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Thread: applying varnish

  1. #1
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    Default applying varnish

    The forum has been extremely helpful in assisting me in making a decision regarding finishing the inwales and outwales on my shellback. It's interesting that with all the new products out there, the consensus turned out to be to forget all the new products that promise wonderful results, and use a high quality spar varnish; tradition I suppose usually rules. Here is my question that i'm sure some of you will find to be a ridiculous one;

    Can you apply varnish to the underside of a surface? Both the inwales and outwales have tops and bottoms, and do I have to flip the boat over to varnish the under surface of them or is there enough viscosity in the varnish to allow me to brush the underside without the varnish dripping all over the place? my guess is yes I have to flip it over or it won't level, but I thought i'd ask anyway. I have no easily found assistant, and it's a bit too big an heavy for me to turn over myself.

    thanks

    David

  2. #2
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    Default Re: applying varnish

    Easy overhead, vertical, whatever. The biggest mistake new varnishers make is overloading the brush and putting on too thick a coat. This is of course more critical when working on a surface that faces down.

    First: Real brush. Foam will drip.

    Second: Correct size brush. Not bigger than the job.

    Third: Only dip the bottom 1/4" of the brush and then pull one side against the pot rim.

    For this sort of job you can lay down probably less than 6" of new varnish per pot dip. Once on, brush only towards the previous drawing the brush across your last two applications. Lift the brush away at the end of the stroke - no letting the bristles snap straight.

    Gunnels with inwales are a right pain because you tend to get drips where the frames come up. Varnish the top and inside verticals first so that, using a small brush, you can be just doing the actual down facing surfaces.

  3. #3
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    Default Re: applying varnish

    With varnish you need to brush it out very well, brushing from the wet to the dry, leaving a thin film that will not run. Only the tip of the brush should be dipped. Stir, never shake --keeping air bubbles out.

  4. #4
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    Default Re: applying varnish

    you're amazing. thanks so much!!

  5. #5
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    Default Re: applying varnish

    fantastic, thanks so much!!

  6. #6
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    Default Re: applying varnish

    Do not, repeat do not, brush from wet to dry. Always brush from dry to wet as Ian McColgin says. It's called maintaining a wet edge and it works to minimize runs, holidays and brush strokes.

  7. #7
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    Default Re: applying varnish

    Disagree on that, brush stroke direction. Opposite for paint.

  8. #8
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    Default Re: applying varnish

    Some of the handiest brushes I have in my sign kit is a set of sign writer's flats, also called "grey hounds" by some of us. With this handy brush a creative varnisher can reach and cover all manner of problem areas. On "Bright Star" we use a one inch flat to cover the entire rail cap from side to side in one stroke. Flat Grey sign brushes can be found a "Letter Head Sign Supply" on line. I use a 3/4" and 1" brush the most. These brushes can last a life time if properly cared for. At thorough rinse in mineral spirits, followed by a dip in clear mineral oil and flat storage in a sign writer's tin box will keep the brushes in prime condition. A foil lined cigar box works as well if the length will allow.
    Jay
    Last edited by Jay Greer; 02-10-2018 at 02:46 PM.

  9. #9
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    Default Re: applying varnish


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    Default Re: applying varnish


  11. #11
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    Default Re: applying varnish

    Wow Gib that looks handy! Does it come with a periscope? I can see that used for painting overheads without gettin drips on your hands or in your eye! Good one!
    Jay

  12. #12
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    Default Re: applying varnish

    Quote Originally Posted by Thad View Post
    With varnish you need to brush it out very well, brushing from the wet to the dry, leaving a thin film that will not run. Only the tip of the brush should be dipped. Stir, never shake --keeping air bubbles out.
    Interesting. I cannot recall ever seeing a specific recommendation wet to dry. Conventional wisdom is usually phrased in the opposite manner.
    Elaborate if you are so inclined.

    I think Thad is one of the sharper and more experienced contributors here on the forum.

    Speaking for myself, I brush both directions but tend to finish into the wet edge on the last stroke. And especially over larger areas
    I tend to vary the length of the finish stroke so as to avoid 'blockiness'. I don't think my technique really varies between paint or varnish.

