View Full Version : "Good-Brush" varnishing

06-19-2003, 09:26 AM
I know it seems like this topic has been beaten to death... I've written "use the best brush you can afford" the requisite 200 times on the blackboard and everything, but I still gotta ask.....

What am I doing wrong?

I SWEAR that I get better results when I use even the crappyest foam brushes. China bristle, badgerhair, etc, I've tried them all, and I still always go back to the foamies. I'm not saying that I'm producing magazine-quality work with the foamies, I'm just saying that the good brushes don't do any better for me.

Still, everyone tells me that the good brushes are the way to go. So what am I missing?

Jeff Kelety
06-19-2003, 09:37 AM
So what specifically isn't working with the badger hair brush? Sags, runs, etc? What kind of varnish? What are you mixing into the varnish? I get good results with a badger-hair brush and Epafanes properly thinned.


Bruce Hooke
06-19-2003, 09:41 AM
Many people do high-quality work with foam brushes -- including some pros I think. Where I find that the foam brushes fall down is on sharply curved surfaces where the foam cannot follow the surface the way a bristle brush can...

06-19-2003, 09:50 AM
Originally posted by Jeff Kelety:
So what specifically isn't working with the badger hair brush? Sags, runs, etc? What kind of varnish? What are you mixing into the varnish? I get good results with a badger-hair brush and Epafanes properly thinned.
Right. With the good brushes, I get more sags, runs, oldmaids, etc. My problem seems independent of varnish type. I've used epiphanes, z-spar, and now I'm on System Three. All thinned and unthinned.

I'm thinking it's a technique thing that I'm doing wrong. I know... hard to evaluate my technique on an online board, but you won't catch anything without a line in the water..... so I post and pray.

Jeff Kelety
06-19-2003, 10:16 AM
<I get more sags, runs, oldmaids>

Well, I can only speak to Epafanes in this regard, but you may be getting more varnish on than you need. A good badger-hair brush will hold more than a foamie, I think. So that may be the difference. Assuming sufficient thinning, go easier on loading up the brush. Don't dip in more than a 1/4 to a 1/2 inch of the brush at time. And work smaller sections as well. This allows you time to inspect for runs, etc. before moving on.

And, of course, no need to feel you must use a good bristle brush. If foam is working for you, why bother?

BTW, on another post, I've asked much the same question about brush painting. I've been able to get pretty good at varnishing, but brush painting quality alludes me still. Probably 'cause I do so much more varnishing than painting. That "practice makes perfect" sort of thing, perhaps.

Good luck.


06-19-2003, 12:17 PM
IMHO brushes pick up and hold more product uniformly to the ends than the foam brushes. Thus they are wonderful for wide areas 3" or better and curved pieces.

The foam brushes are effectively a sponge - duh! - and seem to wick and hold more product internally until you press the foam down at which time a nice glob squeezes out. Because of the "sponge on a stick effect" I have had little luck varnishing with anything other than the 2" or smaller ones.

Also, when a foam brush gets loaded up your only options are break out a new one or unload the excess on a piece of (clean) scrap. Don't try to rake the globby mess back into your container of varnish. Egads! I shudder at the thought

Also, since the foam brushes are sponges, if your foam brush is dryer than the spot you're working on, you'll actually pick up product rather than putting down varnish or paint.

It's not rocket science, more like logic and you just have to use the properties to your advantage.

06-19-2003, 01:15 PM
I wish I knew how to varnish. People I respect say they have good results with foam brushes but danged if I can figure out how. I've not tried a really good badger brush made for varnishing but I seems to get good results from a good china brisle brush. That is if I know what good is.

The books say to flow the varnish on and not to brush it out as one does paint. Hmmm? Danged if I know what that means. Dip the brush in, lay it against the side of the container to unload one side, and brush. Not too thick, not too thin. Tip off and move on.

It don't seem like that big a deal. What am I missing?

06-19-2003, 05:19 PM
I learnd it from an old salt who varnished in the old days when there were no sandingmachines etc. When they had a sag or drip they had to sand it down by hand and start all over again so they learned very quickly.
1. dip your brush in the varnish, doesn't matter how much you get on, matter is how much you can apply before it starts to set (temperature and all) then you apply it with the grain.
2. Stroke the part on witch you were working on 90 degrees of the grain wiping the acces varnish to a place that needs to be doing.
3. Lightly pass the (empt) brush over the surface again with the grain and leave it to set, and take more surface so the varnish interconnects with the parts you already have done. Works for me anyway.

Ed Harrow
06-19-2003, 06:45 PM
I hesitate to prattle on about Uncle Dick's well-trained varnish brushes :D ...

A little dip (learned by experience, I guess), most people, I think, then to dip the brush to deeply.

