Arm-R-Seal VS Waterlox – What Should You Use?

It’s finally time to pick a finish for your dining table top or cabinet and confusion sets in. Which is the more durable finish between Arm-R-Seal and Waterlox?

Is there a winner when it comes to color strength or drying time? If you are a DIYer, chances are you want the option that is easier to use and wouldn’t make you wait for a long time.

Both products are varnishes and contain resin. We may never be able to tell the exact resin combinations in each but we can expect Waterlox to provide a harder gloss since it contains tung oil. Arm-R-Seal makes up for this with its urethane resin component that protects the surface from abrasion.

Everyone has an opinion on which product they consider superior, but we think it’s best to make a choice based on your particular project and situation. You can easily decide which is the better finish after going through this comparison guide.

Application

You will need the same tools like a bristle brush, sanding pads, and steel wool to apply both finishes. They slightly differ in the area of preparation. Waterlox does not require shaking or stirring but you should stir Arm-R-Seal before and during application. This ensures the solids at the bottom of the can mix properly with the other components.

Thinning Arm-R-Seal before application is optional. Test how well the product will adhere when using it on sealed surfaces. You can apply up to three coats as more will not improve efficiency.

Since Arm-R-Seal is a wipe-on varnish, you can apply it with a cotton cloth or staining pad if a natural bristle brush is not available. Use light pressure when wiping off the excess to get the desired sheen. Generally, Arm-R-Seal’s gloss and semi-gloss sheens have no flatting agents so they are easier to apply.

The application steps for Waterlox differ depending on whether you are using the product as a base or finish coat.

When using Waterlox as a sealer, you simply need to apply the product at the recommended spread rate and allow it dry for a day before putting on another coat. If the Waterlox is serving as a final coat, use a damp lint-free rag to remove dust before applying the product.

There are also a few additional steps to follow when using Waterlox on a large project. Saturate the applicator with the product and overlap finished sections to prevent lap marks.

Drying Time

Arm-R-Seal takes between 12 and 24 hours between coats to dry when you are applying it on raw wood or over a surface that has just been stained. When working on a sealed surface, you should leave the material for up to 3 days to dry.

Now, dry time is dependent on the weather conditions where the ideal temperature is 70 degrees and 50% humidity. Another factor that affects dry time is the number of layers you apply. The more coats you put on, the longer the project takes to dry.

Not giving enough time for drying can seal in the moisture and make the surface appear clouded. To avoid this, test the surface by pressing a finger over it to see if the finish sticks.

In some cases, you may have to increase the dry time of Arm-R-Seal to get satisfactory results. Here are some situations to pay attention to:

  • The temperature is cool
  • The humidity level is above 80%
  • You applied more than 3 coats
  • You applied heavy coats

It takes 30 days for Arm-R-Seal to completely cure compared to Waterlox which can take a few hours to weeks, depending on the ventilation. Sufficient air circulation is, therefore, necessary to boost curing time.

Like Arm-R-Seal Waterlox finish dries as you expose it to oxygen. Dry-to-touch time takes between 6-8 hours, after which the product will not stick if you press a finger over it. Ventilation time takes around the same time.

You can recoat after 24 hours, similar to the recoat time for Arm-R-Seal.

Improve air circulation for both products by placing a fan on a low setting in the room. Speed up ventilation at the right time as doing it hastily harms the project. Allow it to dry a bit because too much air at the initial stage can cause wrinkling.

Sanding

If you want to avoid sanding between coats, Waterlox is definitely the finish to go for. The product does not require abrasion for the coats to adhere. The new coat becomes part of the previous coat rather than a layer over it.

You can go on with light sanding for aesthetic purposes. Do not use sandpaper of more than 150 grit and leave out sanding if you are applying Waterlox over a stained surface.

With Arm-R-Seal, you should sand between coats to enhance the smoothness and inter-coat adhesion. You will need 320 grit or steel wool for this. Wipe off the dust with a damp rag.

Compatibility

Waterlox appears to be far ahead in the area of compatibility, pairing well with other types of finishes.

Arm-R-Seal is compatible with many long oils and other finishes. You can use it over danish, linseed, and tung oils. Make sure the oiled surface is fully dry before applying the varnish.

The manufacturers, however, advise against using the product over light or white finishes. Arm-R-Seal has an amber color which grows stronger over time. Unless you are fine with this discoloration, use the product only over dark finishes.

Similarly, you cannot apply Waterlox over urethanes, shellac, and lacquer. Ensure the surface is completely rid of both water and oil-based urethanes before applying the product. You can use Waterlox over dewaxed shellac but we advise you to test it first.

Waterlox is compatible with mineral oil, drying oils, and other varnishes. From linseed oil to walnut, teak oil, and even tung oil. Recall that the Waterlox finish contains tung oil and can be layered over pure tung oil. Make sure the tung oil is fully cured.

Take the following steps when recoating with Waterlox after applying pure tung oil:

  • Carry out a cross-hatch test to be sure the varnish will adhere.
  • Clean the surface with mineral spirits and leave it to dry.
  • Buff with a maroon pad or sandpaper.
  • Clean the surface again to remove dust.
  • Recoat with the Waterlox.

When using Waterlox over drying oils, make sure the oils are completely dry. Give 14 days or more before applying the varnish. Remember to always test when unsure. While you can use the product over other varnishes, it may be best not to. These varnishes can reduce the penetrating potentials of Waterlox.

Cleanup

The cleanup procedures after using both products are quite similar. The same rules of cleaning the application materials with mineral spirits and disposing of items carefully apply.

Both products are oil-based and like all materials soaked in oil-based varnishes, there is the risk of fire with improper disposal. Soak the rags and applicators in a sealed water-filled container and discard the metal appropriately.

Storage

Waterlox will not get damaged due to cold temperature but ideally, keep it in an area above 32° F. The product will last for as long, provided it remains unopened. If you are transferring the Waterlox into another container, it is best to keep the container full to prevent it from drying out.

Arm-R-Seal has a shorter lifespan as its makers clearly state that the finish is best used a year after its manufacture. The following tips can help extend the product’s life:

  • Close the lid while working to prevent it from curing in the container.
  • Keep upright and properly resealed to avoid leakage.
  • The ideal temperature for storage is between 30° F to 80 F.
  • Do not store in high-moisture areas like the attic or next to next to heat sources.
  • Place the container upside down when storing it to reduce oxygen exposure.

Which Product Should You Use Between Arm-R-Seal and Waterlox?

In the end, it all boils down to which features matters the most to your particular project.

For instance, if your priority is a quick application, you can opt for Waterlox since it does not require thinning. It is recommended to use the product as it is. Arm-R-Seal, on the other hand, can be thinned with up to 10% mineral spirits.

Both products are similar in more ways than they are different. You can spray both Arm-R-Seal and Waterlox using a spray gun. The required cleaning and care for surfaces finished with both products are also alike.

Conclusion

Choosing the perfect finish to improve your wood’s natural finishes can be tricky. With so many alternatives available, it is down to you to make a choice based on your knowledge of the different products. Arm-R-Seal and Waterlox are both durable varnishes and you can decide which suits your project now that you are fully informed.

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