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Thread: varnish in cold weather?

  1. #1
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    Default varnish in cold weather?

    I have the time and the boathouse and I want to varnish this winter. The problem is that the temperatures are typically in the 40's. The boathouse is big and too leaky to heat. I might try some halogen work lights for both light and surface heat. I might try some japan dryer. I might try to tent the boat. I might just wait until Spring.

    I'd appreciate your thoughts and advice on this.

  2. #2
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    Default Re: varnish in cold weather?

    How big is the varnished area? If the area is small enough, you can warm it with an infrared heater. It heats the surface, not the air. Not the best way, of course, but if you also keep the varnish pot a bit warm it can work just fine. Been there, done that.

    - Norm

    Typical infrared heater


  3. #3
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    Default Re: varnish in cold weather?

    Quote Originally Posted by John P Lebens View Post
    I have the time and the boathouse and I want to varnish this winter. The problem is that the temperatures are typically in the 40's. The boathouse is big and too leaky to heat. I might try some halogen work lights for both light and surface heat. I might try some japan dryer. I might try to tent the boat. I might just wait until Spring.

    I'd appreciate your thoughts and advice on this.
    Painting and varnishing can be done throughout the year in our climate. For varnish, I use Epifanes varnish appropriately thinned and accelerator added.

    The main thing to deal with is the dew. You have a narrow window of time after the dew rises to get the varnish on and flashed out sufficiently before the dew settles again.

    For example, you might wiped down and start varnishing at ten or so so that the finish has gone off sufficiently by early afternoon.

    Boatyards have instruments to measure temperature/humidity to deal with dew.

  4. #4
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    Default Re: varnish in cold weather?

    Pat -- the question arises because he's not using one of the more typical spar varnishes. He's using (refresh my memory, John) one of the low-VOC finishes that comes in a square tin (CRS is kicking in this morning... it's still not coming to me). Anywaaaaay... the label specifically says no application below (was it 60 degrees? 70 degrees?).

    Maybe you can deduce which product I mean... and speak to low-temp use of the product. I have no experience with it. I guess it'd be worth a call to their tech folks. Too often, though, the answers you get initially are CYA kinds of disclaimers - which echo the cautions on the can. Sometimes it takes a bit of probing to tease out the true parameters of usage. So... John, if you do call, don't be easily deterred.
    David G
    Harbor Woodworks
    http://www.harborwoodworking.com/boat.html

    "It was a Sunday morning and Goddard gave thanks that there were still places where one could worship in temples not made by human hands." -- L. F. Herreshoff (The Compleat Cruiser)

  5. #5
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    Default Re: varnish in cold weather?

    The varnish is le Tonkinois. I really like the stuff, but they say I need temps above 60 degrees or takes too long to dry.

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    Default Re: varnish in cold weather?

    John,

    You can't hide in Portland . Check your 'private messages' here on the forum.

    Jack
    Last edited by KAIROS; 11-19-2009 at 02:24 PM.

  7. #7
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    Default Re: varnish in cold weather?

    I prefer real varnish; I have never used this stuff. However, if I recall correctly, all coatings say you you have to use them at 72 degrees. However, if this le Tonkinois stuff does not have an accelerator then you have a problem.

    Maybe others will have more applicable information.

  8. #8
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    Default Re: varnish in cold weather?

    I find (with standard spar varnish) that once into the 40s, you need to add drier. My boathouse is quite humid in winter, could be a factor....but then, who's boathouse isn't cold and humid around here in winter?

    Take some varnish, put it on a piece of wood of the type you are finishing, and see what happens. If there are any better ideas than that, I'm all ears.

    By the way, I have come to dislike working in my boathouse during the shortest, coldest and wettest days of the year. I just find I don't get as much good work done, so I tend to abandon the projects between the end of November through February.

    Interior work is OK then. Exterior work is just harder for my creaky bones. On the rare nice day I might wander down then, but usually if it's sunny, it's also quite cold, and once into the low 40s, I find varnish doesn't set up as well. It does maintain a long wet edge, but that doesn't offset the other issues for me, principle of which is my own comfort. The boathouse might as well be an ice box in those conditions.

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    Default Re: varnish in cold weather?

