Q & A
Question: What is the best way to remove old finish?
Answer: There is no right way or wrong way to strip varnish. Whatever works for you, is the best way. Our recommendations are based on our own experiences and preferences. First, begin with a good (6 or more. You can't have too many) selection of scrapers. Go nuts, experiment with a variety of styles, brands, and shapes. These should be treated as tools. That is what they are. Learn how to sharpen them. We cannot emphasize enough the value of a sharp scraper. Books should be written on this subject. If you want to know more, ask us. Next, experiment with stripping methods. There are a vast number of chemicals out there to choose from. We do not use chemicals. We have tried most of them and have always returned to a heat (hot air) gun and sharp scrapers. This method is by far the least messy and most effective for us. However, having said this, try different methods. You may discover a combination that works better for you. That is o.k. On the subject of heat guns, we have tried them all from the most expensive at $140.00 to a $25.00 Black & Decker. We use the Black & Decker exclusively. Why? It is a fraction of the weight and produces the same thing. Hot air! Once you have determined the method that works best for you and your boat, get organized. Establish a sharpening area, lay out your tools, clean your space, put on your favorite music and begin. Start at one end and work your way to the other. This sounds basic but avoid the tendency to jump form here to there. You will have better success if you approach the job logically and orderly. You may find that stripping is a two-stage process. Strip off the bulk of the varnish first time around then, hit it a second time removing the residue and bringing the wood back to fresh. This is o.k. too. Scrapers remove more material easier and faster than sandpaper. Stay with them until the job is done. If you find that your scrapers do not work on a particularly tight spot, make one that does. With an old file and a grinder, one can make an excellent specialized scraper. Deck seams. The old caulk, and it may be very old, very hard putty, needs to be removed. Do not try to save this. You will not be able to and still retain the integrity between the caulking and the seam edges. Again, a heat gun works best. Make a gouging tool that fits your seam width. Take your time and be careful! Do not lie awake at night devising a "router/circular saw seam removal machine". We have not seen one that works yet. Take your time and enjoy yourself! This is fun remember?
Question: What is the best way to care for a good Varnish brush?
Answer: Although the tendency to use a foam brush for the ultimate in convenience may be great, there is absolutely nothing as satisfying as a good quality, natural bristle varnish brush. When selecting a brush watch for the following: • A true varnish brush will have slightly shorter bristles in order to "bite" into a heavier product like marine varnish. This makes for a slightly stiffer bristle. • Check the bristle ends. A good brush will have split ends (just like a split hair). • Watch for the way the bristles have been cut or chiseled. This will determine how well the brush will smooth the varnish as well as how well it will draw the air from the finish. • It is difficult to determine how the bristles have been set. Epoxy is normal, vulcanized rubber is great. • Ensure that the ferule (metal part) is well put together. Hopefully, the material used is stainless. • If the brush has passed the test so far, chances are the handle is hardwood. At the very least, the quality of the handle will be a good indicator as to the standard used in constructing the rest of the brush. New brushes are very dirty! Take some time to break in a new brush. Use it and clean it out several times with mineral spirits. Keep in mind it may take many sessions to really get it clean. We have brushes that are reserved for final coat only. We still spend up to an hour cleaning a brush prior to a final coat. Sit in front of the TV and flick the bristles back and forth. In front of a bright light, you will be amazed at what will come out of it. The best way to store a good brush is to keep it wet, suspended in diesel fuel or kerosene. Yes, diesel. Nothing works better as far as we are concerned. Diesel is oily enough to keep the bristles nice and soft while still having enough cutting capability to keep the brush clean. We have a brush that is easily sixteen years old. Prior to varnishing, clean the diesel from the brush with mineral spirits, rinsing and spinning several times. Once done repeat the process. Your brush will be as happy as can be in a diesel or kerosene bath. Change the diesel once or twice a year.
Question: Why do varnish manufacturers recommend thinning?
