What is the Best Brush for Polyurethane Application? (2024)

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When applying polyurethane, using the right brush ensures an even and consistent layer for a smoother and more polished finish. However, if you choose a low-quality brush, you might end up with a blotchy and uneven finish.

To help you avoid this costly mishap, I’ve rounded up my tried and tested, best brushes for polyurethane that provide consistently smooth surfaces!

Premium Option
Purdy 144296015
Editor’s Choice
Wooster 5221-2
Budget Option
Pro Grade 6015-2 5 Ea
Purdy 144296015
Wooster 5221-2
Pro Grade 6015-2 5 Ea
• Natural bristle
• Versatile
• Angular or Flat trim
• China/Ox bristle blend
• Silver tip
• 2.5-inch width
• Quality bristles
• Wooden handle
• Multi-purpose
• Synthetic
• Durable
• Comfortable grip
Premium Option
Purdy 144296015
Purdy 144296015
• Natural bristle
• Versatile
• Angular or Flat trim
• China/Ox bristle blend
Editor’s Choice
Wooster 5221-2
Wooster 5221-2
• Silver tip
• 2.5-inch width
• Quality bristles
• Wooden handle
Budget Option
Pro Grade 6015-2 5 Ea
Pro Grade 6015-2 5 Ea
• Multi-purpose
• Synthetic
• Durable
• Comfortable grip

Reviews of the Top Brushes for Polyurethane Application

1. Wooster Brush 5221-2 1/2

When it comes to applying polyurethane to medium-sized woodworking tasks or furniture pieces, I’ve often turned to this Wooster brush with a 2.5-inch wide silver tip. This width strikes a balance, allowing both broad sweeps and detailed work.

With the tapered bristles, you can get into tight spaces and cover the whole surface. The brush’s sleek wooden handle is also ergonomically designed to fit your hand, giving you complete command of each stroke.

The polyester-filament synthetic bristles of the Wooster 5221-2 also allow for a delicate touch and a silky smooth surface. The soft bristles are kept firmly in place by the brushed steel ferrule, which is also resistant to corrosion and rust.

What I Like

What I Don't Like

2. 1-1/2" Purdy 144296015 Ox-O-Angular

This Purdy XL brush is manufactured with a combination of white China bristle and ox hair, perfect for applying oil-based polyurethane with ease and resilience. The bristles also stay put in the brush thanks to its sturdy ferrule.

The Purdy 144296014 also has 1.5 inches of tapered bristles, making it easy to reach into tight spaces and cover all surfaces.

Beyond polyurethane, I’ve successfully used this brush with various oil-based coatings, including lacquer, paint, varnish, and enamel. Another feature worth mentioning is the hanging hole on its slender hardwood handle—quite a thoughtful touch for easy and safe storage.

What I Like

What I Don't Like

3. Pro Grade - Paint Brushes - 5 Ea - Paint Brush Set

This budget-friendly value bundle from Pro Grade includes five quality brushes that are ideal for applying polyurethane.

Both a flat brush and a tapered brush, each measuring 1.5 inches in length, are included in the set; the former is designed for use on thin pieces and unusual angles, while the latter is best suited for cleaning sharp corners and edges.

The Pro Grade brush set features polyester filament bristles that are held securely in place by a stainless steel ferrule, which is also resistant to rust and corrosion. Each brush has a wooden handle shaped for a firm grip which is a nice feature.

What I Like

What I Don't Like

4. Wooster 3103-1 1/2 3103-1-1/2 Foam King Paintbrush

For tasks involving smaller items like chair legs, bird feeders, or mailboxes, I often turn to this foam brush from the Wooster Brush Company. Unlike other options in the market, its bristles do not fall out, bend or break. 

The Wooster 3103-1 is 1.5 inches wide, which is just right for seamless application of water and oil-based polyurethane on a relatively limited area.

The Wooster foam brush can flex and curve for optimal outcomes while the hardcore keeps the ferrule and handle in place. Given its affordable price point and durability, I highly recommend it if you’re dabbling in DIY projects or a beginner.

What I Like

What I Don't Like

5. 2" Purdy 144152320 XL Glide Angled Sash Paint Brush

This Purdy 144152320 XL brush has synthetic bristles constructed from a blend of nylon and polyester, readily absorbing water-based polyurethane to leave a smooth, uniform coating. The brush’s sleek oak handle makes it simple to exert control over each stroke.

The brush’s bristles are protected from wear and tear by a brushed copper ferrule that is resistant to rust and corrosion. I often reach for this brush when finishing door moldings, window shutters, and similar woodworking projects.

