Varnish, is for many owners is the favorite way to show off the
beauty of the wood and their boat.
On wooden boats I believe it is best to stick to the
based boat varnish.
Or the natural sheen and ease of maintenance of an oiled finish.
However, maintaining that glossy varnish finish doesn't have to be a
your Boat Varnish.
To keep boat varnish looking smart
requires regular maintenance.
UV rays (sunlight), is the
major cause of damage to a
good quality marine varnishes contain UV blockers.
Unfortunately these do
eventually break down allowing the
UV light to penetrate to the base layers.
And when it does the base coat
will begin to deteriorate
and start to separate from the wood leaving you with those horrible
Once the varnish has reached
that stage the only option
is to strip it all off and start again.
To avoid this
need to renew the UV protection by regularly sanding back and replacing
How often this needs
will depend on the amount of
sun it is exposed to, generally once in the spring then again at the
end of the
season should be sufficient.
Not only will this top up the
UV protection but it will
fill up any scratches or cracks and your varnish will get better
And filling those scratches
will prevent moisture from
getting underneath the base coat which will also damage the varnish to
Here is a quick rough guide to
when your varnish needs freshen up.
Give it a good wash, then when it is still wet the water should form
beads on the surface.
If the water forms sheets or flattish streaks it's time to re-do that
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Even where you are merely touching up
sound boat varnish, the surface
must be sanded to provide a key so the new varnish will adhere well.
Varnish should always be
sanded with a fine grit, 150 or
less, a course paper will leave scratches which will be impossible to
For boat varnish work, always
sand along the direction of
the grain of the wood and not across it, so it really needs to be done
Where old varnish is lifting,
blistered or has flaked it
is better to take it all off and start again than to try to patch it
Start off with a long handled
scraper, this is the type
of job they are designed for.
If there is a lot of thick
varnish to be removed you
could resort to a hot air gun and a hook scraper or if you are feeling
I have found that chemical
strippers are messy, hazardous
to use and work out quite expensive, I'd rather take my chances with
Once you have got the old
varnish off, or if you are
starting from bare wood you then need to give the area a good
"I can't wait for the oil wells to run dry, for the last gob of black, sticky muck to come oozing out of some remote well. Then the glory of sail will return." (Triston Jones)
the surface of
the bare wood the better will be the final finish.
Finish off with a cabinet
scraper to get a really fine,
Take care if you are sanding
down plywood, the last thing
you want is to go through that top veneer.
Before beginning varnishing
is imperative that you clean off all traces of dust.
A vacuum cleaner is the most
effective method for
removing sanding dust.
Then finish off by wiping the
surface with a 'tack
rag', a lint free cloth damped with white spirit or denatured
Where the wood has become
discolored you can try using a
chemical wood cleaner, but they are not something I have had any
I have found that wood
cleaners merely bleach out the
natural color of the wood without entirely removing the stain, but then
I didn't read the instructions properly.
If you intend using masking
tape use the blue plastic
variety or the bright colored electrical tape, it can be left on for
still peel off cleanly.
There may be occasions when
you wish to remove unsightly
the surface before re-varnishing. wood
This is usually done with
bleach solutions such as
, just be aware that these are rather nasty chemicals. oxalic
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I'd just like to point out that I'm
referring to the type of
stain which soaks right into the wood and dyes it.
There are a number of propriety wood applications which promise
enhanced UV protection but which are basically pigmented emulsions
which coat the wood, in my humble opinion a coat of paint would look
But then I have never had a very satisfactory result from using
They are not easy to use and the colors will alter as they dry and with
time and UV light.
However if you really
feel you must use a stain, the wood must be completely bare with no
varnish grease etc to prevent the dye soaking
And you should have
completed all the surface
preparation, sanding etc.
Try out the stain on a
scrap piece of the same
wood first to check how it is going to look.
These dyes soak into the
wood, so once they are
on you'll find them difficult to alter, you might be able to sand
them back a certain amount.
Most dyes are spirit
based so they can be diluted
with a solvent or white spirit.
For best results apply
liberally then wipe off
The stain must of course
be completely dry before
you begin varnishing.
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A good quality, fine, natural
bristle brush is a must if you
want a good finish to your boat varnish.
New brushes usually need
a good clean before use,
to get rid of any shop dust and help prevent any bristle
Clean and store boat
varnish brushes by
suspending them, with the bristles fully submerged, in raw linseed
When you're ready to use
them squeeze out
the excess oil then rinse a couple of times in turpentine.
When you have finished
varnishing, rinse off the
excess boat varnish with turpentine before putting the brush back in
Suspending the brush in
the oil rather than
allowing it to rest on the bristles will keep the bristles
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If you are varnishing
outside wait for a dry day with little wind to blow dust around..