Answer: Proper thinning of the varnish is very important. If you apply the first coat of varnish full strength, the entire varnish system will adhere to a coat that is sitting on top of the wood. Not good. Therefore, significant thinning (50% or 1/2 & 1/2) of the first coat is very important. A very thin "sealer" coat will give maximum penetration and good grip for the subsequent system. It is quite normal for a manufacturer to recommend a thinning of the first few coats progressively building to full strength. Applying varnish over stained wood can cause particular adhesion problems. If filler stain has been used, the aggregate in the stain can block the penetration of even very thin varnish. In some cases, it is advisable to rub in the first coat of thinned varnish as you would stain to ensure that the material penetrates properly. Once the sealer coats have been applied, varnish should be used full strength. If the varnish is not flowing well or it feels "brushy" possibly due to weather conditions, small amounts (usually 5% or so) of thinner can be added to make it a bit more user friendly. Check with the manufacturer of whatever varnish you happen to be using. There are great additives available to help you through tougher conditions. Make sure that you follow the manufacturers instructions carefully. Concocting your own blend can lead to greater problems down the road. As an example, adding too much accelerator or "Jap dryer" can create a harder, less flexible finish. This can greatly reduce the overall life of your finish.
Question: I am experiencing air bubbles drying in my varnish.
Answer: We will bet that what you are experiencing is dust. Dust and/or lint particles that dry in the varnish can form tiny craters that can certainly look like air bubbles. It is very rare for air to dry in a coat of varnish. Let's try to figure out where this dust might be coming from. If the coat looks great upon completion but several hours’ later looks as if someone has taken a saltshaker to your boat, then the dust problem is most likely airborne. If the dust occurs right away, brushes and the initial cleanliness of the surface are more likely to be the culprits. Here are a few, sometimes overlooked, sources of dust; • Although your brush may appear clean, try flicking the bristles in front of a bright lamp. You will be amazed at what comes out of it. Turn on the TV and be patient. It can take an hour. Do not assume that a new brush is clean, new brushes are particularly dusty. • Be aware of what is happening overhead, it may be that your basement ceiling is shedding dust each time someone crosses the room upstairs. • Fluorescent lights will act as a dust magnet until the moment you turn them off. • Check your clothing. Wear dampened Tyvek coveralls. • Mask or temporarily seal all screw holes. Your brush will certainly pull out whatever is hiding in those holes. We know a painter that varnishes in the nude listening to Vivaldi. Hey, whatever works.
Question: I recently purchased a 15' pre-war Century Utility that has been out of the water for at least two years. After stripping and sanding the hull, the stain and two sealer coats have been applied. What danger, if any, is there of the varnish cracking once the boat is re-hydrated? How many coats of varnish would you suggest that I apply? Also, is the quality of varnish I use a factor?
Answer: It sounds like you are doing everything right so far. Assuming that you are using better quality varnish (more flexibility) there really is no danger of the finish “cracking” once back in the water. However, what will happen if you apply the entire system now is that the varnish will be squeezed from between the planks as they swell forming a hard ridge. There is nothing wrong with this from an integrity point of view, however it is unsightly. Resolve the problem using the following procedure: In order to protect the boat from shop wear, insure that several sealer coats have been applied. Slowly increase the moisture content of the wood back to normal. This can be accomplished by draping the boat in plastic and running a couple of vaporizers or, lay down a bed of wet sawdust. Here is something else to keep in mind, if the decks are caulked, the seams will become proud if they are laid now rather than after the boat has adjusted to “normal”. This can pose a greater problem. Any major change in the expansion or contraction of the decks may result in the seams parting company with the planks causing them to leak. Once the wood has normalized, continue with the varnish system. Seven to ten coats in total should bring the boat to show quality finish. As mentioned above, the quality of the varnish certainly plays an important factor in any job. Very basically, varnish is oil, resin, solvent and a few additives that help the product dry, and repel U.V. etc. The lesser quality the varnish, the more solvent (cheapest ingredient) there will likely be. The quality and quantity of oils and resins will determine the weather resistance and longevity of the finish. Generally, better quality oils and resins provide a more flexible finish that has the ability to expand and contract with a piece of wood that is constantly on the move. In conclusion, look for varnishes that contain better quality oils like Tung Oil and a higher solids content.
