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Hey guys. Trying to get a real nice smooth clear has been tough. I've been using the water base general finish gloss clear and I either am not doing it right or I just don't like the product.

Two things:

1. I have a cabinet that is poplar/wormy maple/poplar (planks joined together in that order). The wormy maple...ok pretty smooth and clear...the poplar...kinda fuzzy, semi smooth, kinda spotty. Well is it just soaking up the clear? I've done a ton of coats.

2. What I would really like to see is a thick protective gloss coating. (I don't want to buy the clear Bar Top hardening stuff) just maybe a new product. Spray or brush. The water base general finish just doesn't give me what I want.
 

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Sounds to me like the poplar grain is "raising", and the maple is probably as well, but much less. Raising is from the water in the finish and is easy enough to solve. You can seal coat the piece with shellac, but that adds a step and maybe some coloring you don't want. Or, just sand it smooth after the first coat of your waterborne, with a very fine grit paper. Then the fibers are locked in place by the first coat, the surface of the finish should be smooth, and the next coat will restore the sheen. The part about "kinda spotty" may (or may not) be solved with this, not exactly sure what that means, especially if you've applied a "ton of coats".
 

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IF you have applied multiple coats as you say, and it is still "fuzzy", and I assume you have been sanding between coats, my only guess as to the fuzziness is that you are over sanding and re-exposing the wood to the water-base finish. I can think of no other explanation for the fuzziness. I am also assuming that by "fuzzy" you are referring to how it feels, not a visual description. When you say "general finish", is this a brand? If so, and it is the same company that makes tools, it may be the quality of the finish. Their tools are not top notch. Personally, I do not like the results of water based finishes, overall. BUT, you should still be getting a hard, smooth, clear finish from it.
 

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When you say "general finish", is this a brand?
General Finish is a manufacturer of stains and finishes, nothing to do with the General tools.

GF make good quality products.

As other replies mentioned, sealing with Zinsser SealCoat may be needed to seal the pores and prevent the poplar grain from raising with the water.

For water based urethane, I like GF's Enduro-Var.

http://www.woodcraft.com/product/2081078/30234/general-finishes-endurovar-top-coat-gloss-pint.aspx

This goes on thicker than other water based finishes, but not as thick as oil based.

3 or 4 coats should be sufficient. You need to wait several days for the finish to fully cure. It will eventually be a decent hard coating, but not fast cure.

Light sanding between the coats just to remove any dust nibs. If you get runs wait for it to cure before you sand smooth.
 

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One thing you could try on your next project is after your final sanding, rub it with plain water, let it dry, sand with 220/320, rub or wet with water again and sand again. This will raise the grain twice, and should be more stable when you apply your finish. I do that to all my projects and always come out with a very smooth finish after the second coat.
 
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