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Polyurethane Finish: Good vs. Bad

Updated: Jun. 30, 2017

A little bit of skin over the top doesn't always mean you have to throw old poly away

FH09OCT_POLSAV_01-3Family Handyman
Water or oil-based polyurethane that's been sitting on a shelf and has skinned over can often still be used for natural finishes, as long as the liquid underneath is in good condition.

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Examine the remaining finish

Check the remaining material to make sure it's clear and particle-free. If the polyurethane has crud in it, try filtering it through cheesecloth. Then try brushing it on scrap wood. If it goes on fine, use it.

If the poly is water-based and too thick, thin it by adding water (no more than 10 percent). You can also thin solvent-based poly by adding up to 10 percent mineral spirits, but only if you live in a state that allows it. Some East Coast states and California prohibit users from adding solvents after the can is opened. In that case, you'll have to recycle the old stuff and buy a fresh can.

Always test thinned polyurethane on scrap wood before applying it to your project. Chances are it will work just fine. But if it doesn't look right, buy fresh material.

Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

  • Paintbrush

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here’s a list.

  • Cheesecloth
  • Paint stirrer
  • Water or paint thinner