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Old 02-04-2011, 18:05   #1
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Varnish Questions

I've got a couple of questions, or even three.

I'll try to use proper spelling and grammar

1 - I've been told by some varnish craftsmen that part of the reason why they like Epiphanes is that you don't need to sand between coats. Is that true and if so what is it about Epiphanes that makes it unnecessary ? Is it just because Epiphanes lies down flatter or is it because other varnishes get a surface that the next coat won't bond to unless sanded ?

2 - When you see a mirror surface varnish is that because of careful sanding or even wet-sanding between coats or is it because there are enough coats to float out to a flat surface ?

3 - Sometimes, a coat of varnish won't wet the prior one in some places, the surface just looks dry despite the fact that I just pulled a wet brush across it. This happens if I sand or if I don't, if I wipe it down with a tack-rag or not, if I thin the varnish or not, if I wipe it down with thinner after the tack-rag or not and as far as I can tell neither humidity or temperature has an effect.

We'll soon be doing all our own varnishing so I'd like to get a handle on doing it right

Thanks,



-Sven
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Old 02-04-2011, 18:43   #2
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Re: Varnish questions

Here's a picture of what I'm taking about when I say the varnish stays dry.



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Old 02-04-2011, 18:52   #3
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Re: Varnish questions

Hi Sven,

After 16 years of varnishing and 12 years of varnishing my current boat which seems to have a complete teak forest's worth of wood, allow me to try and respond based upon what I do. Others, I'm sure do it differently and they will probably chip in too.

Quote:
Originally Posted by SvenG View Post
1 - I've been told by some varnish craftsmen that part of the reason why they like Epiphanes is that you don't need to sand between coats. Is that true and if so what is it about Epiphanes that makes it unnecessary ? Is it just because Epiphanes lies down flatter or is it because other varnishes get a surface that the next coat won't bond to unless sanded ?
-Sven
Epiphane does not require sanding between coats, I believe they do recommend it for best results. As to why? It must be something in their formulation. The sanding serves two purposes. Not only does it provide "tooth" for the next coat to bond to but it also allows you to smooth out minor imperfections, such as runs. Personally, I had a bad experience with Epiphane a few years ago. It began to crack and peel after 3 months. Perhaps I did something wrong. I know some people love it. I switched to Z-Spar Flagship varnish and have been quite happy with it. Flagship does require sanding between coats.

Quote:
Originally Posted by SvenG View Post

2 - When you see a mirror surface varnish is that because of careful sanding or even wet-sanding between coats or is it because there are enough coats to float out to a flat surface ?
-Sven
The short answer is yes. Careful sanding between coats, as mentioned above removes the imperfections of the previous coat. I would not recommend wet sanding. I've tried it and it makes a mess. A light sanding with 220 grit dry paper works fine. The first two coats are sealing the grain. First coat is usually 50% each varnish and thinner, second coat about 80% varnish and 20% thinner. Be sparing, this is going on like water and can result in a lot of drips. At this point, the wood will look terrible. Succeeding coats will be almost pure varnish. I say almost because I've found adding just a touch of Penetrol to the varnish helps flatten it out and remove brush marks, especially if you are using a bristle brush. By coat 5 (including the first two sealing coats) the wood will start to look good. After coat 5, remove old masking tape and put down new unless you like spending the day picking itty bitty bits of tape off everything. The five coats look good, but they have no longevity. UV will eat them up. Put another 4-5 coats on for UV protection. This will also give you that mirror finish you refer to. From then on, about once a year, sand with 220 grit, wipe it down and apply two more coats. That's it.

By the way, I don't use a bristle brush but disposable foam brushes. They are Jen Poly-Brush available from Jamestown Distributors or Ace Hardware. The other foam brushes are junk and will break down in short order.


Quote:
Originally Posted by SvenG View Post
3 - Sometimes, a coat of varnish won't wet the prior one in some places, the surface just looks dry despite the fact that I just pulled a wet brush across it. This happens if I sand or if I don't, if I wipe it down with a tack-rag or not, if I thin the varnish or not, if I wipe it down with thinner after the tack-rag or not and as far as I can tell neither humidity or temperature has an effect.
-Sven
This one I can't help you with because I've never had that happen to me.

As I've posted before, I use this lady's book as my bible. And most of what I've posted above comes from her advice. For the amount of labor you're talking about I figure the $20 is worth it.

Amazon.com: The Brightwork Companion : Tried-and-True Methods and Strongly Held Opinions in Thirteen and One-Half Chapters (0639785802969): Rebecca Wittman: Books

One last suggestion, I would not recommend that you try to do it all at once. Break the job down into sections or you risk being overwhelmed. I do caprail, then coach with the hand rails, and brow, and dorade boxes, then cockpit, finally bow sprit and companionway.

