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Old 15-05-2008, 08:35   #1
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I've got the Varnish Blues

Hi folks.

I've been varnishing for a long time and thought I knew what I was doing. Two problems have cropped up now and I'm seeking advice.

First, I did some research and finally convinced myself to try BRISTOL ONE-PART water-based finish on my new teak salon door. It claimed I could lay down one coat an hour. Everything went fine putting it on in my garage, but after one day on the boat--ONE DAY!!!--the finish bubbled, seemingly randomly. Anyone have any experience with Bristol one-part finish? Can I repair this, or am I doomed to strip it and go back to traditional varnish?

Second, right on the heels of that episode, on a different piece of teak, I applied a coat of Helmsman Satin in my garage. Ambient temperature was within limits. Next morning, portions of the finish had dried to a wrinkly, cross-hatchy type finish. ARG!

When you stop laughing from reading this, got any thoughts? Go ahead, I can take it ...

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Old 15-05-2008, 08:52   #2
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I stripped down my 21 year old exposed teak and applied two thinned coats of Epifianes Gloss Wood Finish and let each coat dry for 24 hours. I then applied 6 additional full strength coats. So far it is perfect.

I suspect that you may have skipped the thinned sealer coats and/or may not have let the solvent dry enough before applying additional coats. Practical Sailor has had good things to report about this product and my very early results have been positive.

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Old 15-05-2008, 09:34   #3
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I am varnishing also at this time. I am using West System with 207 hardener. I used this for my hatch trim about 2 years ago, and it still looks fantastic. I will apply Epifiane to the new project on top of the West, and see how it goes. These are handrails outside, and the exterior of the companionway.

This is a before, and after of my cockpit table & bench. I got the white lines by digging out the rubber, and filling with 403 filler.
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Old 15-05-2008, 12:02   #4
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the wrinkles are probably due to you putting too thick a coat on .. been there done that. strip it off and start over. not sure about your water based varnish issue.
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Old 15-05-2008, 13:05   #5
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The damage will be deep and the doom of stripping is the only cure. I suspect that you may not have had either a warm enough environment, or to high humidity. You may need to allow greater drying time between coats and increasing that time as the number of coats increase. As for the wrinkle effect, that is a similar issue. Often caused by solvent being trapped between coats or the coat being applied to heavy, thus trapping solvent.

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Old 16-05-2008, 09:45   #6
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Ok, so I chucked the other varnish and strip-sanded the piece. Did all the usual prep.

Applied a light coat of Minwax Helmsman with a polyester brush.

Came out perfectly - no bubbles, no drips, great coverage, smooth finish.

That other stuff caused me endless grief. I'm never straying from the Helmsman again. Thanks for the tips gents.

Now it's a light touch with 220 and another 8 coats. Yee haw...
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Old 14-06-2008, 18:42   #7
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I've been a pro varnisher for eighteen years. Even among professionals there is no gospel when it comes to brightwork. One will tell you that a 'badger' bristle brush is the only kind you should use, and another, like me, will say that's nonsense and tell you that foam brushes are just as good.

Geographical location does make a difference in application methods-- most of my varnishing experience has been in Florida.

First, I'm no fan of water-based finishes. From what I've seen, they're sensitive to atmospheric humidity, and will 'blush', or cloud if humidity is high. Also, remember that humidity typically is highest just before the dew point is reached when the air is saturated in early morning or evening.

The bubbling in your Bristol finish might have been caused by residual moisture trapped in the wood, released when the sun hit it. That's one advantage of using a heat gun to strip old finishes-- the heat drives the moisture out of the wood.

One common mistake novices make is not thinning whatever varnish they're using. It's almost impossible to get a level mirror-like finish with no brushmarks or lap lines, without thinning.

Often, the instructions on the can will tell you not to thin, in bold-faced letters, or to thin no more than 5%. Just remember that it's a manufacturer's disclaimer, intended to prevent the user from altering the chemistry of the product, which of course, they cannot be liable for.

But even when varnishing indoors, but especially outdoors in the sun, the varnish will wrinkle, or 'alligator', because the top of the liquid will dry faster than underneath, and shrivel. Thinning prevents this action.

I hope this is helpful, and I invite any interested readers to visit my varnishing blog: Varnish Teak
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Old 14-06-2008, 19:39   #8
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Did not know BRISTOL had a one part. Just completed 10 coats of Bristol 2 part over 3 coats of West Epoxy with special finish hardener on many teak pieces. Don't know about longevity yet. The rest of the teak had Captains one part. Both are
beautiful now. Hoping for the best. Months of work by hand for both.
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Old 15-06-2008, 21:12   #9
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As far as the bubbling goes on exterior work, I think it's the heat from the sun on the teak that causes the wood to off gas. It seems to me that the heat from the sun expands the wood, causing gases in the wood to expand, thus forcing the gas to escape out the grains of the wood, before the varnish has a chance to harden. I think that even in the shade hot days can cause the wood to expand, so I try to do work on cool days.

I've noticed that every place that I have done work in the sun the wood would bubble, and every place that I did it in the shade it did not...for the most part. I try to shade the sunny areas while working on them, and keep them covered until at least the first coat hardens. Any place I get bubbles after the first coat hardens, I rough up that area, apply more material, and keep it shaded until it hardens.

Heat gun is what I like to use in stripping.
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Old 15-06-2008, 21:33   #10
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I love well varnished boats. I like to walk the dock and admire all the beautiful dock furniture especially at wooden boat shows. Then I jump on my boats and go out boating I always give an appreciative wave to the guys still varnishing in the middle of the season. people boat for different reasons some must like to varnish

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