Coatings for Wood Finishing

Alternative Coatings for Wood Finishing

Low VOC finishes may contain higher solids content, non-VOC solvents or water. Types of low VOC wood finishes include: high solids coatings, laminates, ultraviolet (UV) curable coatings, waterborne finishes, and powder coatings. Information about suppliers of these finishes can be found in MnTAP’s reference list, Low-VOC, low-HAP, UV, & waterborne wood finishes suppliers.

Waterborne Finishes

Waterborne finishes use water instead of conventional solvents as the major carrying medium for the finishes’ solids. Using a waterborne finish can significantly reduce VOC air emissions. This can result in reduced regulatory compliance burdens.

With assistance from MnTAP, Pine-Tique, a furniture manufacturer in Minnetonka, successfully piloted a low-VOC waterborne wood finish. Through the trial MnTAP found that Pine-Tique could reduce VOCs by 80% and eliminate its HAPs The company reduced its hazardous waste from equipment cleanup. Another company, Automated Building Components (ABC), a millwork manufacturer in Chanhassen, says its employees are physically more comfortable since the switch to waterborne wood finish. Employees have fewer headaches and less sick days. Employees at ABC recognize the health and safety benefits of making the switch from a solvent-based finish to a waterbased finish.

Waterborne finishes release less fumes and pollutants than solvent-based finishes, improving employee working conditions significantly. Improved indoor air quality may lead to a higher production rate and better employee morale.

Although many benefits exist when using waterborne finishes, the process of finding and converting to alternative coatings takes time. The facility must consider many factors and be willing to alter its processes to successfully implement an alternative coating system. Review these tips by MnTAP before considering converting to alternate coatings.

Company Examples

  • Crystal Cabinet Works (2011). The company switched to applying a water-based adhesive using high-volume/low-pressure spray guns and added infrared curing.
  • Aaron Carlson Company (2003). The intern at this company developed a list of suppliers of waterbased lacquers by establishing criteria for judging the quality of the finish and completing tests to compare lacquers.

UV Curable Coatings

UV coatings can only be used for interior applications and as a sealer or filler coat for exterior applications. A RadTech Report article (May/June 1999), UV Curing for Wood Applications [PDF 90KB], describes the main chemical classes used in UV wood-coatings, and has an at-a-glance table showing how they compare. Another table shows a physical property comparison of UV cured epoxy acrylate and two non-UV waterborne coatings. Overall, the benefits of UV curable coatings include:

  • A fast curing time reduces grain raise and dust
  • Lower grain raise sometimes eliminates the need for sanding between the sealer and topcoat, saving time
  • A fast curing time saves floor space by allowing the product to be immediately stacked
  • UV coatings typically cost less than conventional coatings
  • UV coatings can reduce VOC’s by 90 to 100%

Learn more about UV curable coatings here.

Company Examples

Powder Coatings

Powder coatings are making great improvements in their ability to finish wood products. Many of the “fabricated” fiber-board products are able to handle curing temperatures. Shelving, white boards and other similar wood products are now being powder coated. The powder coating industry is working to improve technology and materials to successfully coat other wood products. Learn more about powder coating on MDF.

Company Examples

  • Herman Miller Adds Powder Coating (2002). The furniture manufacturer is able to create interesting and unusual shapes for its state-of-the-art workstations by using powder coating technologies. Courtesy of PF Online.
  • Aaron Carlson Company (2003). The intern at this company developed a list of suppliers of waterbased lacquers by establishing criteria for judging the quality of the finish and completing tests to compare lacquers.


Although not technically a wood finish, laminates are an alternative to traditional finishes. Laminates offer superior durability and reduced air emissions compared to other wood finishes.

Additional Information

Wood Finishing Tips