Question: To what extent if any, does climate play a role in the life expectancy of a boat's finish and/or the life of the boat itself? i.e. the cold northern climate vs. the hot, humid south vs. the dryness of the west. Should boats in different regions have different numbers of varnish coats for additional protection?
Answer: Climate certainly plays an important role in the life expectancy of a boat's finish. Let's take a fictitious boat and move it around. We'll say an 18 foot mahogany planked runabout, with painted topsides and varnished decks and interior. First scenario will be in the mixed climate of the northeast or northwest. This can sometimes be the hardest climate to deal with, hot in the summer, cold in the winter and everything else in between. Heat and cold, naturally, causes expansion and contraction. Alone, this is not a terrible thing; a good quality varnish or alkyd enamel finish will have the ability to take up that movement. However, introduce moisture and UV and you have more to contend with. If the boat sees consistent exposure over the summer months, even if that means a season of 4 months, expect to apply one to two coats of varnish annually. The painted surfaces will last years before requiring a maintenance coat unless, they are showing signs of normal wear and tear like fender scratches etc. Then it simply becomes an appearance issue. If however, that same boat is kept in a covered boathouse or, trailered and kept in a garage when not being used, expect a coat of varnish every 3-5 years! Exposure to the sun makes all of the difference in most cases. Now, during the winter, if the boat is stored outdoors and covered with a tarp, expect to see damage to either the painted or varnished surfaces. Damage as in lifting or pealing at the joints. This will be caused primarily by moisture, not necessarily the cold. If the same boat is stored in unheated indoor space, there will be little or no deterioration. If we take the same boat and move it south, take the moisture out of the scenario and add mega doses of UV. Once again, if exposed to the sun all summer long; expect 2-4 coats of varnish annually. Covered, maybe 1-2 coats every couple of years. Winter is not as big an issue because it is a moderate extension of the summer. Imagine the varnish is hand cream, every once in a while, depending on the sun and exposure, your surfaces need to be replenished and moisturized. Fresh coats of varnish accomplish the same thing. Generally, a varnish system should be 7-8 coats. If in the south, or exposed to lots of UV, step that up by two coats. In conclusion, protection from direct exposure to ultra violet and excessive moisture will ensure best success.
Question: Could you explain the differences between varnishes that require sanding between coats and those that don't require sanding? Is there a difference in life expectancy between the two? Also, what is the effective shelf life of varnish? Does storage temperature play a roll?
Answer: There are many, many varnishes; clear finishes and hybrid clear coatings on the market today. Most manufacturers have made some attempt in various directions in order to create an easier, faster, longer lasting finish. Unfortunately, we can only comment in any detail on our own products. For obvious reasons, it would be unfair to do otherwise. Twelve years ago, Epifanes produced a finish very similar to our Clear High Gloss Varnish, called Wood Finish Gloss. It is a tung oil, alkyd resin based finish just like our varnish however, it does contain ingredients not normally found in traditional varnishes producing one significant difference. Wood Finish does not require sanding between coats provided the next coat is applied within a 72-hour period. This feature has an obvious effect on the amount of labor and time required to build a finish from bare wood. Sanding is optional. Wood Finish changes the focus of sanding completely. You are no longer sanding for adhesion but appearance only. Are you sacrificing any integrity by using this product? At this point in time no. However, having said that, we are recommending top coating this product with our varnish for the ultimate in performance. We have 97 years experience with our Clear High Gloss Varnish and only twelve years with the Woodfinish. Time will tell. Unopened varnish has virtually no shelf life. We have opened five-year-old varnish that has been perfectly good. The oils and resins may change color and consistency slightly but essentially the product should be fine. Once opened however, the life of the varnish will be greatly reduced. Each time it is opened, a portion of the solvent evaporates leaving a thicker mixture more prone to solidifying. Store the container upside down, reduce the air space, and keep the varnish cool. I have more problems keeping varnish in Florida than Maine. The temperature plays a major roll. Store in a cool area of the basement.
