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Austin Texas USA
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Target Coatings has nothing to do with the local discount store that competes with K-Mart and Walmart. They are a high tech coatings company located in New Jersey, that primarily sells by mail-order from a web site.
For the last many years I have had great results with Target Coatings water based finishes. Not just any water base finish - this is a new technology in furniture and cabinet finishing, so the brand still matters, and Target Coatings have been far better than the alternatives I have tried from General Finishes, Fuhr (now RPM Wood Finishes), Sherwin Williams, Minwax, and others. Unfortunately in most areas of the country, you have to "mail order" Target products. See http://www.finishingzone.com/, the eCommerce site for Target Coatings, and consider getting on their mailing list for discounts, occasional free shipping, and special sales.
This is the list of finishing products I regularly use, mostly from Target, and why I choose each of them. Enough people asked for specific recommendations that, at the end, I spelled that out for a walnut dining table.
There are several reasons for using a sanding sealer: provide a smooth surface on which to build the next layers of finish (and most sanding sealers are softer, fill pores more easily, and sand easier to get that level starting layer). Second, some sealers bring out the natural color of the wood. And a third, almost different reason, is to seal the underlying material from those that follow - especially when refinishing over a mystery finish.
Target EM1000 is a clear sealer that does an excellent job of filling the pores, and brings out the natural color of the wood. I sometimes thin it slightly with water (no more than 5%), to be sure it penetrates the wood pores. When thinned as much as 50%, it also works well as a pre-stain conditioner.
Zinsser SealCoat is a 2 pound cut of dewaxed blonde shellac, alcohol based. When thinned to a 1 pound cut (add equal parts of denatured alcohol), it is an excellent sealer. Zinsser recommends two thin coats. It does not sand as easily as EM1000. It is very hard to clean out of a brush or spray gun. (I now have a cheap gun dedicated to shellac, but I have heard that household ammonia helps with the cleaning.) But in my experience shellac provides an excellent barrier between dissimilar finishes - it sticks to almost anything, and practically anything sticks to it. When applied to bare wood, it does a good job of bringing out the natural color of the wood.
Some experts have had difficulty with SealCoat, but I have not had any problems. I recently learned that Zinsser now makes the formulation slightly acidic to extend the shelf life, while most Target coatings are slightly alkaline. If you mix dewaxed shellac crystals yourself this is a very safe alternative, since you would not be introducing the acid Zinsser adds to SealCoat. One discussion suggested that the problem cases were related to using thicker coats of SealCoat, which would thus introduce more acid, and perhaps explain the problem. (Or just use EM1000)
Target EM6000 can be used as a sealer, especially slightly (5%) thinned with water. It provides the smooth base, but it does not "pop" the natural wood color as well as the others.
I did a side-by-side comparison on walnut. EM1000 and Zinsser Seal Coat both popped the color the same - I could not tell the difference. EM6000, without a sealer, did not pop the color of the walnut in my sample. To me the decision becomes EM1000 on new work (easier) and Shellac for refinishing if there is any residual old finish.
Target EM6000 is the only water based lacquer that I have found that has full burn-in - where later coats merge with previous coats. It even burns in "to a degree" over classic solvent based nitrocellulose lacquer. There are two reasons burn-in is important. First, you end up with a single coat, so when you sand or rub out the finish, there is no risk of rubbing through an outer layer (which leaves a "witness line" that is virtually impossible to hide). This means that it doesn't matter whether you apply a regular coat or multiple thinner coats... the result is the same (great for a beginner). Second, you don't need to sand between coats to make the finish adhere (although as a beginner, you may have to sand slightly between coats to "ask forgiveness" for drools or contamination).
How good is Target burn in?
Water based finishes dry slower in high humidity, but don't blush or have other problems common to classical lacquer in humidity. How high humidity can you tolerate? I have sprayed with the threat of rain - no problem. But once, the rain actually started. Each rain drop left a crater in the finish - not just in the last layer sprayed, but all the way to the wood. Perfect burn-in, but I had to sand it all off and start over.
Some people like the slight yellow tint of the solvent lacquer finishes. TransTint even makes a custom "Amber Additive #6000" for this purpose - add a couple drops to the material in the spray gun. A couple drops of TransTint Honey Amber or other dye can be used instead of the custom color to replace that yellow color if you wish.