The reason for priming the
wood, whether for painting or
varnishing is to create a good bond between the wood and the
The traditional method when
varnishing is to use thinned
varnish for the initial coats.
there are several clear primers available which purport to penetrate
into the wood and create a stronger bond.
However they aren't cheap and
they create a hard
coat which would be best avoided on any areas which flex.
And besides, the traditional,
cheaper method seems to
have worked fine on countless boats for many years.
So, to get that first sealer
coat of boat varnish to
penetrate deeply it needs to be thinned fifty/fifty with mineral
When brushing out the boat
varnish, finish off by brushing with the grain.
Most of this first coat should
soak into the wood leaving
very little gloss on the surface.
This first coat will raise a 'nap' on the
surface which will need to be sanded flat before any subsequent
Use a fine grit sandpaper and
remember to sand along the
direction of the grain, then remove every trace of dust.
The second coat need only be
thinned by about twenty-five
Sand again and touch up any
bare spots then sand again
before going on to applying un-thinned coats of boat varnish.
Two coats is the minimum you
Foe best results keep priming
and sanding until the
surface is sufficiently flat and smooth.
If you need to speed up the
process you can use an
accelerator or Japan drier.
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you are satisfied with the base coats allow them at least 24 hours to
Then after a final sanding and
clean up you can begin
coating with un-thinned boat varnish.
Pour enough varnish for one
coat into a small container
then reseal the can to keep the remaining varnish from being
When brushing out the
finish off by brushing with the grain.
Take care with this coat as
any runs, sags, dust or loose
bristles will stay to haunt you later.
The aim is to brush on and
even film which is sufficient
to cover but thin enough not to sag or run.
From now on you only want a
very light sanding between
coats using a 220 grit sand paper or less.
How many coats is up to you
but the very minimum is three
preferably five or more.
Then, after all that careful
work you need to maintain
the finish and UV protection by giving it a coat or two every few month
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keen on using rollers but if you have large flat areas to cover it
might be the
ideal solution for you.
Basically you will be
following the procedures for
brushing except that the roller will speed up the process of applying
The problem with the roller is
that it tends to produce
bubbles and leave a mottled finish so it needs to be 'tipped' with
a brush or a painting pad.
The 'tipping', as the name
very lightly dragging a dry brush or pad over the wet varnish.
Advocates say that it is a
quicker method of applying
boat varnish than brushing, yet to get a good finish requires two
rolling on the varnish while another follows closely with a bush to do
And all the awkward spots and
edges still need to
Still, I suppose that if you
have one or two helpers who
are not very good at brushing it might be a good way to get everyone
The person doing the 'tipping'
should be the
best at using a brush.
The person on the roller wets
it out thoroughly, taking
care not to spray drips.
The 'tipper' then follows
lightly brushing it out.
It is important that the two
work in consort, so that the
tipper can keep up with the roller and always be working on wet
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Tung Oil - Pint
from: Rockler Woodworking and Hardware
and tars are probably the oldest form of wood protection used by boat
They are particularly
useful for working boats
which spend a lot of time in wet conditions.
Unlike boat varnish they
remain soft and move with the
wood so they don't crack.
And because they penetrate
become part of the wood surface they don't have to rely on a surface
so they won't peel.
They won't give the same high gloss as varnish, however, many folk
(including me) prefer this look as well as the lack of fuss
will however darken the
wood and the traditional
straight wood oils will soon become dull when exposed to the
For the pleasure boater who
likes the oiled finish there
are several products which combine the benefits of a natural barrier
finishers which will retain the shine.
They are two part products, a
penetrating oil to
waterproof the wood then a top layer which bonds and provides a lasting
Oils can be easily applied by
brush, a cloth or with a
pad of synthetic wire wool.
Initial coats of Tung or
linseed oil should be thinned
and after each coat excess oil should be wiped off with a rag.
Pine tar or Stockholm Tar
is worth having on board any boat if only for the wonderful smell.
A sniff of Stockholm tar is
supposed to be a
sailor's cure for a hangover, so I'm told.
It is black though, so even
when diluted with turpentine
and linseed oil it will darken the wood considerably.
However it is an ideal
solution for waterproofing unseen
wood particularly hard worn areas such as anchor lockers, and worth
the smell alone.
certainly smells better
than boat varnish.
Have your say.
Please share your thoughts or comments about what you have just read on this page.
Varnish and it's protection I have just put 10 coats of varnish on after sanding off all the old varnish.
It's one of the biggest jobs I have done on the boat.
Does anybody …
Make your own varnish Here's the recipe - be sure to make a small batch and try it out - adjust to
3 q, 1c boiled linseed oil
1 3/4 c turpentine …
New Herreshoff Ready to finish my new boat made with Okume ply and was wondering what you recommend for an inside oil finish.
Know linseed and terps is old standby …
roller and tip Brilliant article, and the comment on getting everyone involved is more serious than perhaps you meant it to be.
My lovely long suffering wife Christ … Click here to write your own.