With a breadth of 2 inches, this brush is well suited for prolonged, sweeping motions, while the tapered bristles allow for precise application in confined spaces.

What I Like

What I Don't Like

6. Wooster Brush Q3108-4 Paintbrush

For larger surfaces to cover like a wall, table, or door, I often reach for the 4-inch wide brush from Wooster. It gets the job done efficiently, while I reserve the narrower synthetic brushes for those smaller to medium-sized woodworking details.

The brush’s synthetic bristles are constructed of nylon and polyester and designed to work well with water-based polyurethane to produce a smooth, even coating.

Instead of uneven, splotchy coatings, you can achieve a smooth, uniform appearance. The bristles of the Wooster Brush Q3108-4 are kept in place, and a brass-plated steel ferrule and plastic handle maintain the brush’s exceptional durability.

Next Readings: 

What I Like

What I Don't Like

7. Minwax 427350008 Polyurethane 2" Trim-Black

This polyurethane brush created by Minwax has natural bristles for wood finishes. It comes in 1.2-inch, 2-inch, and 2-inch sizes, so you can choose the right one for your project. 

This brush can apply water-based stains and finishes with ease, specifically designed for use with polyurethane. You may not know, but natural bristles are superior to synthetic ones in absorption and layer retention.

This Minwax 427350008 brush has a stainless ferrule, which works well while brushing, and the strands are so shiny they could be mistaken for glass– perfect for water-based stains and paint. It is compatible with Minwax polyurethane, too, and one of the reliable paint brushes for trim, baseboards, and more. 

What I Like

What I Don't Like

All You Need to Know About Polyurethane

Water-Based Poly

Compared to polyurethane materials made from oil, this is safer for the environment and human health. It dries rapidly, so you may apply several coats without waiting a long time. It gives the final surface a lovely look if you use it correctly.

The product may be easily cleaned with only little soapy water, so maintenance shouldn’t be too much of a hassle.

close up view Varathane 200241H Water-Based Ultimate Polyurethane

To clean, you shouldn’t use harsh chemicals like ammonia [1]. That’s bad for the final product, the ecosystem, and health. Face masks, gloves, and goggles are essential pieces of protective gear.

Oil-Based Poly

This variety of polyurethane can make surfaces that last a long time after finishing. If you want to use this polyurethane, ensure you have plenty of fresh air. 

Because of its low adhesive capabilities, oil-based polyurethane takes a long time to dry. There must be adequate ventilation because of this.

Cleaning this polyurethane will require mineral spirits. Make sure to protect your lungs and skin by donning protective clothing before application. Layering multiple coats of oil-based polyurethane is also not possible.

Water-Based Oil-Modified Poly

It dries quickly, so you won’t have to wait too long in between applications, which is a common problem with paint. This product, however, poses a potential threat to human health. Excessive exposure is harmful to the skin and lungs.

applying General Finishes Arm-R-Seal Oil-Based Finish

Wear safety equipment, including face masks, gloves, boots, and goggles, and ensure enough fresh air is around. The polyurethane treated with water and oil produces resilient and aesthetically pleasing coatings.

Why Do You Need To Use Brush for Polyurethane Application?

Brushes for polyurethane are better and more efficient than rollers, cloths, and sprayers for applying polyurethane. Utilizing the top polyurethane brush has several advantages. Among these are:

Brush for Polyurethane Buyer’s Guide

Bristles

Natural and synthetic bristles are used in brush production. Instead of bristles, some people use angled foam to apply polyurethane. Material shape, project size, and polyurethane base all play a role in determining the best brush for polyurethane.

Foam Bristles

Foam brushes are an inexpensive alternative for little projects, such as spreading polyurethane to a spice rack or birdhouse. When using a foam brush to apply polyurethane, you need to wipe it thoroughly compared to using a brush.

Natural Bristles

Animal hair produces natural bristle brushes rather than synthetic materials, makes natural bristle brushes. The badger, ox, and boar all have prevalent hair kinds. 

Hair from animals is more suited to taking up and spreading thin layers of oil-based and oil-modified polyurethane due to its structure. 

Handle

The right brush handle is crucial, so consider it carefully before buying a new one. Handles are available in a variety of sizes and thicknesses. Cleaning and maintaining a small handle is typically more straightforward.

The length of the brush’s handle should reflect the scope of the undertaking and the intended application. A shorter handle is more suited for detail work, while a longer one is better suited for broad strokes.

