Re: Clear coating
I agree, it's probably the poly that you're trying to use. If it's MinWax, put the lid on it and return it to the store, it's absolute garbage! MinWax makes good stains, but their polys are absolutely horrendous.
I'm a McKloskie's fan. I've used their satin, semi-gloss, and gloss polys and always got a great finish. Most of the time I use a foam brush. The first coat tends to bubble a bit, partly because of the brush, partly because of the dry wood. I never have to worry about over-working McKloskie's, though you should try to minimize your strokes if you can which helps to minimize the bubbles.
You always buff the surface with fine sand paper, brass wool, or a scrubby sponge between coats. This not only knocks the tops off the bubbles, it roughens the surface slightly for better adhesion of the subsequent coat.
I suffer from CDO ... Its like OCD, but in alphabetical order, LIKE IT SHOULD BE!!!