The EM6000 beats the Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturer's Association (KCMA) specifications - it is pretty robust, even better in tests than the traditional Catalyzed Lacquer normally used in kitchen cabinets. In fact regular (not catalyzed) nitrocellulose lacquer does not meet the KCMA specs. Most factory built furniture and cabinets are finished in catalyzed lacquer.
EM6000 is the only finish I sometimes buy in 5 gallon quantities. I always use the gloss to build the coats of finish, and often achieve a semi-gloss or satin finish by rubbing rather than spraying a final coat of semi-gloss or satin finish. If you do not want to rub out your work, I would move to a satin or semi-gloss finish for the final coat of EM6000, but would still use the gloss for the build coats, so the build layers of finish are not clouded by the material that reduces the shine.
Target has recently announced EM7000 high build lacquer. It has more solids per gallon of finish (35-38% rather than 28-30%), so fewer coats are required to build the same final finish. It is thicker (45-50 seconds to drain a calibrated cup - Zahns #2, rather than 30-35 seconds for EM6000). I presume your spraying skills need to be good enough that the heavier coat can be applied perfectly, and your gun needs to be able to do well with the thicker fluid. Someday I may try it - but EM6000 is the same final finish, each coat is fast to apply. If I need to do an extra coat or two, no big deal, since I am building single pieces, not rooms full of cabinets.
Traditional solvent based nitrocellulose lacquer has only one remaining use in my shop. When I do a small turning, I sometimes want to wipe on the finish with a rag, and use the heat of the rag on the spinning piece to dry and polish the finish. The heat of the rag dries the solvent in the NC lacquer. For larger turnings, I spray Target finishes, which "dry" by a chemical reaction, not by the heat evaporating the solvent as in traditional lacquer.
Target EM8000cv is an excellent water-based conversion varnish. There is no question that a conversion varnish is more durable than lacquer - more scratch resistant, and more resistant to moisture and chemicals. However, it is not a lacquer. The layers don't burn-in (after the first 36 hours or so - you get a "free pass" if the subsequent coats are applied as soon as the earlier coats are dry, before they have cured). You have to be good enough with your spray technique that your final coat is fairly heavy and requires minimal rub-out, and that any rub-out does not go through the final coat. It also is a pre-catalyzed finish, so the shelf life is theoretically shorter than a non-catalyzed finish - in theory perhaps as short as a year (but I have not had a problem violating that rule slightly).
To avoid the need for heavy rubbing, I have used semi-gloss EM8000, but no longer keep that finish in stock.
Target EM2000 is a water based interior-exterior alkyd varnish. It can be sprayed, but has special properties that allow it to be brushed more easily than the other fast-drying Target finishes. It dries more rapidly, so that architectural pieces (such as your front door) can be put into service more quickly - in hours, although the time to completely cure is longer than EM8000. It has the amber color of traditional varnish. In general, exterior varnish has to be more flexible than interior varnish, to tolerate the changes in weather, which generally means it will be softer, so I am not planning on using this on indoor furniture.
After some very good test experience using the very hard EM9300 Polycarbonate finish, I have started to stock it for use where a scratch-resistant and chemical-resisitant finish is required. My first use was in an auto repair shop where customers slid their keys across the counter - no apparent wear after several years. As a second test I gave my son some end tables with the requirement that he not use coasters, as a test of the finish - 18 months later there is no sign of damage.
EM9300 is clear, not the light amber of EM2000, but TransTint dye can be used to add Amber if desired.
A friend tried EM9300 and had problems that I could not solve. As a super high-tech finish it may be fussy in ways that I do not recognize, even though it has worked very well for me.
if you need a REALLY hard and chemical resistant finish, any of the Target finishes can have a catalyst added, called CL100 Cross-Linker. 2% cross linker is slowly added to the finish and stirred in, then the finish must stand for at least an hour before additional stirring and use. The shelf life of the cross-linked finish is dramatically reduced - mix only what you expect to use in the next day or so. For full benefit use the CL100 in at least the last two coats.
