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Old 04-17-2015, 11:49 AM   #1
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Floor Finish Brand Recommendations


Replacing my first flight of "open" stair treads with a set of RetroTreads (6), and after cutting them to size, attaching the returns, sanding, and staining, I need a durable clear finish.

Although I understand that oil-based polyurethanes are supposedly the "toughest", due to the stain color (brown/greyish "driftwood" appearance), I believe a water-based finish would be best to avoid any yellowing that would change the color.

I want the most durable finish I can get since stairwells get more scuffs and scratches due to the mechanics of "climbing" stairs; I am willing to oil-based if necessary. I will be staining the treads in the garage so smell/fumes are not a concern for me.

The local big box stores basically sell Minwax Polyurethane For Floors (which gets relatively bad 2.7/5.0 out of 20 reviews on HD) and Varathane Floor Finish (4.1/5.0 out of only 7 reviews).

So I'm leaning towards Varathane. There is a local lumber/flooring store that sells a lot of other brands that I'm unfamiliar with, but they do sell Varathane Floor Finish but no Minwax.

Would the Varathane do just fine, or are their other brands that I should consider?
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Old 04-17-2015, 10:09 PM   #2
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If you want a clear floor finish that will blow the doors off of any traditional alkyd based polyurethane, then consider:

1. Bona "Traffic", or
2. Basic Coatings "Street Shoe".

Both are catalyzed water based polyurethanes. You get a gallon of finish which you mix with a small bottle of catalyst. Once the two are mixed, you need to get the finish on the floor or it's going to solidify right in the plastic jug.

Both Traffic and Street Shoe dry to a film that's several times harder and more durable than traditional alkyd based polyurethanes.

To understand why, you need to know that alkyd based polyurethane "varnish" is made by adding isocyanates to the pot when making alkyd resins. The reason for doing that is that these isocyanates will react with the alcohol groups on the glycerin molecules inside the alkyd resins, creating urethane linkages within each alkyd resin, thereby making it a "alkyd based polyurethane" resin.

The urethane linkages that form within alkyd resins make those resins harder just like the roll cage in a race car makes it harder and more difficult to crush. So, polyurethane forms a harder and stronger film than alkyd paint because each polyurethane resin has a little roll cage inside it making it harder and stronger than an ordinary alkyd resin.

Bona's Traffic or Basic Coatings Street Shoe don't use alkyd technology at all. They consist of isocyanantes and alcohols suspended in water. When you add a catalyst to the jug and shake it, the isocyanantes start reacting with the alcohols creating urethane linkages all over the place that results in a much more densely crosslinked plastic than a traditional alkyd based polyurethane. What you get with Traffic or Street Shoe is really a plastic made of urethane linkages.

I would take your stair treads down to any company that specializes in hardwood flooring and get them to apply the Traffic or Street Shoe to your treads. Or, if that' not feasible, have that company apply the Traffic or Street Shoe to the treads right in your own house. I wouldn't start trying to do this myself because this coating isn't very user friendly. Once you add the catalyst, the show is on no matter what happens or what gets in your way.

Google Bona "Traffic" or Basic Coatings "Street Shoe" and learn more about them.
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Last edited by Nestor_Kelebay; 04-17-2015 at 10:13 PM.
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Old 04-17-2015, 10:23 PM   #3
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Thanks for the recommendations!

I've sprayed automotive Urethane Enamel, both color coat and clear coat, on my restored Mustangs (and all the pre-work on the body, including fiberglas and plastic fillers, and welding) so working with catalyzed stuff shouldn't be difficult for me.

Now, whether it's because they harden too fast and can easily be ruined (i.e., irregular surface and/or applicator marks), or whether it requires forced ventilation, paint booth, and/or other professional (expensive) equipment to apply, then I'd contract it out; easy to do as I can bring all 6 treads in.

Not sure if there is truly a noticeable difference between StreetShoe vs Bona Traffic in terms of durability, but the former is going for about $90/gal Satin whereas the latter is going for $120/gal Satin.

Will be doing further research to see if I can apply it myself or whether I should contract it out.
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Old 04-18-2015, 10:04 AM   #4
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Just a follow-up:

I've decided on StreetShoe 275, on top of Lock 'N Seal (which is more expensive than the top coat!). All the references I've reviewed indicates that application is well within my abilities. The manufacturer even states that StreetShoe can be "recatalyzed" if necessary, though with only six 3-foot treads to finish, I should be able to complete two coats well within the usable timeframe after initial catalyzing. I will probably mix only a portion of the product in a separate, sealable container since I only have the stair treads to finish.

Application is simply pour on and spread with a roller with a 1/4" nap, following the grain when possible of course. Two coats first of Lock 'N Seal and two coats of StreetShoe, with at least 2-3 hours drying time in-between coats.

As with any finishing system, the key is in the technique and applicator. StreetShoe can be sanded if necessary to remove imperfections, so the first coats will allow me to perfect my technique before the final coat. I will actually be "learning" techniques by first finishing the underside of the treads, so I will have plenty of practice under my belt by the time I work on the topsides of the treads.

Last edited by Augster; 04-18-2015 at 10:06 AM.
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