The last time I applied polyurethane, I chose a variety called "diamond something or other". It turned out that the diamond variety dries so quickly that if I apply a brush stroke one way and then simply move backwards along the same path, the first run would have already dried.

The net result was very disappointing. The surface (of wood shelves) came out very rough.

Because for this next project (a desk) the smoothness is of prime importance, I chose "hand-rub poly", after being told that it dries slowly.

The directions on the can say apply to cotton rag and then apply to wood. But the liquid is very thin, and very little makes it into the actual surface.

Is it safe to pour a few drops and then spread them with a cotton rag to leave the semblance of a coat? I'm working outside in the shade to minimize inhalation, and so the drying will be efficient from moving wind. What are your tricks to get a smooth surface from hand-rub poly?

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    I always try to experiment with finishing products that are new to me on scraps of wood. The trick sometimes is finding same/similar wood to whatever I’m refinishing. Sometimes you can use unseen parts of the actual piece to be refinished.
    – Tyson
    Commented May 18, 2018 at 18:27

1 Answer 1


I found the best results with wipe on poly come from lots of thinly applied coats, rather than slathering on a thick (poured) layer, so although you can pour it you probably won't get super smooth results from doing so.

As I understand it, the theory is thin coats of wipe on varnish dry much faster than a regular brush coat. Much of the roughness in a finish comes from dust/airborne particles that land in the finish as it dries. Less drying time means less time for those particles to settle, which results in a smoother finish.

  • TL;DR: Indeed many coats are needed; not the 2-3 that are specified on the can. Details: I can now comment from experience. The can specified "two coats, and a third if necessary". After the second (thin) coat, everything was still absorbed so deeply that the surface seemed quite unprotected. For the third I didn't apply "drops", but I soaked the cloth. Net result is ugly. Shiny in streaks. Smooth locally to the touch, but the surface is not planar. The planarity is invisible, but can be sensed by hand.
    – Calaf
    Commented Oct 24, 2018 at 15:15

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