If you want the "grand piano" finish, you need to fill the grain in the wood (more than just the microscopic pores). To make the surface perfectly smooth (no visible wood grain) you need to start with a grain filler. I rarely fill my work, since hiding the grain texture also makes the finish look a little plastic. But when I do, I most often use Behlen Water Base Brown Filler, and after applying, sand it back to the wood. If I were using it a lot, and didn't already have a stock of Behlen's, I would certainly try the Target HSF5000 high solids filler.
I have successfully used TransTint dyes in the Target finishes. Normally I am using them as a toner, to shift the color or darken an area, so I just put a few drops in the spray gun and apply layers as required until I get the desired effect. I do not mix large quantities of each color. Joe Woodworker (owner of Veneer Supplies) has a great tutorial on the use of TransTint dyes.
Since Target has sometimes sold Mixol stain colors as well as TransTint dyes, I expect they would work equally well.
Since we are applying a film finish (that will be on the surface of the wood), sanding to 150 or 180 grit is ample; no need to go to 400 grit of finer as you would need to with an oil finish.
Some sandpaper includes Zinc Stearate to reduce clogging of the sandpaper. In years past, the stearate could interfere with adhesion of the finish. Whether sanding the wood or sanding between the layers of finish, Target Coatings (Jeff Weiss) recommends always wiping with a clean rag moistened with 50% Denatured Alcohol and 50% water before applying the next coat of finish. I must admit that I often haven't followed that rule, but it reduces concern about using sandpaper with Zinc Stearate. The improved stearates from the abrasive vendors, and the improved adhesion in water based finishes, and with wiping the surface as suggested, means that the stearates are no longer a problem.
This is probably repeated elsewhere, but the question often comes up...
I can be final sanding a piece of furniture in the morning, apply EM1000 sealer and multiple coats of EM6000 Lacquer, with sanding/rubbing as appropriate, and can deliver the piece of furniture that afternoon. Cleaning the spray gun takes about 90 seconds - flushing with tap water in a sink - not like the horrors of trying to clean latex paint.
This is a summary of the information above, in response to multiple questions of "okay but what should I do?"
First coat (or two) should be EM1000 sanding sealer to make it perfectly smooth, and to pop the color of the wood. The EM1000 can be diluted slightly (5% water) to be sure to "soak in" to any uneven grain and end grain. Use additional coats until you have a perfect surface to finish (you can sand between coats of sealer if you wish, typically 400 grit, to make the surface perfect.)
In no case build a thick coat of sanding sealer, since the sealer tends to be soft, compared to "build" coats of conventional finish.
Jeff Weiss (owner and inventor of Target Coatings) would then recommend finishing the entire table with EM8000cv. A conversion varnish is far more durable than lacquer - either solvent based or Target water based. I would probably do it a little differently. I would do all except the eating surface with EM6000 lacquer. It is the only water based lacquer that has full burn in, so all the coats become one. Thus, while you are working around the corners etc. of the legs and braces you can do lots of light coats (thin coats dry in 10 minutes or so), and not have to worry about a single even coat. All of the Target coatings burn into themselves if additional coats are applied within hours. The advantage of the Lacquer is the burn in is indefinite, not just hours. You can do a repair years later.
The lacquer is also a satisfactory undercoat on the working surface, but I would still use the conversion varnish for the top 2 or more coats.
Target coatings dry to dust free and recoating within 15 or so minutes, and can be lightly sanded at that point. Full cure is 5 days. Serious rubbing of the finish needs to wait for the finish to be cured. Note that I have delivered many items the same day I started to finish them.
Unlike many people, I spray ONLY gloss finish. The satin and semi-gloss finishes incorporate a dulling agent (grunge) that has to be kept suspended while you spray, and if you build multiple coats it can very slightly cloud the finish and hide the wood grain. Gloss is the same finish without grunge; after it is done I sand it with 400 to 1200 grit to cut the reflection, and give a satin finish, or use synthetic wool (red followed by gray).
I did one table for an artist that made messes himself and also had kids. Jeff Weiss recommended using the extra hardening agent, the CL100. A small amount is added before spraying (follow the directions closely); any finish not used in a day or so has to be discarded so only mix a small amount as needed. See http://finishingzone.com/product/crosslinker/
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On to the details of spraying
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