It's a lot of work. You may do it once and then run out and get a can of enamel or let it go to gray. Or you may be grinning and thinking "that wasn't all THAT bad". In any event,

Good luck,
Rich
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Old 02-04-2011, 19:10   #4
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Re: Varnish questions

Hi Rich,

Quote:
Originally Posted by cabo_sailor View Post
After 16 years of varnishing and 12 years of varnishing my current boat which seems to have a complete teak forest's worth of wood, allow me to try and respond based upon what I do.
Thanks for the great insights.

I'll order the book ... now !

I have been using the Ace foam brushes too. They seem to stand up to everything from Smiths Penetrating epoxy (which I use for the first two coats) and the various varnishes too. I thought maybe the brush worked like a squeegy but even with no pressure I still get some dry spots every now and then. Very annoying :-(

Thanks again, great help !



-Sven
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Old 02-04-2011, 20:08   #5
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Re: Varnish questions

You're welcome Sven,

The trick with using the foam brushes is to not get them too saturated. There is a bevel edge and if you try to use just the lower half or so it will not load up too much. I'll admit, sometimes the whole bevel gets a dip but no more. You may have to dip the brush a bit more often but it's many thin coats that look best. Thick coats tend to develop drips and runs and dry with an orange-peel texture that you will have to sand out before the next coat.

As I said, it is a LOT of work, but I find it relaxing (in moderate doses) and I find myself just staring at the results and going WOW! Comments from others on the dock and passerby's also seem to make it worthwhile. As to your Ace brushes, if you look on the handle I believe you will see the word Jen. If you are planning a lot of varnishing, I would strongly suggest you do as I do and visit the Jamestown Distributor web site. I buy a case of 48 2" brushes for $16.63. Their prices on varnish are not too bad either.

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Old 02-04-2011, 20:29   #6
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Re: Varnish questions

I use flagship varnish also. I put 2 or 3 coats to start thinned as Rich says 50/50 then maybe 60/40 then 80/20 but i don't sand between these coats I wait till it's tackfree,by the time I get around the caprail I can usually start again and can get 2/3 coats in a day. These are filler coats. The next day I sand lightly and give 1 or 2 coats more. Allow to dry well then sand well. You will probably take off half of what you put on but you will have a nice smooth surface. Then put on 4 or 5 nice coats sanding between each. Wait a couple of months until the varnish settles in and hardens. Sand again until it is as smooth as you can get it and put on 4 or 5 more coats sanding between each. At this point I wash the boat down, wipe what I'm varnishing with paint thinner then use a tack rag. I usually give a lite sanding and put a couple of coats every 6 months or so. I'm in S.Fl. so I do it in the fall (2 coats) then again in the spring before it gets to hot(3 or 4 coats). A good trick is to empty a bottle of fingernail polish and fill with varnish, any scrapes etc. give a lite sanding and put a few coats on before it turns grey.
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Old 02-04-2011, 20:39   #7
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Re: Varnish questions

I have finished redoing all of the exterior teak ( a staggering amount) on my 44 Cheoy Lee recently. I was required to strip twenty years worth of old varnish and for good measure the previous owner had a love affair with the red variety of Cetol which he spread all over every single piece of exterior wood on top of the varnish, includung the decks. I took everything down to bare wood and applied 15 coats of Spar varnish, sanding between every coat. Very Very time consuming but the results are flawless. Great depth and a mirror like finish. I used a product from Ace hardware who manufactures their own Spar Varnish. Half the price of the BS marine products and the formulation is almost identical. Same uv inhibitors, oils, resins, etc.
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Old 02-04-2011, 20:40   #8
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Re: Varnish questions

I was standing on the dock today talking with two fellows about the boats that dragged onto the beach in Gulfport two days ago during a storm.

One was doing bright work with Epiphanes and the other Cetol. I asked a question about something and it sparked a debate about the task at hand that lasted most of the rest of the day off and on. Both had plenty to say as they continued to brush their respective choice onto the teak.

I was entertaining, and I will be doing the task for the first time soon, so I was all ears.

I thought we were about to talk about anchors because of the beached boats but the varnish discussion was more useful to me, as is this thread.

Thanks.
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Old 02-04-2011, 21:58   #9
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Re: Varnish questions

G'day, Sven. Rich has given you some good input above. We also follow Rebecca's varnish program on our Mason. We also use good quality foam brushes and thin the varnish about 10% with mineral spirits to get it to flow well. We want to avoid stripping old varnish at any cost, so lightly sand between coats. The first coat of the season, we use 220 grit as Rich noted and then a fine Scotch Bright type pad on the next couple. Here's a tip to make the brushes last a little longer. Rinse with mineral spirits, wrap in foil and keep in the freezer until the next coat.

As to your trouble with getting the varnish to "wet out" in some areas, our experience says it is either wax or oil that is not being removed when you're sanding. You can try using mineral spirits again to remove these contaminants or using a little more aggressive sanding in these areas.