Question: I am having trouble getting successive coats of varnish to smooth out on my boat. What level or grit of sandpaper should I use in between each coat and how hard or how much should I sand the previous coat in order for the next coat to lay up smoothly?
Answer: The purpose of sanding is to create a mechanical bond, or “tooth”, between two layers of finish. In addition, sanding also flattens the surface creating a smoother surface and improving the appearance of the subsequent coat. Please keep in mind that the purpose of varnish or any other coating is to protect a piece of wood. Don’t lose sight of this. Over sanding for the sake of appearance may result in a thin finish with little or no protection. Mil thickness is everything in a varnish system. Let’s start at the beginning. Bare wood should normally be prepared to approximately 100 or 120 grit. Anything much finer than this will not create adequate adhesion for that ever so important first coat. Dry paper of about 220 grit should come next to help knock off the raised grain after the first few coats. Once the grain fills and closes, switch to 320 wet or dry. 320 will offer enough adhesion without taking off too much varnish. Stick with 320 right through until the end. If you are using a heavy body varnish, 320 sanding scratches should not show through. Switching to 400 somewhere prior to your final coat is a good idea but, not essential. Anything finer than 400 grit will not offer enough adhesion. Thorough sanding is important. In answer to your question, if you are looking for a “show quality” finish, it is essential that the finish is “dead flat”. This can only be accomplished with serious block sanding. In most cases, this style of sanding will remove more varnish than is necessary but does produce the “mirror finish that goes on forever” look. Just be aware of this. Chances are that your edges and possibly, the whole system will be thin. It takes extra care and usually extra coats to produce this type of finish. Our best suggestion is to work towards something in between a “show quality” and a “utility finish”. This will produce a better than acceptable finish that will have lots of staying power. We would rather see a not so smooth finish with occasional sags than a too thin finish that has been sanded to death.
Question: My 1956 17’ Chris-Craft Sportsman rubbed up against the dock during some rough weather and the varnish has been badly scratched in a couple of isolated places. The scratches didn’t damage the stain or gouge the wood. Is there a way to patch or “feather” the damaged sections or do I need to re-varnish the whole side?
Answer: To answer your question, we will assume that a single-part varnish or something similar was used on the boat. Two-part finishes due to their nature, are quite difficult to repair. Most boats similar to yours are finished with one-part so, hopefully we are making a safe assumption. It is good that the stain has not been affected. Touching up stain is possible but it is more difficult to match the color. Any varnish exposed to UV will change color. Therefore expect a little color difference when touching up the varnish. Once the new repaired area is exposed to the sun, it will eventually blend in on its own. Essentially, the damaged area needs to be lightly roughed up and built back up again with varnish. Be careful at this stage, as you are likely very close to the stain. Sanding through the stain will only create more problems. Start with a thin coat and slowly build back up again to a level consistent with the rest of the finish. Once achieved and if realistic, sand the whole area and apply a fresh coat to all. If the edges of the damaged area are nice and clean, it is best to fill the affected area with varnish using a very small brush and being very careful with the paper. If however, the damaged area is uneven and jagged, consider the following: Free handing the area with a brush will only produce a “repaired” looking patch. We mask an area larger than the damaged spot with a pattern that suits the patch i.e. a diamond, triangular or rectangular shape. This will give you a nice section to work within and will produce a patch with clean, crisp lines. This is much more professional looking. As well, there is no chance of any loss of integrity where the damage meets the existing area. It is good practice to keep a small bottle, similar to a nail polish bottle with the brush built into the cap, on board and filled with varnish for emergency repairs where bare wood may be exposed.
Question: Can you explain the differences in terms of durability, longevity & appearance between one-part and two-part varnishes?
