Minwax vs Varathane

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Not sure whether to choose Minwax or Varathane products for your wood refinishing projects? Stuck deciding between oil-based and water-based finishes? To help you make these decisions, we’re going to take an in-depth look at these brands and some of their products. We’ll also take a look at some common wood finishing questions.

Keep reading for our Minwax vs Varathane comparison.

Wood applied with both minwax and varathane

What is Minwax?

Minwax is a brand that has been manufacturing wood preparation and finishing products for more than a century. This company is known for products that deliver excellent protection for your wood which last a long time.

You can find a wide variety of oil-based and water-based options in several different colors, such as black, brown, blue, grey, walnut, and more. Though two or three coats are typically required to achieve the color you want, you know you’ll receive excellent quality with Minwax’s line.

Man comparing Minwax vs Varathane

What is Varathane?

Varathane is another brand that dedicates itself to wood finishing and preparation products. Some of their line includes highly reviewed wood fillers, wood stains, refinishers, and pre-stain wood conditioners. Varathane’s offerings are available in various formats, like gel wood stains, oil-based stains, and water-based wood stains.

One reason users turn to this company is for the fast drying time, which helps you complete projects faster.

Minwax vs Varathane

Now let’s take a closer look at Minwax vs. Varathane, starting with a brief comparison of each brand’s most popular wooden stain offerings.

Finishing Wax

  • Minwax Paste Finishing Wax: Of Minwax’s line, the Minwax Finish Wax is the best product to finish wood, though Minwax’s polyurethane and polycrylic also do the job. Use it to add shine and protection and achieve a smooth texture.
  • Varathane Finishing: Varathane has several products for finishing, including polyurethane and paste finishing wax. The latter seals wood against humidity and gives a nice shine. One negative to these stains is that the penetration is shallow.

Polyshades

  • Minwax Polyshade: This product is oil-based, and it works to safeguard the color of the polyurethane. Minwax polyshades require two coats, and they take a long time to dry.
  • Varathane Polyshades: Polyshades from Varathane combine polyurethane and wood stains. They waterproof your wood and take less time to dry than Minwax, but they often dry unevenly.

Wood Stains

  • Minwax Wood Stains: Minwax Wood stains are available in water-based and oil-based polyurethane varieties and enhance the wood’s natural qualities. The water-based versions come in nearly thirty color varieties.
  • Varathane Wood Stains: Varathane Wood stains allow you to obtain a rich color with just one application. These wood stains tend to have a glossy tint and offer excellent durability. They protect against water damage.
Minwax polycrylic

Differences Between Minwax and Varathane

Now it’s time for Minwax and Varathane to go head to head. Here’s how they stack up across several different categories that are vital in wood finishing.

Surfaces

Whether you prefer water-based or oil-based products, it’s critical to ensure that you’re using stains appropriate for the kind of surface you’re treating. 

Minwax offers a wide variety of products that are well suited to practically any kind of wood that lives in interiors. You can use them on furniture, cabinets, molding, floors, doors, and trim, for example. Additionally, Minwax’s products can be used on surfaces, whether they’re finished, unfinished, or bare wood.

On the other hand, Varathane’s products are slightly less versatile. They’re best suited to finished interior wooden surfaces, such as cabinets and furniture.

Oil-Based or Water-Based

If you’re new to wooden finishes, it’s vital to note that these products are available in either oil-based or water-based versions.

Oil and water-based finishes have different pros and cons, and you should be aware of what those are before choosing one. Mostly, they deliver quite different results, which we take a closer look at below.

Both Minwax and Varathane offer a wide selection of oil and water-based polyurethane, though Minwax’s polyshades are only available in oil-based versions.

Strength

While one of the principal reasons for treating wood is to make it look beautiful, another important reason is to add protection. You want your project to look nice for a long time and stay in good shape. A quality product should provide long-term protection against dents, scratches, humidity, high temperatures, and spills.

When it comes to durability, Varathane outperforms Minwax. Most of their line includes oil-based products, which handle high temperatures and protect better than water-based products do.

Penetration

Wood finishing should penetrate deep into the wood’s surface, which makes the surface scratch resistant. It also means that the wood resists peeling for longer.

Minwax finish is a clear winner here. Their products penetrate much better than Varathane’s, whether we’re talking about paste finishing wax, wood stains (both water-based and oil-based), or polyshades.

Stained wood

Number of Coats

Just like with other kinds of paints, wooden finishes may require more than one coat. The recommended number of coats is a critical factor to keep in mind before purchasing a water-based or oil-based wood finish. If you have to apply several coats, you will spend more time finishing the wood, and the price of your project can increase.

The clear winner in this category is Varathane, which requires only one coat to get the results you want. You’ll achieve a thick and beautiful finish after just one application. On the other hand, Minwax’s water-based products require at least two, and sometimes three, to achieve the color you want.

