix you'll need a sealer coat in between the two. Shellac works well because it binds to water-based and oil-based polyurethanes while keeping the two separated. Of course, wait for each coat to dry before applying the next one.

As far as your specific situation though, it sounds like you intend to sand the runs out anyway, so it wouldn't hurt to strip/sand all the way down to the bare wood and start fresh so you don't have to worry about how each layer affects the others. If you have the patience to clean everything and start from scratch, it's always nice to know what went into your finish so you can easily maintain it in the future.


Water based polyurethane, such as Duraseal, does not need a coat between the stain and the polyurethane. You just have to make absolutely sure that the oil based stain is 100% dry which can take several days if you are over coating an existing finish.

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    Commented Dec 11, 2023 at 4:23

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