Ferrule and Split Ends

A ferrule’s function is to hold the bristles together and provide structural support. The bristles are the most vital component of a brush. It acts as a foundation for the bristles.

If you want the best brush, you should prioritize the durability of the ferrule. If you want the bristles to stay put and provide thin coats, the ferrule must be solid and sturdy.

The bristles’ split ends serve to increase the tool’s carrying capacity. Put another way; this allows more polyurethane to be held on the brush as you paint. The ability to split tasks in half quickly and efficiently is invaluable.

Width

Consider the size of your project or the brush’s intended use while selecting. One inch, 1.5 inches, two inches, two and a half inches, three and a half inches, and four inches are all standard brush sizes.

The careful application of polyurethane in tight spots or at odd angles calls for brushes with a width of 2 inches or less.

Application

It’s essential to consider the brush’s intended use before settling on a particular polyurethane application brush. Smaller tasks benefit more from narrower bristle or foam brushes, while bigger brushes are excellent for broad, even strokes.

Applying around four water-based poly coats or three coats of oil-derived poly is recommended when coating a frequently used item, such as a dresser or closet door.

Two or three water-based polyurethane coats or one or two coats of oil-based polyurethane are required for exhibition pieces that will stay for weeks or even months without being handled. No matter the material, you should wait at least two to three hours between coats.

Read More: Waiting Time Between Coats of Polyurethane on Hardwood Floors

Polyurethane Base: Water and Oil Types

The significant contrast and glossy finish of oil-based polyurethane highlight the wood’s intrinsic beauty. If you want professional results, use a brush with natural bristle, although a foam brush will do less significant tasks.

paint brush and Minwax Helmsman Indoor-Outdoor Spar Urethane

With water-based polyurethane, wood grain is subdued and less noticeable than with an oil-derived solution. The best brush for this is one with synthetic bristles, but a foam brush will do little carpentry jobs.

Gloss/Sheen

When painting, the shine is crucial. Various sheens are commercially available, including gloss, satin, and semi-gloss. Depending on your needs and the nature of your project, you can choose from the different sheens. 

However, flaws like markings and lines are more noticeable on a surface with a high-gloss finish. You can avoid brush marks by using the proper brush for polyurethane.

Brush Quality

If you want your work to look professional, you must invest in high-quality brushes for polyurethane that will last. 

Investing more money upfront on quality is best if you want to save time and effort while still getting a smooth finish or decent results; investing more money upfront on quality is best. 

Low-quality brushes are prone to breakage and function poorly, which can ruin your projects.

Where and How to Apply Polyurethane

Polyurethane can be used indoors and out. Remember that interior and outdoor polyurethane coatings are not compatible with one another. 

To avoid unintended consequences, always check the manufacturer’s instructions before using polyurethane to prevent unintended consequences.

The components of an internal polyurethane finish are geared toward indoor use and protect from the elements.

Spray Polyurethane On

This is the most popular application because it is quick and efficient. However, the resulting surfaces tend to be uneven and weak. This is the most effective approach for regions with challenging geometric constraints, such as corners, stairwells, grooves, and louvers.

spraying Deft DFT257 Clear Water Based Polyurethane

A sprayer is easy to clean and maintain, but you need to refer to the manufacturer’s guidelines for specifics.

Brush Polyurethane On

You will need brushes for polyurethane for this sort of application. In addition to being highly effective, a polyurethane brush requires no effort to clean. It works best on flat, smooth surfaces without leaving behind any streaks, marks, or lines.

The best part about this brush is how little you have to re-load it despite the wider area it cleans. Always apply polyurethane with a high-quality brush for the most outstanding finish possible.

Wipe Polyurethane On

This technique works particularly well in curved or limited spaces. It will be easy because it is quick and straightforward to implement. It ensures a thin, sleek, and sturdy surface finish.

How to Apply Poly with a Brush

Applying Water-Based Poly

Once you have chosen the best brush for polyurethane, you should do a comprehensive examination and set the stage to prepare the surface for the polyurethane application. To remove oil stains from wood, use synthetic steel wool.

can of polyurethane and paint brush

A properly prepared surface is essential to prevent common flaws like markings and bubbles when using water-based poly.

Pay close attention to the size of your coats, as this is crucial. Keep your coats uniform in thickness to achieve the desired look. The initial coat should be a thin application of water-based poly.

Before applying topcoats, the coatings must be hard and dry. Between one and two hours should pass between coats to ensure proper drying.

You should determine the appropriate number of coats to use in any given situation by the space’s intended function. Up to four coatings can be applied to increase the surface’s resilience to depreciation in high-traffic areas.

