Whether you are reviving an old wooden floor or sprucing up some wooden furniture getting a good finish on your varnish is critical. The good news it is easy to do, particularly with a few clever tricks, so this is a project well with the reach of any DIY enthusiast.
When it comes to tips on varnishing the best are from wooden boat enthusiasts as they take serious pride in their boats and of course boats tend to experience more extreme conditions than most of the projects that we tackle around the home. Thankfully we do not need to be quite so fanatical, but there is a lot we can learn.
Here’s the best tips for varnish in your home:
- Before you start make sure that you have the right type of varnish for the project you are planning. For home improvement there are a range of varnishes and stains, which we explain in more detail in this project, and you’ll typically need the right one for your project. Wooden boating enthusiasts might start with a couple of coats of one type and finish off with a different type!
- Preparation is everything. Varnishes tend to accentuate rather than hid bumps, stains or blemishes. You need to work hard to get rid of these as far as possible which generally means a lot of vigorous sanding
- Varnish stripping tips. Always sand with the grain as this will reduce bumps and divots. Stripping varnish is never going to be a nice or easy job but we make it more pleasant by using a water based stripper which is just as effective as a caustic solvent based stripper. Our choice is the Eco Solutions Home Strip Paint and Varnish Remover
- Pick a good day. This is one from the boat enthusiasts as they are typically going to be outside when they varnish. Nonetheless it is good advice; wind can blow dust, dirt or worse on to your drying varnish. Direct sunlight can cause the varnish to dry too fast or unevenly and then crack or wrinkle. You shouldn’t have an issue with the temperature but it is worth checking the instructions on the tin to make sure it’s not too hot or cold
- Using thinners. In most circumstances wooden boat enthusiasts will thin their varnish when painting bare wood or the first coat at least. This allows the varnish to penetrate the wood better and get a much better bond. This is often a good idea for your home improvement projects too; we suggest about 10% thinner. The type of thinner will depend of the solvent or possibly water that the varnish has been made from, so read the label carefully
- Do a test application first before applying in a highly visible place. If you are going to thin your varnish or use a stain we recommend testing it first so you can get a feel for it and see how it will work out when dry
- Don’t shake the can as this causes bubbles which can be a pain when painting it on. You shouldn’t need to stir varnish either except if you are thinning it down (see point 5 above)
- Paint with the grain to get a smooth and even coating. Brush towards the already varnished area as this will blend between strokes better
- Use a good brush. This is less important for the earlier coats, but for the final coat it is worth using a high quality brush. Make sure that it is clean and ideally has not been used for paint in the past as the solvent in the varnish might cause the paint colour to bleed into the varnish. For home improvement varnish application it is possible to use a roller in many cases
- Use steady strokes. Jabbing and prodding can cause bubbles and an uneven application which will need to be sanded back once dry
- Sand down the varnish surface lightly between coats. Don’t take the coat off but remove all bumps and ridges from the brush bristles. This will help to create a smoother surface
- Hoover between coats. In fact before varnishing you should vacuum the surface to get rid of as much dust as you can. Dust is the enemy! It causes bumps and a rough surface
- Work systematically, along a couple of boards at a time for example, so that you don’t miss a bit. It sounds crazy but it is very easily done on the 2nd or 3rd coat as it hard to see what has been painted and what has not
- If a fly lands on your varnish don’t bother trying to pick it out. It is easier to sand it out once the varnish has dried
- How many coats? You can never apply too many but there will be guidance on the tin that you use. We’d always recommend ‘one more for luck’ because while you are already there adding another coat is so much less effort than re-sanding and starting all over again, which could be the alternative before too long
- Give it time to dry. Even it is feels dry but the tin say leave a couple of days before walking on it, make sure you don’t. Some varnishes cure with a chemical reaction and this might take some time to happen up to 3 days. If you walk on it before it’s ready you could crack or wrinkle the surface and then it is irreparable. See more here about how different types of varnish work
Thankfully the finish and durability that we need when varnishing our homes is nothing compared to that which is required for a beautiful wooden boat.