    Sorry, thread drift.
    So yes Dave you can varnish your rails every which way. You don't have to flip the boat over(!). You are probably gluing up, but on traditional riveted rails I sometimes prefinish them. The tops are faired again but the other three sides have some finish built up before they are installed. Most people will find a brush, rather than foam, easier to manuever in tight corners and awkward confined spaces. A 'sash' brush is cut at an angle and is especially good for get into corners and following confined complex contours.
    Eric

  13. #13
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    Default Re: applying varnish

    My source was the old finishers at Graves Yacht yard and the Graves family. Always worked for me.

  14. #14
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    Default Re: applying varnish

    thanks so much

  15. #15
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    Default Re: applying varnish

    You're never going to see those bits. And they won't get much sunshine on them either. Brush whichever way you want. Go sailing.

  16. #16
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    Default Re: applying varnish

    that makes sense. i once built a strip canoe. varnished the whole thing using varnish and a brush, and didn't even think about which way I was brushing; came out great. I think sometimes we over think these things, but I still find it to be fun and food for thought. i love the forum!

    David

  17. #17
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    Default Re: applying varnish

    Yep, varnish is laid on dry to wet and feathered off by raising the brush off of the surface at the end of each stroke. This eliminates "Shingles" in the varnish.
    Jay

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    Default Re: applying varnish

    [QUOTE=Jay Greer;5475367]Wow Gib that looks handy! Does it come with a periscope? I can see that used for painting overheads without gettin drips on your hands or in your eye! Good one!

    I think that's called a radiator brush Jay. I've made my own by cutting the handle on a bevel right near the ferrule and glueing it back together with TIII and pinning it with a small predrilled finish nail. Works quite well for the back side of an inner rail where it's often impossible to get a regular straight brush.

  19. #19
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    Default Re: applying varnish

    As with anything in the boat building world I guess everyone has their own way of varnishing. For me brushing into the wet works and has done on many boats over many years. At the end of the day it's what you want and what works for you.

  20. #20
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    Default Re: applying varnish

    Varnishing is easier than painting, unless you are varnishing a big flat surface, like the deck of a classic runabout, and aiming for that classic mirror-like finish. For most real world applications, there is no reason to fret the details. Varnish is so beautiful, it will look better than any of the other boats on the dock, no matter how you slap it on.

    All the cult mystery about varnish just scares people into using alternatives, all of which are inferior to the real thing. Use a real brush, thin the first few coats, sand lightly between coats, and clean up drips. It will look great.

    Dont obsess about the brush, either. I’ve used disposable chip brushes, combing the bristles vigorously with a plastic hair comb, to get all the loose bristles out before using it. Again, with most applications, you will never see the difference, and it’s great to not have to clean the brush sometimes. That said, a really good brush is a pleasure to use, as long as you clean it thoroughly after each use. Don’t just stick it in a jar of mineral spirits.

    I’ve recently discovered Awlgrip Awlspar varnish. You can do 3 coats a day, which really speeds things along. Read the data sheet for details. Good stuff.
    Last edited by jalmberg; 02-12-2018 at 12:06 AM.

  21. #21
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    Default Re: applying varnish

    [QUOTE=Gib Etheridge;5476018]
    Quote Originally Posted by Jay Greer View Post
    Wow Gib that looks handy! Does it come with a periscope? I can see that used for painting overheads without gettin drips on your hands or in your eye! Good one!

    I think that's called a radiator brush Jay. I've made my own by cutting the handle on a bevel right near the ferrule and glueing it back together with TIII and pinning it with a small predrilled finish nail. Works quite well for the back side of an inner rail where it's often impossible to get a regular straight brush.
    It is indeed called a "bent radiator brush." They are easily obtainable on line, although not necessarily common in DIY paint stores and generally known only to the trade. They are called "radiator brushes" because their purpose is to apply paint between two parallel surfaces when there isn't enough room to swing a regular brush. In the days when radiators were common, it was impossible to paint a wall behind a steam radiator, or the back of the radiator itself, without removing the radiator, which was something of an exercise in plumbing. This brush made it possible to do that. I use mine most frequently to paint around and behind toilet tanks and commodes at home. It is often the easiest and best way to paint the inside of centerboard cases. Sometimes you have to work from both ends of the case or cobble on some sort of handle extension, but either way, this is the brush for that job. I've found mine handy for painting otherwise inaccessible areas of the bilge.