Never, ever, IMHO let the brush touch the side of the can, let alone drag it over the lip to unload it, from that comes bubbles and junk. My brushes just kind of shake themselves a bit, in the container, to get rid of the excess.

When they get to work, they apply in one direction (across the work), and tip in the direction of the work, but from just done to previously done.

They often don't start the new spot right where the old ended, but skip a head a little and work both ways.

They are very light on their feet, in fact they hardly seem to be working at all.

They loath foamie brushes. ;)

Scott Rosen
06-19-2003, 08:39 PM
I agree with a lot of what's been said. Like Margo, I've had good success with the 1" and 2" foam brushes. Anything larger and the brush just unloads too fast.

I think you just have to do it until you get the feel. Maybe it would help to watch someone who is good at it.

I find that different varnishes have different feels. Foam brushes seem to work best for the varnishes that like to go on in thin coats, like McCloskey, Interlux and Rivali. I like Chinese bristle brushes for the varnish I use, Detco, which likes to go on in very thick coats. The bristle brushes hold a lot more and will release it much more evenly and uniformly than a foam brush.

No matter what, though, once you get the feel for a particular varnish, you can apply it well with any kind of brush, foam, badger, Chinese bristle, even the throw-away chip brushes.

Heck, I once varnished a wooden ocean liner with a corn husk broom.

Peter Malcolm Jardine
06-19-2003, 08:52 PM
I buy foamies in quantity and throw em out. I seem to have got the hang of them, but I would say that climate has something to do with it too. Debi and I are varnishing in about 68 degree weather with high humidity with Interlux. I apply CPES, then 3 coats. I sand lightly and apply about 5 coats. I then sand until the surface is levelled completely, and apply about another 4 coats with a wet 1500 grit between the last two. So far so good,We have done a lot of area... ten quarts later...

Wayne Jeffers
06-19-2003, 09:37 PM
What Ed said! Use well-trained brushes, don't load them too heavily, and never touch the can with them.

If you scrape the brush along the edge of the can, you usually make little bubbles in the varnish. This can only cause trouble. Dipping the brush too deeply gets the butt end of the bristles saturated with varnish too soon, which will be drying as you work and will make the brush too stiff. After you've worked a long time and the butt of the brush starts to stiffen up, you can loosen it and buy a little extra time with a few drops of turps worked into the butt of the bristles with your fingers.. Practice until you learn to load up the brush just right with no more than a gentle shake and you'll avoid many problems.

If you want to be really fussy, you can pour your varnish into another container to work from and toss out any that is left over after you finish that coat. That way, you don't transfer any sanding dust or other contaminants to the varnish in your can that you will use for later coats.

I always wipe the groove in the top of the can thoroughly, sometimes with mineral spirits in the cloth, in order to ensure a good seal and to prevent later problems from repeated re-sealing.


Wild Wassa
06-19-2003, 10:00 PM
Figment, I haven't read everyone's replies, but it sounds like you are overloading the brush.

Thin is best. Badgers are too course to be anything better than a trade brush. Taclon is the go. Badgers are reservoirs for paint.

[ 06-19-2003, 11:03 PM: Message edited by: Wild Wassa ]

06-20-2003, 07:27 AM
What would Taclon be in American English?

Ed Harrow
06-20-2003, 07:59 AM
Yee Gads! It NEVER occured to me that one would varnish!!! or even paint, direct from the can!!! :eek: Uncle Dick would shoot me.

Pour, or better yet use a small cup to dip the varnish from the can and then pour it thru a fine filter (those paper cones with the screening at the bottom) into a smaller, clean, container. This will help to prevent bubbles as well.

As Wayne says, if you pour from a can, be certain to clean the lip well before replacing the lid. That sounds like a good use for one of those awful foamie brushes. ;) Likewise, once out of the can varnish is not returned to the can.

06-21-2003, 09:39 PM
I always thought that foam brushes were part of a system, the "roll and tip" method. That is what I use with varnishes such as Detco and Awlspar; both of which can be recoated without sanding and in about an hour and a half. I roll the varnish on out of the paint tray with the 7 inch yellow WEST epoxy rollers. Yes, it is foamy and looks awful until I take a 3 or 4 inch foam brush (Red Tree or Jen Poly ONLY for me) and "tip" it out. The only thing that seems to work better for me for final coats is spraying the varnish. I get a higher build rate and use less varnish per coat on the early coats by rolling and tipping.

06-23-2003, 09:22 PM
Varnish on a horizontal surface. You won't get any sags! smile.gif On vertical surfaces, you might try sanding with 220 or higher. It is my feeling that, with less groove comes less sag.

I varnish heavy, cross grain, spread and tip with the grain. On my hull, I foam roll and brush tip. A twin brother is great for this! The varnish rollers can be bought at Home Depot.