Waterproof

If your wood will live outside, finding a finish that’s waterproof is critical to its health and longevity. A waterproof finish keeps wood looking beautiful and safe from the elements, so you won’t have to worry about it rotting.

In this case, choose a Varathane product over Minwax, which will prevent water from entering your wood surfaces.

Dry Time

Extended dry time can turn a fun project into an unbearable one and should be carefully considered before starting. If you’re short on time, it’s best to go with Varathane. Their products have a super short dry time as compared to Minwax, which dries much slower.

Of course, a vital component of dry time is how many coats you need to get the right finish. As we mentioned, Minwax also requires several coats, which, combined with extended drying time, can significantly slow down your whole project.

Texture

When it comes to delivering the smoothest finish possible, Varathane beats Minwax in this category. You’ll get a silky smooth finish with no brush strokes.

Prices

Finally, price is another crucial consideration, and there’s quite a bit of difference between these Minwax and Varathane when it comes to cost.

On the whole, Minwax products are significantly cheaper than Varathane finishes. But as we’ve demonstrated, Varathane outperforms Minwax in several categories, a factor that may push you towards the more expensive option.

Another thing to keep in mind is that you generally need a lot more of Minwax’s products to complete your project. In the end, the total project cost may be similar if you have a lot of wood to finish.

How To Choose a Finish

Choosing a finish can make your head spin, mostly because there are so many options available. Ultimately, the finish that’s best for you depends on your requirements. Here are some questions to keep in mind.

Table with wood finish
  • Do you prefer a color or colorless wooden finish? A colorless finish helps the wood retain its natural beauty, and you can achieve this with oil-based or polyurethane. Minwax’s Dark Walnut finish or Varathane’s Classic Wood Stain Espresso are two colors that can help bring out the wood’s natural beauty.
  • How much sheen do you like? Sheen is a matter of personal preference; there is no best option here. Lacquer tends to be glossy, and oils are generally matte or satin.
  • How much durability and resilience do you need? Exterior woods require more durable and resilient finishes, like the ones lacquer, paint, varnish, and polyurethane provide. Oils and stains, on the other hand, are appropriate for interior woods that need less protection.
  • How long will the application take? How long will it take to dry? Polyurethane oils require several coats, while lacquers and paint need just one. Make sure the finish you choose has a drying time that’s appropriate for your project. 

Are Water-Based or Oil-Based Polyurethanes Better?

In the water-based or oil-based debate, there are advantages and disadvantages to each. Both finishes offer about the same level of protection for your wood, but the principal difference is in the appearance.

Many DIYers and professionals alike consider oil-based polyurethane to be the clear winner. Oil-based polyurethane is more cost effective, provides longer-lasting finishing, and looks better. Oil-based polyurethane also delivers greater depth, better color, and more intense shine. Water-based products tend to be dull right from the start.

The downside to oil-based polyurethane is that you have to put up with strong odors as you’re working, and the drying times are long. But for lots of people, this tradeoff is well worth the bright, intense color results they get from oil-based finishes.

Why Is Wood Preparation Important?

Wood preparation is the process of preparing wooden surfaces for treatment. It includes various steps, such as dust removal, sanding, and filling imperfections or nail holes with putty or wood filler. The aim of wood preparation is to ensure a flat and smooth surface.

This process is so critical because of what happens when you apply a finish—which is that the wood’s natural grain and beauty is enhanced. However, finishes also amplify defects, making it vital to address imperfections beforehand. Additionally, if the wood is not properly prepared, you may encounter difficulties getting the color to absorb.

What Is the Difference Between Varathane and Polyurethane?

You may have seen these terms used interchangeably, but Varathane is a brand name, whereas polyurethane refers to a kind of resin used to make wood finishing.

Conclusion

By now, you’ve probably seen that Varathane outperformed its rival in the Varathane vs. Minwax wood finishing matchup. The reason mostly has to do with the fact that you need just one coat of a Varathane product to obtain the same results that you would with its Minwax counterpart. The overall drying time of Varathane is another critical factor.  

For these reasons, we would recommend Varathane, despite the added cost, as this brand will best allow you to get your wood projects done much faster. However, at the end of the day, the decision is up to you. Minwax products certainly have their place; for example, for someone who is just getting started or someone who prefers a thinner coat.

Whatever your preference, both of these brands are well respected and can give you the wooden finishing results you’re after.

An expert at home repair, remodel, and DIY projects for nearly 40 years. His first experience came in completely restoring an antique home. Completely redone from the inside out, and restored to its original form, the home is a featured design by renowned Southern California Architect Cliff May, considered to be the father of the California Ranch Home. Now Dennis spends his time on fine woodworking projects and tool comparisons.