    The cheapo versions simply have bent ferrules. The pro-grade radiator brushes actually have an angle worked into the wooden handle, sort of the "adze handle of paintbrushes." Like all brushes, they come in various widths, bristle types, and handle lengths. The longer the handle, the greater your reach, obviously. I expect the longer handle is better, unless you don't mind your arms being covered in paint up to your armpits when you have to reach way down deep!

    Cheapo:



    Short handle, synthetic bristle:



    Long handle, Natural boar bristle:

    Last edited by Bob Cleek; 02-13-2018 at 07:09 PM.

  22. #22
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    Default Re: applying varnish

    Quote Originally Posted by Ian McColgin View Post
    Third: Only dip the bottom 1/4" of the brush and then pull one side against the pot rim.
    Mark this date in history:

    It's a rare day when I disagree with Ian. His avatar alone is enough to establish his credentials as an old salt beyond any further question. But today, dispute I must. Never rake a varnish brush over the lip of the varnish container. Doing so will cause a foamy mess of varnish to slide down the inside of the can and start floating on your varnish. On a sunny day, as this "carbonated" varnish warms in the sun, the air in those "tiny bubbles" will expand and "blow bubbles" all over the surface of your varnish job, requiring sanding and another coat. If you do this, there is nothing for it but to close up that container of varnish and set it aside and let the bubbles rise out of the varnish.

    The proper way to remove excess varnish after charging your brush is to gently "pat," "wipe," or "brush" it (call it what you will) against the inside of the container.

    To Ian's other excellent advice, I'd add:

    1. Use a scrupulously clean brush. Bits of dried varnish surrounding bristles near the heel from a previous incomplete cleaning will break off when the bristles flex in use and will be transferred to the varnish you are laying down. Then you'll be posting here asking why your varnish has all sorts of specs in it even after you thoroughly tacked it before starting out.

    2. Unlike martinis, varnish is best stirred, not shaken. It's those "tiny bubbles" again. And it should always be stirred before use because components may settle, particularly UV inhibitors, causing uneven UV protection as you work your way down to the bottom of the can. Stirring is especially important if you are one of those people who take the easy way out and use "satin sheen" varnish instead of hand-rubbing gloss varnish with pumice or rottenstone, depending upon your preference. The "satin" in that stuff is just "dirt," microscopic specks of something they use to "flatten" the finish. It settles to the bottom of the container with relative rapidity. Using "satin sheen" varnish without thorough and regular stirring will likely net you a gloss finish until you get down around the bottom of the can and you won't know as you are applying it because it looks the same in the can and coming off the brush.

    2. Varnish in the shade wherever you can. Varnish early in the day before it gets too hot. Never varnish a wet surface. If there is dew on the surface, remove it with a chamois (no residual lint) or a towel and then tack for lint before varnishing in the morning. Never varnish late in the afternoon if there is any, and I mean any, chance of dew forming overnight before the varnish has dried. If moisture condenses, that, too, will ruin the finish. It's far easier to maintain a wet edge and and work an even spread on a cool, shady surface.

    3. Have a well-armed friend "riding shotgun" to immediate take out any uncouth idiot within 50 yards who thinks the same morning you have started varnishing is also good time for him to take an angle grinder and a pad loaded with 40 grit to his bottom paint. You may think this a drastic measure or otherwise feel squeamish about filling somebody with #9 birdshot, (AKA: "doing a Cheney,") but, trust me, if and when the occasion ever arises, it won't bother you a bit!
    Last edited by Bob Cleek; 02-13-2018 at 07:50 PM.

