Water-based and widely ignored - What can be done?

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Water-based and widely ignored
The need to adjust
Manufacturers' role
What can be done?
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Some manufacturers also tend to muddy the understanding of water-based finishes with their naming practices. You can find water-based finishes that are essentially the same (in that they contain water and cure in the same way) labeled lacquer, varnish, polyurethane, pre-cat, etc. In some cases this is so blatant you have to look for the clean-up solvent listed in small print on the back of the can to learn that the finish is really water based.

This level of attempted deception — that is, trying to make you think the finish is something else — doesn't exist with other professional finishes.

What can be done?
We are all in favor of protecting the environment, and water-based finishes help do this. But clearly, the present strategy of persuading shops to switch isn't working. Few of them are willing to take on the effort and expense necessary.

I suggest two changes in the marketing of water-based finishes that may make them more acceptable: promote the health benefits more than the environmental benefits, and create an industry-wide standard for naming and application procedures.

Small cabinet and furniture shops rarely have an exhaust set-up that totally eliminates solvent fumes. Solvent finishes, for example, out-gas for hours after each coat of finish is applied, but the exhaust fan is rarely left running during this time. As a result, the noxious fumes usually filter through the shop, irritating employees to the point that they don't feel all that well at the end of the day.

Water-based finishes don't out-gas anywhere near the quantity of noxious fumes, so the workplace becomes a healthier environment. This is an advantage all finishers can understand and appreciate. Almost every finisher I've ever talked to who has switched to water-based cites how much better he or she feels as a result.

A big factor that makes solvent-based more user-friendly than water-based is the industry-wide understanding of the finishes. There's virtually no formal education available for finishers, so most learn what they know primarily by trial and error. When suppliers make exaggerated claims for their products (and sometimes misname them as well), finishers become frustrated. Much of the incentive they may have had to switch is lost.

Because they are inherently resistant to change anyway, many just continue using what they are accustomed to, even to the point of breaking the law to do so.

It would be so much better if the water-based suppliers got together in some way and standardized the naming and the solutions to the common problems, including making the solvents that solve problems (propylene glycols and glycol ethers) widely available — such as lacquer retarder. The goal should be to make the knowledge needed to successfully apply water-based finishes as widely known and accepted as it is with lacquer.

Instead of competing to take market share from others, adopt a policy of raising all boats.