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Caring for a Synthetic Finish

Tip #44
Finishing Touches
Part 4 of 6 - Applying A Synthetic Finish

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In the strict sense of the word, all wood finishes are synthetics, since they are somehow manufactured from raw materials. But this term is usually applied to a broad group of plastic finishes, including polyurethanes, polyvinyls, acrylics and epoxies -- all of which are synthesized from petroleum products and space-age chemicals.

The advantages of synthetic finishes are impressive: They're clearer, tougher and do less to change the color of the wood than natural finishes. As a group, they're much more versatile, though a few synthetics are manufactured for very specific purposes. Plywood sealer, for example, is made to harden the soft areas of the sliced fir. After it's dried, you can fine sand the plywood and get it to take an even stain.

Polyurethanes are the most widely used of all synthetic finishes. They're highly resistant to abrasion, chemicals and water and last 25% to 50% longer than the best natural varnishes. They're almost drip-free (when applied properly) and are typically available in a choice of gloss or satin finishes. An exterior version -- Polyurethane UVA -- won't break down in sunlight.

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