We enjoy the results and would much rather varnish than have to "cut the grass", if you know what we mean. All the best. Cheers.
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Old 02-04-2011, 22:16   #10
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Re: Varnish questions

I am a third generation French Polisher or "shiner" as it is known in Aussie vernacular, so I can't help but chime in on this post.

As in all timber treatments from Shellac to Two Pack, preparation is the key. You can't expect your new finish to look good if you are dealing with someone eles mistakes under yours.

Varnish normally breaks down in the corners or areas that have been applied very heavily between joining timbers so I hate foam "Brushes" with a passion.

With true varnish being an oil base it is a great idea to "feed" your timber with Mineral turpentine from a brush a day before you apply your first coat. An oil based wiping stain can also improve not only the look of the job but added to the turps can give a longer life to the finish,[3 to 5 years].

Yes you need to sand between coats but resist the temptation to "Oversand". Why put it on if you are only going to sand it off?
Sometimes if the job is looking good a scourer will do for the next coat.

With respect to "Footloose" who clearly has an understanding of what is needed for a good finish, I would advise never ever ever ever ever wiping down a varnish job down with "Paint thinners" or any other spirit that could give a "White coat" or a "Bloom" in the finish of an oil based application.
Regards. Shiner
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Old 02-04-2011, 22:21   #11
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Re: Varnish questions

Sven, the bare spots you are seeing go away if you thin out the varnish a bit. You didn't mention what varnish you are using, but some are more prone than others to not flowing out over a recently varnished surface. The foam brushes are the way to go, and for what it's worth, here is my technique for a perfect finish.

1. 2-3 coats of epoxy thinned with MEK to the thickness of paint thinner. Smith's is fine. Use an inexpensive regular brush.
2. Light friction sanding of the surface. The light touch is very important after the epoxy, and if I really want a perfect sub base for the varnish, I will wet sand with 400.
3. Choose your varnish and thin 10 - 20%. When you lay it on, do so with a foam brush 'working' it into the surface. By this I mean brush multiple times back and forth, back and forth. I really slop it on and my favorite varnishes are those that level out nicely with this treatment, which is largely a function of proper thinning.
4. I only sand to remove irregularities as I build up the surface. Wet sanding is always best if you can do it, otherwise I use 150 until the final 3 coats.
5. 8 coats is the target minimum. Sand with 400 wet between the next to last and last coat. Before that, slop it on to build depth and don't worry about defects unless they constitute the creation of an uneven surface.
6. If you don't have the ultimate finish with the final coat, then go one more. Here is the danger spot. The varnish can't be overthinned or it will not be as bright as it should be. For the final, 'working' the varnish into the previous coat is critical.

My favorite varnishes are Epifanes for interior work - Rubbed Effect - Flagship for exterior when I want maximum longevity at the cost of each of application - and Schooner for an easy to apply, nicely leveling finish. I don't like Epifanes for exterior as that product is a lot harder to apply even than Flagship, which will last longer.

Again, my two cents, but here is what is to be avoided. First, the finicky sand between each coat, thin coat application. This is the technique of the paid by the hour varnisher and wastes an opportunity to lay it on thick. Second, cutting the number of coats down below 8. I have laid on up to 12 on masts and had them last 6 years without recoating, still looking good after that amount of time.

Hope that helps.
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Old 02-04-2011, 23:03   #12
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Re: Varnish questions

Shiner, I am always interested in learning how to improve my results. I use Paint thinner(mineral spirits) for both thinning the varnish and removing any oils from what I'm going to to varnish, also to clean my brushes. In the heat here I almost never can varnish without having to thin it somewhat. Is it terminology or should I be using something else. thanks
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Old 03-04-2011, 05:49   #13
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Re: Varnish questions

1. NO! Thorough sanding is required to ensure optimum adhesion between coats, and to create a smooth undercoat. Sand every coat of finish, before applying a new coat.
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Old 03-04-2011, 06:04   #14
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Re: Varnish Questions

an expert friend who has a wooden yacht with lots of bright work swears by adding,penzoil "penetrol" brush ease which helps the varnish brush on easier,stops those dry spots....
he also uses linseed oil mixed down with mineral spirits as a first coat on bare wood
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Old 03-04-2011, 06:11   #15
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Re: Varnish questions

Quote:
Originally Posted by cabo_sailor View Post

As I've posted before, I use this lady's book as my bible. And most of what I've posted above comes from her advice. For the amount of labor you're talking about I figure the $20 is worth it.

Amazon.com: The Brightwork Companion : Tried-and-True Methods and Strongly Held Opinions in Thirteen and One-Half Chapters (0639785802969): Rebecca Wittman: Books
Not much to add to the excellent guidance in this thread. I will add my support for using Wittman's book as a guide. Also, if you can find a copy of her earlier book, Brightwork: The Art of Finishing Wood, it will find a prominent place in your library of nautical porn. The pictures of some of the classic boats she worked on are beyond stunning.
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