How to Apply Water-Based Finish

At City Floor Supply we like to make sure our customers are informed about all the various techniques related to installing hardwood floors. Whether you’re new to the business or a seasoned veteran, it’s important to review these techniques to keep your skills at their peak.

Watch our video above or read on below for a guide on how to apply water-based finish to a maple floor with a t-bar applicator.

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Before you apply the water-based finish, it’s important that you use a seal coat. Make sure the sealer is compatible with the water-based finish you are planning on using. If you need help selecting a compatible top coat sealer, please contact us at City Floor Supply.

To apply the top coat sealer you will want to cut in along the long side wall then on the opposing walls about 3″ out. This helps keep the larger applicator away from the wall, so you are not digging a puddle of finish out when you turn. Next, pour lines of the sealer on the floor. Use a t-bar to pull the lines across the room with the grain. Pay particular attention to the amount of footage being covered and the amount of product you have left. This will give you an idea of the spread rate, which is critical in a successful application.

Once the sealer is dry — approximately 2-3 hours depending on environmental conditions — you will want to evaluate the floor. If there is significant grain raise, go ahead and buff the floor smooth with a sand dollar. While this will provide a mechanical scratch, there is significant chemical adhesion available to apply finish coats directly over the sealer. Again, if a buffer is used after the sealer it’s typically for grain raise.

When using the buffer we recommend you use the green sand dollar disc manufactured by Norton. This sand dollar disc is specially designed for this. It is also recommended that you back up the green sand dollar disc with a 3M white Scotch-Brite pad. This 3M pad will give flexibility so the green pad floats on the floor and does not cut in too deep. We also highly recommend that the buffer in use be outfitted with a dust collection system.

The Norton Sand Dollar can produce a fine dust. This dust combined with the heat generated by the buffer could gum up and harden any other screen and cause clogging, but the Norton green sand dollar disc has special slots to prevent this from occurring. We still advise you stop halfway through the square footage of the room and flip the pad over.

Once the buffing is complete, it’s time to vacuum the floor. Make sure to be thorough with the vacuuming. However, even the strongest of vacuums are likely to leave behind some fine dust. To remove the fine dust left on the floor you can tack the floor. To tack the floor, wrap a push broom in a damp white towel. Make sure to go over every part of the floor with the towel.

Now it is time to apply the finish.

When you are staging all your materials we recommend that you place a trash bag (plastic) down on the floor first. Then set all your materials on top. This will prevent any contaminates from getting on the clean tacked floor, as you will be filling up pour buckets and resting wet applicators here.

To pour the finish, we recommend that you use a pour bucket. The spout on the pour bucket gives a smooth output to the finish. It will not splash or splatter on the floor.

First pour a 6″ wide puddle close to the wall. Wet both the t-bar applicator and cut in pad.

While a two person team is best, one person would certainly be a able to coat your average 500-1000 square foot floor. When two people are involved, the first person will use the cut in pad. He will cut ahead of the person using the t-bar applicator. Cutting in is important so when the person using the t-bar applicator gets to a stopping point, they can turn the puddle smoothly without hitting a wall. There is no easier way to loose square footage per gallon than by burying it under the wall as you tried to get too close. After making a turn just before the wall, squeeze out the excess in the applicator and go back and feather out the turn mark. Removing the excess helps reduce any finish on your applicator from splashing onto the coated area of the floor as you lift up on the feather-out.

While moving across the floor, continually add to the puddle to keep the wet edge. However, do not over-pour the finish. When you get to the end of a room you do not want to have any waste. Make sure the person cutting ahead of the t-bar applicator is aware of areas where turns will need to be made or the t-bar will be backed out.

When you need to back out of an area, pull the wet edge as best you can with the grain, but don’t be afraid of crossing the grain. Your final push with the grain will feather everything out. Be cognizant of the amount of material in your applicator and squeeze out the excess. Make sure not to drip or splatter on the area of the floor where you are feathering out.

Once the whole floor has been coated with the finish, wait for it to dry. Typically two to three hours. When it is dry you can apply subsequent coats using the same techniques outlined above or in the video.

If need any help or advice with applying water-based finish, please contact us at City Floor Supply. We can be reached at (800) 737-1786 or by sending an email to

One thought on “How to Apply Water-Based Finish

  1. Bob Goldstein

    The video on coating with Vermont Natural Coatings using a tee bar was outstanding. Great information presented in a clear easy to follow format.
    Thanks. Keep up the good work!


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