Solving Polyurethane Finishing Problems

kitchen cabinets

I put polyurethane on cabinets after I stained them. Now a week later, I find oil on the surface of the cabinets, and when I try to clean it, it leaves dull spots. I don’t know what to do, or what is the problem. Help! -Thomas

Thomas,

Polyurethane finishes should dry hard in a matter of hours and not bleed oil as yours is doing. Here are some possible reasons for the problem:

    • Using an old or partially used can of finish.
    • Using a can of finish that has been subjected to extreme temperatures.
    • Not stirring the finish thoroughly before application.
    • Applying the finish outside the recommended temperature and humidity range.
  • Applying over an oily surface, or over certain exotic woods—like rosewood, teak, ebony, and cocobolo—that contain natural oils.

If you have followed these guidelines, the problem may be with the finish itself.

As far as solving your problem goes, if the finish has stopped bleeding oil and feels like it has dried hard, you might be able to even out the gloss by wiping the cabinets down with a rag dampened with mineral spirits (assuming it was oil-based polyurethane) followed by a dry cloth. Be sure to extinguish any pilot lights and open flames and use adequate ventilation when working indoors with mineral spirits.

If the gloss is still uneven, try sanding it lightly with 220 grit sandpaper and applying another coat of finish. Use a fresh can of the same finish from a different store in case the batch in question was bad. If you continue to have problems, the only alternative might be to strip the cabinets and start all over again.

Good luck,

Danny