Applying Oil-Based Poly

For oil-based polyurethane, use a densely bristled finishing brush. It needs to get into nooks and crannies like grooves, angles, and corners. The brush must be clean and well-lubricated before use. Apply mineral spirits to the brush and let it dry completely before using it.

The parallel coating technique is beneficial for keeping the thickness of multiple coats uniform and avoiding imperfections like markings and lines.

In less trafficked areas, three coats of polyurethane may be all that’s needed. Three coats or more make it withstand wear and tear in high-traffic areas that see frequent use by people or furniture.

Applying polyurethane requires first wiping down the surface with a clean cloth or damp rag to remove any dust that may impede its adhesion.

Before adding more coats, make sure the previous ones have dried completely. It’s unacceptable to keep waiting for at most three hours. But how many poly coats do you really need to apply? Learn more. 

applying oil based stain

You can get the surface prepared for subsequent layers while waiting by sanding it with 320-grit paper. Sanding requires greater caution so that the initial coatings are not damaged.

Useful Tips When Using a Poly Brush

Preparation

The first step is to smooth the wood with 220-grit paper. Clear any dust from the surfaces before you start. A dust buster would be helpful for this purpose. Clean the area with a fresh rag. You can use pure methylated spirits–drenched rags to remove water-based polyurethane.

Maintain a uniform and smooth surface by filling in any imperfections. Walnut, oak, and other hardwoods are all suitable for coating with polyurethane.

Application

The most crucial aspect of dealing with polyurethane is ensuring that all safety precautions are taken and followed. Always use safety equipment such as goggles, gloves, and masks. You might inhale or absorb toxic compounds in polyurethane via the skin.

Water-based and oil-based poly has dangerous compounds, so ensure adequate ventilation before opening any polyurethane container. There can’t be any dirt or debris in the working area, or it’ll get all over the surface and ruin it.

painting wooden furniture with Varathane 200241H Water-Based Ultimate Polyurethane

Before beginning to paint, you should wet the brush because stiff bristles might leave markings and streaks on the layer if used on it.

You can lubricate water-based polyurethane with water, but if you are to apply oil-based polyurethane, it requires mineral spirits. Get the brush completely dry before using it again.

Check how much paint your brush can hold and load. If you use the same amount of color everywhere, the coverage won’t change. The dripping issue will negatively impact the outcome of your job.

Use a horizontal or flat approach to avoid drips ruining your work. If this doesn’t work, try spraying the paint on or applying it with a clean rag to prevent dripping and get a professional-looking painted surface.

FAQ

Can you use a nylon brush for poly application?

Yes, you can. Synthetic bristles are often made of nylon or polyester. However, these substrates are not appropriate for oil-based polyurethane. 

They may not provide the best results as they tend to leave visible brush strokes and may not evenly distribute the polyurethane. But they work well with water-based varieties and can provide a smooth finish. 

How do I prevent brush marks when applying polyurethane?

If you want the smoothest surface possible before applying polyurethane, sand it down with 220-grit sandpaper first. Then, use a clean towel to wipe down the surface, removing any dirt or dust particles. Apply the polyurethane in layers, waiting 2 to 4 hours in between applications.

How do I prevent bubbles when applying polyurethane?

You can use mineral spirits to keep water-based polyurethane in good condition. Postponing the start of the setting time is a good tactic as well. When bubbles begin to rise to the surface, adding additives, a retarder, or a thinner can help. More tips for applying polyurethane without bubbles here! 

Why do you use natural filament-type of bristles?

A natural bristle is recommended because it can withstand the oil-based polyurethane’s mineral deposits without losing its form. Water-based polyurethane cannot be cleaned using a natural-bristled brush since the bristles would absorb the water and produce streaks. 

My Top Pick For a Brush for Polyurethane: Wooster 5221-2 1/2

Among these products I’ve listed, I chose the Wooster 5221-2 as the best brush for polyurethane. This brush is designed for use with water-based or latex paints and is suitable for a variety of surfaces. 

It also features a firm and durable synthetic brush head, and a comfortable grip handle, and can provide good paint control and a smooth polyurethane finish.

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Robert Johnson is a passionate furniture maker & carpenter, sought after for his knowledge on the craft.
You’ve probably seen his down-to-earth wisdom in USA Today, Bobvila, Family Handyman, and The Spruce, where he has shared commentary and guidance on various woodworking topics.

Robert is the brain behind Sawinery, where he aims to share tips, tricks, and a passion for all things carpentry.

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