    I've found that if you tent a boat inside your shop/boathouse you can often keep temps relatively constant with minimal effort. Extra bonus in the reduced airborne junk.

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    Default Re: varnish in cold weather?

    With low humidity, I've had excellent results brushing traditional varnish (specifically Pettit BAK-V-SPAR) in the garage at temperatures in the 40's. However, I have only done this with pieces small enough that I could carry them into a warm, ventilated and heavily newspapered bathroom for curing. I got some very flat, heavy coats that way.

    I haven't tried this with the Flagship varnish I'm using currently.

    Years ago I brushed an evening coat of BAK-V-SPAR outdoors when temperatures were in the upper 50's. Humidity was low and it came out fine the next morning.
    "Whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting over." -Samuel Clemens

  11. #11
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    Default Re: varnish in cold weather?

    I may have to shift to interior work for a few of these colder months. In addition to the cold, it is pretty dark in the house.

    I am going to buy a bank of work lights on a tripod at Lowes today. With a pair of 500 watt halogen lamps, I hope to have both light and some heat. I'll report back on my results.

    I am noting some skepticism/lack of exposure to Le Tonkinois. I decided to use it based on a 3 1/2 year review in a British wood boat magazine (lost track of the reference for now). It's performance was comparable to Epifanes, but easier to apply. I have talked with a couple of users who really like it. I find it quite easy to apply. It is less glossy after a bit of weather exposure, which is OK for me. I also like the fact that it contains less volume in solvents so it builds faster. With fewer solvents it may be a little less toxic as well. Maybe the biggest weakness is winter varnishing?

  12. #12
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    Default Re: varnish in cold weather?

    John,

    Do they have tech reps you can call?

    I also have heard some good reports of the finish. A genuine problem, though, is lack of a wide-spread knowledge base. If you were using Interlux, or Epiphanes, or one of the typical spar varnishes - any number of foks here could offer advice. With Le Tonkinois, you get to be the guinea pig. But look on the bright side. Any difficulties you have will make fine fodder for your later war-stories. And when you get it figured out, you'll be able to mentor other upcoming LT users
    David G
    Harbor Woodworks
    http://www.harborwoodworking.com/boat.html

    "It was a Sunday morning and Goddard gave thanks that there were still places where one could worship in temples not made by human hands." -- L. F. Herreshoff (The Compleat Cruiser)

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    Default Re: varnish in cold weather?

    I've talked with the distributor and he was quite honest that cooler weather is one of the few weaknesses of the product. That's why I need to get a little warmth on the subject or just wait until warmer weather. (Being a wooden vessel, I do have plenty of other projects to keep me busy)

    The current (December) issue of Practical Sailor has an article on varnishes. Naturally, Epifanes is doing well in the comparison. So is Z-Spar. Le Tonkinois gets knocked a bit on the gloss issue (in Florida sun)
    Last edited by John P Lebens; 11-19-2009 at 04:23 PM.

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    Default Re: varnish in cold weather?

    Quote Originally Posted by pcford View Post
    I prefer real varnish; I have never used this stuff.

    Le Tonk is real varnish. The formula is hundreds of years old, brought back from Indochina by the French. I've been very pleased with it.


    Steven

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    Default Re: varnish in cold weather?

    Quote Originally Posted by StevenBauer View Post
    ......The formula is hundreds of years old......
    Steven
    Like everything on our boats.....

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    Default Re: varnish in cold weather?

    I bought the halogen work lights and 1) 1000 watts of light is enough to see a lot of detail - it is bright, and 2) the lights do result in some temperature increase at the surface if they are within 5 or 6 feet. I'll experiment on a limited area and who knows - this might work. I also like the idea of tenting sections of the vessel and using an ordinary heater.

    I may also rent a warm shop for a while this winter (we are condo dwellers) to varnish anything I can remove from the boat.
    Last edited by John P Lebens; 11-19-2009 at 08:48 PM.

  17. #17
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    Default Re: varnish in cold weather?

    Quote Originally Posted by John P Lebens View Post
    I bought the halogen work lights and 1) 1000 watts of light is enough to see a lot of detail - it is bright,
    Halogen lights, in my opinion are not worth a darn for varnishing. Totally glaring...they are too much light. One or two hundred watt bulbs are way better.