Answer: It all depends on the application. One should always match the product and its characteristics to the job. First off, let’s compare the basic make-up between the two. Single-part products are generally more traditional in their formulation. They contain natural oils like Tung or Linseed balanced with alkyd and/or Phenolic resins as an example. These products rely on exposure to the air to dry. Two-parts however, are more synthetic (polyesters for example) and rely on the second part or, the “catalyst” to chemically cure the product. Each produces a very different type of coating. Let’s take appearance. If they are quality products, there will be little or no difference between a high gloss one-part and a high gloss two-part clear finish. The degree of gloss will be comparable. However, having said that, generally a two-part synthetic finish will be water clear where as a more traditional one-part will have more of an amber tone to it due to the natural oils. This difference may give you a slight edge when varnishing very light woods like ash or oak if retaining the lightness is an issue. Beyond that, there will be no discernable difference. One-parts are generally softer and more flexible compared with a harder, more scratch resistant two-part. On an exterior piece of wood that is constantly expanding and contracting with the weather, a softer more flexible finish is desirable whereas, on an interior cabin sole or saloon table where scratch resistance would be a real plus, the harder two-part would be a better choice. The flexibility in an exterior finish is extremely important for longevity. Once a finish loses its flexibility and becomes brittle, that is when the film begins to break down. Two-parts are certainly used on exterior applications as well however. They certainly give relief over short-term maintenance (hard finish etc.) but we do believe that single-part finishes will outlast them over the long haul, as in 10 plus years. That is when you really see the difference. In addition, two-parts are more difficult to repair and remove than one-parts. There are also single part finishes that are formulated to be to harder than normal. These contain urethane (harder) resins but still rely on air dry. They can be a great compromise and suitable for many applications where a two-part is too difficult or unrealistic to use. In conclusion, there is very little difference in the appearance between the two. Two parts being a harder finish, will hold up better and longer on high wear areas but, may not last as long as a one-part in other areas like exterior wood. Single-parts have the ability to offer a compromise in a finish that is harder than some single-parts, but not as hard as a two-part. People are experimenting all of the time. We regularly hear of two-parts being applied over a build-up of single-part or vice versa. These combinations may or may not work any better (or worse) than a specified system. As we have often said in the past; “whatever works”.
Question: Is there any advantage to warming or heating varnish prior to its application or does it depend on how it is applied i.e. brushing, spraying, rolling etc. Also, if using a brush, how much varnish should be put on it before applying it to the surface.?
Answer: We have about the same number of calls from finishers that chill their varnish prior to use and those that warm the varnish prior to use. Both claim that the varnish works better. Go figure. When varnish is heated, it thins out. Generally, a warmer, thinner varnish will flow out better, particularly in a colder temperature. However, keep in mind that the solvent evaporates as the varnish is heated, therefore it may accelerate the drying time to the point of working against you. There is a danger in applying too thick a coat. This could result in wrinkling. This is less likely in a spray application where the coats are normally thinner. Solvent is added so that you can brush it comfortably. Take that away and it may be harder to brush. On the other hand, cooling the varnish may stiffen it to the point of not flowing out well enough but it may give you an edge in hotter climates. We are firm believers in “whatever works”. Everyone has heard how varnish should be “laid on” and not brushed. There is much truth to this. The more that you wave a brush full of varnish around, the more solvent is evaporated and the stiffer the product will become. Varnish is most successful if applied then ignored. Just let the varnish do its thing. As for quantity, on horizontal surfaces, don’t be shy. You can be quite generous without applying too much. Keep the brush wet and reload when it starts to drag. On vertical surfaces there is a fine line between just right and too much. Practice until you get it right. One last point to ponder. Each manufacturer creates a formulation that is just right for whatever they are trying to achieve. Varnishing is 95% technique. Changing the formulation beyond the manufacturers specs. will only weaken the finish ultimately. Spend more time on technique and less on additives, heating or chilling.
Question: Could you explain under what conditions a varnish accelerator additive should be used and, alternately, when a retarder additive is appropriate?
