View Full Version : Another Varnish Post

Scott Rosen
11-13-2000, 10:26 AM
Before I get started, I just want to make it clear that I know we already have too many varnish posts, and that varnishing is one of the least important aspects of boat building (although it is one of the most time consuming aspects of boat maintenance).

I have to wood my exterior teak brightwork next season. So before I put in the large amount of time and effort needed to strip and recoat, I decided I would do an experiment to determine which varnish to use. Here's the experiment:

Three premium varnishes:

1. Rivale Classic Gloss

2. Epifanes

3. Detco Crystal

For each varnish I am coating two pieces of teak, one with sealed with CPES and one sealed with thinned varnish. I will have a total of six samples, two for each varnish. I plan to apply eight coats.

I am testing for ease of application and beauty of appearance. I am not testing for durability, as all three are on the high end of durability for traditional tung oil products.

I have used Rivale in the past. The reason I am considering a switch is because it is difficult and time-consuming to apply, and because horizontal surfaces develop an unusually high amount of crazing from direct exposure to sun. It is a very looonnnngggg oil product, so some coats take two days to dry enough to recoat. Sanding is difficult too, as it stays on the soft side for weeks, and it clogs paper like nothing else. But it is a beautiful looking finish.

I chose Epifanes because it is widely known to be an excellent product and has been recommended by some Forumites.

I chose Detco, because of the company's reputation for making top quality coatings and goops for the marine and aeronautical industries. You may recall that Detco polysulfide deck caulk is the standard of the industry, and its Sterling LPU paints are reputed to be among the best. But back to varnish--Detco is supposedly formulated for ease of application. After an overnight dry, it can be recoated without sanding between coats. Dries to touch in an hour so the first three or four coats can be applied in a two day period. It sands easily like powder and doesn't clog paper. It can be applied in cold weather, which is ideal for me, as I do most of my varnishing in the winter, spring and fall.

I realize this is a completely subjective "test." But for those of you who are interested, I'll keep you posted.

Anyway, I need something to play with during the Void--November through March when there's no sailing and no baseball.

[This message has been edited by Scott Rosen (edited 11-13-2000).]

John R Smith
11-13-2000, 10:39 AM
Interesting test, Scott. Let us know how it pans out.

11-13-2000, 12:01 PM
Put them outside facing the noonday sun, and cover the top third or so with a wrap of aluminum foil. That way you will always have "before" to compare with the "after" as they age.

Jim Hillman
11-13-2000, 01:12 PM
Scott, are you testing Epifanes Woodfinish Gloss or their standard varnish?

Tom Lathrop
11-13-2000, 03:37 PM
Good on you Scott,

Like most people who work with wood, be it furniture or boats, the subject of finishing comes up in every meeting with other wood butchers. I have never met any serious worker who thought that they had found an ideal bright finish for ease of appication, maintenance and durability. It seems that each new miracle product comes with a downside. Hope you can enlighten us.

What would you consider a good level of durability, lifetime and ruggedness?

Gary Bergman
11-13-2000, 05:48 PM
What? No fair test of Cetol in this 'experiment'?

Ian Wright
11-13-2000, 07:48 PM
How odd, I'm also testing varnishes, Epifanes, International, Blakes and, this year Varnol.
I had no teak handy so I've used iroko and mahogany plus a softwood pole (Spruce)
Still a few months to run but it looks like Epifanes is ahead so far. The Varnol, a varnising oil based on real turps smells great http://media4.hypernet.com/~dick/ubb/smile.gif and is also doing a good job, but as I have used refresher coats as per instructions all things are not quite equal.

Once the varnishes have been through another winter I'll post details of how it came out.
All pretty crude and non-scientific but I just wanted to satisfy myself as to how they worked in my conditions when applied by me,,,,,,your results may vary.


Scott Rosen
11-13-2000, 07:50 PM
Jim, I'm testing the Epifanes regular varnish.

Tom, With regular maintanence, I expect a varnish finish to last from seven to ten years in the New England climate, with the boat being under cover during the five coldest months. Regular maintanence means applying refresher coats once a year after a light to moderate sanding, and having to do occassional spot repairs. If the finish gets deep crazing, loses adhsition or gets yellow and cloudy under those circumstances, then I do not consider it to be durable.

Tom Lathrop
11-13-2000, 10:24 PM
Thanks Scott,

I'm not sure how to transer your experience to NC where there is no winter covered storage and the sun is a much greater enemy. Further south toward the tropics, the comparison becomes even less relevant. I have opted for very little brightwork on boats that have to live outside. For boats that are small enough to keep in shelters or under tarps, I do use more varnish, particularly on the interior and or decks. I can get five or six years without maintenance from a bright finished tiller provided it is kept in a Sunbrella sleeve when not in use. I weakened and put two bright rub rails on each side of my new boat but may be sorry later on.

Still waiting on the ideal varnish. THe Detco sounds good. Think I'll give it a try. I liked the Sterling LPU.

03-17-2002, 09:45 AM
I was wondering how your varnish test is going? :confused: Do you have any feedback at this time?

Also, do you know anything about the new Epifanes Rapidcoat?

s/v Aimless

03-17-2002, 11:58 AM
Yes Virginia, there is a Lizard Lick, NC. They even have thier own web page....


--N smile.gif R M

03-17-2002, 12:29 PM




03-17-2002, 01:05 PM
Scot, I'd be interested if you would throw in some local paint store spar varnish. I'd like to see the difference between that and the other high priced varnishes. We have valspar around here, but I'm sure they are all comparible.


Scott Rosen
03-18-2002, 09:04 AM
Here's where my test has taken me.

I now use Detco's Crystal over CPES for all of my exterior work. The varnish I applied in the early spring of 2001 looked almost fresh after 8 months in the direct sunlight. No crazing, lifting or cracking. I'd say it retained about 70% to 80% or its gloss.

Detco is the easiest to work with, as it flows and levels like glass, even in windy or hot conditions. It dries to the touch in about an hour out of doors. You can recoat without sanding within 24 hours, which makes the build coats go fast.

All three of varnishes look great, with slight differences in appearance. If you were building a museum piece, you might use the Rivale. But it crazes and cracks in the sun, and it's very, very difficult to apply.

I was least impressed with the Epifanes. It was finicky to apply and darkened the wood too much for my taste.

For interior work, I continue to use McClosky's Boatkote, which has a rich caramel color, a tough hard finish and high gloss. It gives Patience a very traditional look on the interior. The McClosky's didn't hold up well for exterior work. It yellowed and turned cloudy in the sun, became brittle and chipped.

I'm not planning to add any more varnishes to my test.