Clear water-resistant finish for dresser turned into vanity

eholmes77

New User
Erik
Hello all. I am from Charlotte and have been getting advice from these forums for years (along with Sawmill Creek etc) but have never posted. I am nearing completion of a 2-year (!!!) project to convert my 1930s unfinished attic into a master suite. I picked up some dressers to convert into bathroom vanities with drop-in sinks, and am stumped on the best way to give them some extra protection against humidity and water on the surface. The factory finish is a bluish-gray paint, and there is some kind of protectant finish on it - water already beads up pretty well, but I don't trust it to hold up as a bathroom countertop. I'd like a satin finish to match the rest of the dresser (I'm only coating the top) and for aesthetics.

I'm looking at a few different products:

- ZAR oil poly - I've heard good things about it, it apparently dries and redcoats fast, applies easy, and one of their product reps told me it would hold up well for a vanity. My only real concern with this one is the degree of amber and color change I might get, since I am only coating the top and don't want it to look too much different than the rest of the dresser. Anyone have any experience with this product? If it won't noticeably change the color of the top, I'll probably go with this.

- Epifanes Matte or Rubbed Effect - People rave about Epifanes, and their rep told me the degree of color change with the Matte Wood Finish over a darker, already sealed surface such as mine would be minimal. He specifically recommended the Rubbed Effect as designed for this type of purpose and holding up well to cleaning and household chemicals. The drawback is waiting 24 hours to recoat as well as price.

- Helmsman Water-based Spar Urethane - All I'm looking for is water protection without changing the color or breaking the bank. I know a lot of woodworkers think this stuff is crap, but it seems like it might be just fine for this purpose rather than, say, a nice piece I spent many hours building. Like I said, the dresser surface is already sealed pretty well.

Any thoughts on this or other recommended products? Most of my finishing experience has been with standard General Finishes products, and I could use some direction from more experience members. Thanks!

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eholmes77

New User
Erik
Thanks. I'm going to eliminate Epifanes from the competition as overkill. The rep from Zar emailed me about yellowing of their oil poly, and she recommended their Oil-modified urethane poly because it will yellow or amber less but offers the same protection. Like you recommended, I'm leaning toward the Helmsman spar urethane since they claim it will accommodate wood movement, which could be an issue in a humid environment like a bathroom. Thoughts?
 

JimD

Jim
Senior User
If the top is solid wood, I would finish the underside like the top, maybe use 2 coats instead of 3 on the top. If the top is sealed well and the underside is not, it will expand and bow the top.

I don't think it matters a lot which water based finish you use. They all, in my experience, dry clear and quickly. Rust O leam Parks poly, it comes in satin and other glosses, because it is cheap and it comes in a plastic container I think will hold up. I lost most of a gallon of Variathane water borne when it tipped over and the top popped off. Never had that happen before. I've also used Minwaxes water borne poly and my favorite to spray is Resisthane.

I'd also think about water being absorbed from the feet, the floor of a bathroom also tends to get wet sometimes.
 

eholmes77

New User
Erik
I believe the top is solid wood and I definitely plan to seal the underside as well. I’ve never really put a finish to the moisture test like a vanity will, which is why I’m reaching out to those with more experience. Thanks for the insight.
 

FredP

Fred
Corporate Member
I used waterlox marine on my master bath vanity. I would hesitate to use water born finish on your piece. The original finish is probably oil. You can use oil over water but not water over oil. You could do a barrier coat of lacquer or shellac but I don't like mixing finishes. YMMV.
 

eholmes77

New User
Erik
I used Waterlox on a kitchen island countertop several years ago, and it's held up great. But I think it has too much of an amber color for this purpose. I've also used Arm-R-Seal, but again I recall it giving am amber color. Both of those applications were on raw wood where I wanted an amber color, and I have no idea what they would look like over an already colored and sealed surface. Now that I think about it, I have some of both left in the basement. I'm sure they're too old to actually use for the top, but they might be usable enough to do a little test on the bottom of a drawer or an inconspicuous spot.

I guess my big question is how much an oil topcoat changes the color of a painted/stained and sealed surface it will not soak into. My guess is it won't be noticeable. I'll bust out those old cans tomorrow and do a couple test spots.

Regarding not being able to use water over oil, I've heard that's a myth and you can do it as long as the oil is fully cured and you sand to give it some tooth. But I have no experience with it and really have no idea. I do have some fresh Zinsser Sealcoat I could use as a barrier if needed.
 

Henry W

HenryW
Senior User
Hey Erik.
Nice looking piece there. Not sure anyone has mentioned this, but no matter which product you choose, for a sink in that piece I would certainly consider sealing the end grain once yo meake the sink cutout.
 

eholmes77

New User
Erik
Thanks Henry. The end grain won't be visible so I'm gonna seal the crap out of it. Which finish would you use, assuming my existing finish is oil based and I want a matte or satin sheen?
 

eholmes77

New User
Erik
BTW, I did a test (on a part that I will cut out) by pouring some water on the top, setting a glass on it and leaving it for three hours. When I wiped it off there wasn't a mark on there. Maybe I don't even need another layer of finish. Although I'm not sure if the current finish, or any finish, will stand up to the test of my wife using it as a vanity.
 

Henry W

HenryW
Senior User
If you expect wood finish to be forever durable on a vanity top, without any marks or evidence of use, I expect you'd be disappointed.

There are a lot of choices but you have constraints that narrow things considerably. A sprayed conversion varnish (Target Coatings with the cross-link additive or General Finishes or other name brand vendor MIGHT be my choice, with a transition layer if top coat is water based), but I would expect to have to refinish periodically and would pick one that you believe will refinish well (and a sprayed CV may not be that choice).

Quite honestly I would not choose what you have; I would choose to put a glass top over that (custom fabbed for the sink cutout etc and then tempered), or a suitable custom counter top (stone, man made, etc). I do hate periodic maintenance.
 

eholmes77

New User
Erik
I got quotes for custom sized vanity tops and they were just too expensive. My thought is I will use these and see how they do, and I'll just get new vanities in a couple years if it doesn't work out. If I hadn't already bought these dressers months ago for this vanity plan, I'd probably be at Ikea buying a pair of their vanities right now. Their vanities are great and reasonably affordable if you're OK with a modern look, which I am. I don't have tremendously high expectations for my DIY vanities, I'm just trying to make them work as best I can since I already spent the money on them.
 

Henry W

HenryW
Senior User
Don't get me wrong, I like those vanities. They look great. But long term use? - well try it and see.
 

Berta

Berta
Corporate Member
I don’t know about vanity use. When I did decorative painting I used water based varnish. Even on outdoor projects. Some were in use for 10 to 15 years without issues. Remember all those geese we had to have in the 80’s? Water based does not yellow paint. I am not telling you to use this. What I am saying is with my experience, I would use a water based product on both sides.
 

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