Answer: Firstly, care should be taken when adding any kind of solvent or additive to any product. Varnishes are made to strict formulations, and for a reason. Doctoring up a product to suit ones self may in fact be “weakening” or producing a lesser quality finish. Stick to the guidelines and use products that are manufactured specifically for that product. At Epifanes, we only make four additives for our single-part products. We make a high quality, very pure mineral spirit for brush thinning, and a “hotter” solvent more suitable for spray applications. In addition, we make a varnish accelerator and a varnish flow enhancer. Both of these products are used very sparingly. Generally, 2% is all that is necessary. Going beyond these percentages, may alter the formulation enough that they will reduce the overall strength (which translates to longevity) of the product. As an example, “accelerators” used in excess, will produce a harder, less flexible finish. This reduces the overall length that the finish will last as exterior finishes rely on flexibility to survive. Having said all this, accelerators or retarders can give you an edge, which could make life a little easier in your particular situation. An accelerator is generally used in colder climates where a slightly faster dry time and a little more flow are desirable. The problem when varnishing in cool conditions is that it takes such a long time for the varnish to dry there is a greater danger of moisture entering the finish before it has a chance to dry. In addition, varnish stiffens in cooler temperature. Accelerators will help. On the other hand, varnishing in hotter climates can be a problem. The solvents in paint or varnish evaporate so quickly, the product sets up before it has a chance to flow out. Our Easy-flow gives the varnish a “silkier” more “creamier” feel. It can make varnishing a real pleasure in conditions less than best.
Question: I am restoring a 1950’s vintage Wavemaker Wolverine with mahogany decks. Should I thin the first few coats of varnish before I apply them? If yes, what percentage of thinner should I use for each coat?
Answer: The first few coats of any varnish system are extremely important. The adhesion between subsequent coats will only be as good as the bond between the wood and the first coats. Epifanes Varnishes are loaded with solids. This means that thinning the first few coats is that much more important. Extreme thinning at the beginning maximizes the penetration into the wood and obviously, encourages good adhesion.. We generally recommend thinning the first coat 50% (half & half), the second coat 25% and the third coat 15%. This scenario becomes even more important if the wood has been stained. The aggregate used in a filler stain can sometimes prevent the first coat of varnish from penetrating the wood surface. The first thinned coat or, sealer coat, should be forced or worked into the surface with a good brush or clean cloth.
Question: I've heard about a varnish that doesn't need to be sanded in between coats if successive coats are applied within a certain time. The question is, how would you correct 'mistakes' i.e. drools, sags, etc. before applying the next coat or is it a product primarily for pros only?
Answer: You may be referring to one of our own varnishes, Woodfinish Gloss. It is the only one that we are aware of with these characteristics. Basically, the Woodfinish Gloss can be recoated without sanding provided the next coat is applied within a 72 hour period. Once you go beyond that 3-day window, you must sand as you would conventional varnish. Now firstly, the real advantage is the savings in time and labor. Secondly, because you are not sanding between coats, the build-up is much greater and much quicker. Woodfinish changes the focus from sanding for adhesion to sanding for appearance. This leads us to your concern regarding sags and runs etc. Runs make us happy. At least we know the varnisher is getting good mil thickness. We would rather see runs than holidays. Unless the sags are excessive, most imperfections can be dealt with prior to the last couple of coats. If extreme, deal with them individually at the time. Either way, remember you are only sanding for appearance therefore, you only have to sand the areas that really count. Woodfinish Gloss is designed for anyone to use. It is an easier, quicker product for the individual boat owner to use without sacrificing any integrity. The quality of the finish is exceptional. For the professional, the savings in labor, and what that translates too is exceptional.
Question: I would like to know still more about your Woodfinish product. It is fascinating that the majority of the sanding process can be eliminated. Please explain the differences in properties between the Woodfinish and regular Epifanes varnish in terms of flowing capabilities, setup times, etc. Also, please explain what a 'holiday' is as it applies to varnishing.