    And again, varnish does not require the raising of the ambient temperature.
    Last edited by pcford; 11-19-2009 at 11:23 PM.

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    Default Re: varnish in cold weather?

    Quote Originally Posted by John P Lebens View Post
    I also like the idea of tenting sections of the vessel and using an ordinary heater.
    Does this "ordinary heater" have an exposed element? And, are the vapors flammable?
    just wondering...

  19. #19
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    Default Re: varnish in cold weather?

    Those two 500 watts bulbs may be way too much, I agree.

    Good question on flammability....

    It's looking like I may need to just wait until Spring

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    Default Re: varnish in cold weather?

    I varnish all winter here in Maine. In fact I have varnish drying in my unheated shop as I type this (the shop will be heated next month). There is absolutely no problem with varnish drying although it sometimes takes two days if the temps fall into the lower 30s. Starting in December I will start heating my shop to 60 degrees during the day and letting it cool to about 40 at night. I have never had a problem with varnish drying at those temps. I varnish nearly every day all winter.

  21. #21
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    Default Re: varnish in cold weather?

    Quote Originally Posted by Todd D View Post
    I varnish all winter here in Maine. In fact I have varnish drying in my unheated shop as I type this (the shop will be heated next month). There is absolutely no problem with varnish drying although it sometimes takes two days if the temps fall into the lower 30s. Starting in December I will start heating my shop to 60 degrees during the day and letting it cool to about 40 at night. I have never had a problem with varnish drying at those temps. I varnish nearly every day all winter.
    Yes. Drying is not the problem...though it will take longer. The problem is dew. In a region with less humidity in winter than Seattle, one would have less difficulty with dew.

  22. #22
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    Default Re: varnish in cold weather?

    My varnishing is in an unheated garage or on the boat. Can't say I've ever varnished at -30F but I suppose it could be scraped out of the can like peanut butter at that temperature.

    I have applied Epifanes at 40-50 degrees where the overnight temp drops to 20s within a few hours of application. I haven't had problems, but it's also about 10-20% humidity here when it's cold, to pcford's point.

  23. #23
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    Default Re: varnish in cold weather?

    The biggest problem I have with varnishing is the dew that forms when the temps drop too low. It leaves a mottled satiny surface once it dries. But that is more a function of varnishing too late in the day. One of the sailors at my marina told me he was required to finish about 5 hours before sunset to avoid this.

    I've varnished in cooler weather e.g. 40F without real problems as long as I do it early enough so that it dries before the dew comes. I have no idea about -30F though.
    Will

  24. #24
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    Default Re: varnish in cold weather?

    Thanks for all your thoughts on this cold weather varnishing. I think I will just do some experimenting based on the info I have received.

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    Default Re: varnish in cold weather?

    The substrate matters a good deal in cold weather varnishing as well. "Pure wood" like teak or mahogany gives a varnish the best crack at setting up.

    Rebecca Whitman talks about varnish not kicking off on some mixed surfaces. I believe she was talking about teak and holly soles (or some such mixed wood surface) having given her a hard time. On a variation of that, I found varnishing my decks when they were paid with Boatlife (ugh....don't like to remind myself!) was futile in cold weather because it wouldn't kick off. Plain old teak or fir? No problem.
    So it makes a difference not only what the conditions are, but what the various
    materials, substrates, woods..... and what combinations they might be in.....are.

  26. #26
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    Default Re: varnish in cold weather?

    Quote Originally Posted by outofthenorm View Post
    How big is the varnished area? If the area is small enough, you can warm it with an infrared heater. It heats the surface, not the air. Not the best way, of course, but if you also keep the varnish pot a bit warm it can work just fine. Been there, done that.

    - Norm
    are you suggesting I can keep varnishing? Piece meal of course...? Really? I could Jerry rig a heat lamp up like that to finish my rails & stuff... Interesting?
    Michelle

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    Default Re: varnish in cold weather?

    During cold wet weather, I cut my varnish a bit with #8 thinner ( normally a spraying reducer for oil based paint) A bit of Japan drier added will kick the drying time up a few notches. Even so it may take several days for the skin to become dry enough for sanding or safe handeling. Tenting the area and using heat lamps will also help. Direct heat will. often cause uneven drying. Better to use the tenting method.
    Jay

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    Default Re: varnish in cold weather?

