TOPCOATS AND FINISHES
Whether stained or left natural, every Arts & Crafts floor needs a good topcoat (or at least a few coats of floor wax). Finishes are usually blends of natural plantor nut-based resins or oils suspended in or mixed with oil, alcohol, solvents, or water, which cure to a hardened finish.
Polyurethane finishes are the easiest to apply, especially if they’re water-based. Water-based polys require multiple coats (with sanding in between) for durability, but dry quickly—usually in hours rather than days. These water-based finishes dry clear and visually “float” on the surface, lacking some of the depth of oil-based polys and more traditional treatments like tung oil. While they go on easily, refinishing a water- or oil-based polyurethane requires sanding the old finish before applying a new coat.
Oil-modified polyurethanes are compositionally similar to water-based polys, except that the resins are impregnated with oil. Drying times are much longer; allow at least 24 hours between coats. Oil-based polys cure to a deep, durable, and abrasion resistant finish with a slight amber color that approximates period varnish. While water-based polys clean up with soap and water, oil-based ones require solvents to clean hands and brushes.
Tung oil and polymerized tung oils penetrate rather than float on the surface of the wood. Like oil-modified urethanes, tung oils require longer drying times between coats, but they produce a true period appearance: Waterlox’s Original Sealer and Finish, for example, has been on the market since 1910. While polymerized tung oils dry faster than pure ones, a tung-oiled floor usually takes 30 days or more to fully cure and should be treated carefully for the first few months.
Best of all, tung oil and low-VOC finishes made from natural proteins can also be refreshed with new coats without stripping. No sanding is required between coats, either. Note: Nut allergies may be triggered by tung oil during application and curing.