Answer: Our Epifanes Woodfinish Gloss is indeed a great product. Although the make-up of the Woodfinish is essentially the same as our High Gloss Varnish, we hesitate to call it a varnish. The Woodfinish contains ingredients not normally found in a true varnish. The film remains microscopically porous for a period of time enabling good adhesion during that 72 hour “window”. Varnishing beyond the window necessitates sanding as usual. Sanding is optional at any time of course and at some point during the process you may choose to sand anyway. Keep in mind that the focus of sanding has been changed from sanding for adhesion, to sanding for appearance. This makes for a huge difference in labor savings. Woodfinish is particularly good during build-ups over stained mahogany. It enables you to build up without the danger of sanding through the stain. The differences between the two really stop there. we can barely notice any difference in the application characteristics. The gloss, flowing characteristics, dry time etc. is so very close as to be indiscernible. Sometimes, I feel that the varnish has a little more sparkle than the Woodfinish but, again, they are too close to be certain. Holidays are simply “missed” or “dry” spots.
Question: For sanding purposes, what is the effective drying or “cure” time in between coats of varnish or does it vary depending on the relative temperature?
Answer: Manufacturers publish a theoretical “dry time” based on a predetermined temperature and humidity level. Certainly, if the conditions are beyond these levels in either direction, the dry time will be effective. Generally speaking, a single-part paint or varnish is safe to sand after 24 hours. This will ensure that the finish is hard enough to withstand the abuse of a good sanding. This does not necessarily mean that the material will be easy to sand or, that the sandpaper will not clog. Better quality varnishes will contain more oil and therefore, will simply take longer to really cure.
Question: For the last two or three coats of varnish, how 'fine' should the sandpaper be and would you suggest that the last coat be thinned or not?
Answer: 400 grit wet or dry is the absolute finest grit that we would ever recommend. In fact, I usually lean towards 320 grit. Anything finer than 400 grit does not create enough “tooth” or mechanical bond to ensure adhesion. Thinning the final coat is the applicators decision entirely. If you have been building with full strength (my preference) and the varnish has been laying down o.k. then by all means continue with full strength. If however, you are having problems keeping a wet edge or, it is just not behaving, then consider a splash or two of brushing thinner. Only a large dose of thinner (15% or more) will affect the ultimate strength and quality of the finish.
Question: I have read in a number of places over the years about a varnished finish that is either hand-rubbed or has a hand-rubbed effect or look to it. Could you explain what that means? Is it a special procedure and, if so, how is it accomplished?
Answer: In the old days, the only way to obtain anything except a high gloss finish in a varnish was to “rub it by hand”. Obviously, it was a labor intensive, time-consuming procedure. These days, we can reproduce that look in a single (or two-part) part finish right out of the can. “Rubbed Effect” varnish describes the degree of gloss. Somewhere between a semi gloss, satin or eggshell finish. This degree of gloss is perfect for an interior although it is sometimes used in exterior applications. Rubbed Effect Finishes are generally quick to dry, and easier to maintain. Our Rubbed Effect Varnish contains urethane resins which produce a harder, more scratch resistant finish. We recommend building up from bare wood with a gloss finish and topcoating with the Rubbed Effect, simply for the effect. This accomplishes two things. Gloss finishes are more weather resistant and offer better protection against UV and weather. Building up with 3-4 coats of this before the Rubbed Effect will maximize protection. Secondly, the build-up of gloss gives the overall appearance of the finish more depth and clarity. Epifanes does manufacture a version of Rubbed Effect called Woodfinish Matte. This is one of the only “Rubbed Effect” finishes containing U.V. filters. This addition makes it very suitable for exterior use. It is often used on the inside of Canoes and Kayaks where a non-glare finish is desired.
Question: Earlier, you made a comment that you personally prefer to build successive coats on a boat using unthinned or full strength varnish. This seems to "fly in the face" of what we have heard for years about the necessity of 'ramping up' coats using decreasing percentages of thinned varnish. I like the sound of using unthinned builder coats but, what accounts for the difference in methods?