    Quote Originally Posted by gimmellsmom View Post
    are you suggesting I can keep varnishing? Piece meal of course...? Really? I could Jerry rig a heat lamp up like that to finish my rails & stuff... Interesting?
    Michelle
    Sure. As others have suggested, sometimes you need to jiggle the mix a bit with japan dryers and such, but as long as it's above freezing, you're fine. Take the varnish home for the night so it's at room temp to start with. Don't use the can that was on the boat or in the trunk of the car all night.

    A dry surface and a bit of time to kick off before the dew sets is all you need. That's why I like the infrared heater. It warms the surface and gets things moving faster. Like Jay said, don't heat the varnish once it's on Instead, heat the surface before you start. Just fire it up and let it warm an area for 15-20 minutes, then keep the lamp moving ahead of you. Works like a charm. The surface is drier and the varnish seems to lay down better. With the IR heater there's no open flame or hot element. It's just an infrared lamp. Lee Valley has a good one.

    - Norm
    Last edited by outofthenorm; 11-27-2009 at 04:30 PM.

  29. #29

    Default Re: varnish in cold weather?

    I'm trying to use the search tool for this orum w/o success.
    It has a sample question field that seems to be a requirement.
    Any help?
    Ed

  30. #30

    Default Re: varnish in cold weather?

    Woops-Sorry
    Should have started new thread.
    Apologies

  31. #31
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    Default Re: varnish in cold weather?

    I prefer varnishing in the cold weather using Epifanes. The best varnishing job I did was in 6C/42F. I wouldn't worry about it. The warm weather is quite difficult because the varnish sets too fast and doesn't spread out evenly which is why people try to keep it cool with ice in a bucket. With the cooler weather I don't get ugly sags on vertical surfaces. I now do all my vertical surfaces under the boat cover in the winter.

  32. #32
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    Default Re: varnish in cold weather?

    Using Le Tonkinois No. 1, I applied a second base coat yesterday in weather that topped out at about 50 degrees. I warmed the varnish before applying it. I used a pair of 500 watt halogen lights and a small electric heater to warm the wood before I applied the varnish. The humidity was about 50%. It has been clear and cold at night going to the high 30's. A day later the varnish is setting up nicely - it worked!

    I suspect that the slow curing of the first coat may have been because of high humidity levels.

  33. #33
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    Default Re: varnish in cold weather?

    Schonner is an excellent cold weather varnish; it dries very well and is even at its best as it has high viscosity in the cold. Taking two days to dry? What is going to be in that coating when it takes two days to dry? Or looked at another way; what's not going to be in that coating?

  34. #34
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    Default Re: varnish in cold weather?

    This week I applied some Epifanes; during the time I applied it, the temperature has been in the high 30s to high 40s. Following the instructions on the can, I thinned with their recommended thinner and used their accelerator.

    Dried fine; looked fine. Takes longer to get hard. Better to varnish in decent weather...but sometimes you hafta.

  35. #35
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    Default Re: varnish in cold weather?

    I have used LeTonk and Epifanes.In comparison LeTonk dries extremely slow, even under normal conditions. Pro: holidays can be corrected easily. Con:will collect a lot of dust before dry to the touch.

  36. #36
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    Default Re: varnish in cold weather?

    I've been using Le Tonkinois and find it outstanding; with an older wooden boat, it's very flexible and forgiving at the joints and instead of cracking like Epifanes did, it just flexes. It loses its gloss, but not having to sand between coats is fantastic. It tends to skim over in the can though....

    Why not try it on a piece of scrap wood and see if it dries in colder weather....?

  37. #37

    Default Re: varnish in cold weather?

    I have had problems with certain brands of varnish not curing at even fairly high temperatures, like 18-20 deg. C. I found that the stuff made by our local paint company cured much more reliably than the "high-end" product made far away, and no doubt, designed for a long pot life in Florida. Still tacky after 3 days! The General Paint spar varnish cured overnight, and seemed to kick off the product underneath it as well.

  38. #38
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    Default Re: varnish in cold weather?

    What product is your local one? I've heard that "Kush" varnish is very good; ditto for Ace Hardware Spar. The latter is about $12/quart.

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