Answer: As you know, mil thickness is everything in a Clear Finish. However, in order to ensure adhesion, it is very important to apply the first several coats thinned. In most cases, we recommend thinning the first coat 50%. This results in maximum adhesion giving subsequent coats something to really “hang” on to. The second coat should be thinned 25% and the third, 15%. Once these sealer coats have been applied, it is time to really pour on the varnish and concentrate on building some mil thickness. This can be accomplished full strength or, thinned up to 5% if you are having a tough time due to weather or conditions.
Question: For those of us who are not professionals and only varnish occasionally, can you elaborate on the various acceptable methods of cleaning and storing brushes in between uses? Also, what is the qualitative difference between Badger hairbrushes and Chinese Bristle brushes?
Answer: When it comes to cleaning and storing brushes, we are stuck on one method that works very well for us. We have tried many methods, none with any degree of success, especially over the long term. Most methods of course work great over the short period but it’s months or years later that really tells the tale in our opinion. This is how we recommend cleaning and storing a natural bristle brush: First, find yourself a container that is impervious to solvents (polyethylene works good). The container should be tall enough for your biggest brush and wide enough for your collection. Devise a rack system (ie. coat hanger) that will hang your brushes suspended just clear of the bottom. Fill the container with Diesel (yes, Diesel) or Kerosene until the ferule (the metal part) is halfway submerged. This will ensure that the bristles are “underwater”. This is where they will live. When it comes time to use the brush, simply rinse out the diesel two or three times with common mineral spirit, spin and use. After use, repeat with two or three rinsings, a spin and back in the diesel. This method will keep your brushes clean and supple for years. We have 15-year-old brushes that are in great shape. The diesel has enough cutting capability to keep the varnish from clogging up the bristles but, is oily enough to keep the bristles soft. Most brushes these days are Natural or Chinese bristle. Occasionally you will come across a Badger Bristle brush. Have a close look however, as some of the “Badger” bristle brushes are Chinese bristle that have been bleached with the “stripe” to look like Badger. These are called “Badger Style”. Read the fine print. Chinese bristle is a stiffer and longer lasting bristle and our choice for high solid paints and varnishes. They will outlast a Badger bristle by years. Beyond this, it comes down to personal preference.
Question: I just purchased a 1956, 16' Century Resorter. How can I tell if it needs to be refinished or, just have fresh coats of varnish applied?
Answer: There are several things to consider when analyzing the condition of an existing finish. If you have just purchased a boat, hopefully at a great price, chances are that it is due for a complete refinish. However, having said that, you might be lucky and have found a boat that has intact varnish and only needs freshening up. First, visually examine all of the varnish. Look for discoloration, lifting, peeling or cracking. If this is the case in any area, strip it! If the problem is isolated, at the very least, strip that section. Any deterioration like this means that the varnish has "parted company" with the wood. When this occurs, it doesn't matter how much fresh varnish is applied, the finish is not and will not adhere to the wood. Pay attention to the decks where the seams may be caulked. If these seams show any cracking, this can lead to water damage below decks and will need to be stripped and recaulked. If the finish appears intact but "tired", it may be worth hanging on to the varnish for a few more years or more. There is certainly value in an older finish especially, if it is original. Wood and varnish changes color with age. The patina that develops with time is impossible to duplicate. If the finish appears good but you are still having doubts, generously dampen a rag with mineral spirits and wipe the surface. This will simulate (for a few seconds) what the finish will look like with a fresh coat. If you like what you see, then you can likely get away with a few fresh maintenance coats. Whether the finish needs to be replaced or not, now is the time to remove hardware. Carefully identify each piece as it's removed using tape. Select a type that will not be difficult to remove at a later date and label using a system that you will understand. Keep in mind that you may not be replacing hardware until the following season so mark it well. You might be amazed at how foreign a piece of hardware may look come Spring. Also, tape the screws to the piece of hardware. Now you can really stand back and have a good look. This is an exciting stage. Enjoy every aspect of it.