  23. #23
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    Default Re: applying varnish

    I think Ian knows a lot about varnish -- that's why there's none on LastBoat! IIRC

    But I too do not rake against the lip of the container. I pat it against the side. And that's usually a small container of varnish which has been decanted, and filtered.

    Beat the obvious to death: you can apply the varnish in any direction, but the problem is how fast it dries. It is very easy to have it go in "lands" or "panels" that are visibly separate from each other. So you need to slow the varnish down by not applying in the direct sun and blistering heat, or you can add retarding agents, or both. Get it spread out quickly, then tip it off, moving from dry to wet, to smooth and orient the surface -- before it gets a "tack". (And never go back.) (And ignore the trapped flies.) Then do the next small section. KEEP A WET EDGE GOING.

    It's the same with paint.

    Have everything set up so you can keep applying it, no stops or distractions.

    Dave

  24. #24
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    Default Re: applying varnish

    Every good varnish day is a better sailing day.

    If you are applying real varnish, and if you deign to do it right, you'll have strained it through a filter into a disposable pot of convenient size. I like three or four cups with, at fresh pour, not more than two cups of varnish. Convenient sized to hold in one hand, not so full as to spill if my attention on the job wavers and my hand does not hold it level, and plenty of wall to let me gently press one side of the brush against the wall to remove excess varnish.

    Most varnish is on long narrow surfaces and keeping your wet edge is obvious and easy. And if you must have your lapstrake jewel bright, just run along plank by plank. But there are larger surfaces - smooth hulls, pilot houses, panel doors. When the surface is more than a foot wide, I reduce the distance along. This means that in surfaces four feet wide get only perhaps four to six inches advance on to dry wood.

    I like to move fairly fast. Lay it on, brush across the wet edge and thenI make my final brush out from just on the dry wood over the new wet edge and running cleanly back over where two or three wet edges were. This really does eliminate holidays and sags.

    It's very nice when you have a dedicated paint/varnish space, as almost all professional yards have. You can always have proper temperature control, shade, and no dust. In real life varnishing in the back yard or the mooring, you're first problem is whether to wipe off the dew and race to get it down before it's too hot, or wait till late afternoon, turn the boat so the surface you're working on did not heat up too much in the afternoon sun, and hope you get it on in time for it to dry enough withstand the evening damp. And when the wind brings all that yellow pollen onto your fresh tacky varnish, resign yourself that God has given you a coloring agent.

    Varnish is not hard. It's just time consuming and tedious. It's a great meditation activity if you'd rather meditate than go sailing. And it really is beautiful.

    Every decade sees a new miracle product - one coat or no sanding between coats or three coats a day or super hard or sprayable or whatever - and some of them actually work about as advertised. I have had very good luck with CPES as a sealer followed by the not-orange Sikkens Cetol on problem areas, like an old toe rail on an iron fastened boat. That combo's vapor permiability allowed the finish to hold on over bungs and other places where real varnish tends to lift. There are also products that allow rapid build up to smooth out defective surface preparation

    But nothing is as perfect as eight or more brushed on coats that were gently sanded (440#) between each coat. You really cannot hurry perfection.

    All of which is why Meg's motto is "NO VARNISH". You can't hurry the perfection of beautiful varnish but I'd rather not delay the perfection of going sailing.

    To each their own.

  25. #25
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    Default Re: applying varnish

    Is varnish simply oil paint minus the pigment or is there more to it than that?

  26. #26
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    Default Re: applying varnish

    Sort of, but with different spells and incantations. And the occasional blood-sacrifice.

  27. #27
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    Default Re: applying varnish

    For both paint and varnish containers I've become pretty addicted to putting the container into one of those plastic coffee cans, much easier to hold onto and to control any drips developing from wiping gently the brush on your varnish or paint container. And I was taught somewhere to take the ice pick and put a few holes in the gutter of the paint/ varnish container if you are working straight from it, or pouring from it into another container.

    The only advantage I see to some of the 'modern' varnishes is that you can get several coats on without sanding between coats which is a real nuisance on a little lapstrake boat. Easiest finish job I was ever involved with was a lapstrake ducker where the client wanted the interior varnished. When we built it we didn't head over any frame rivets. After ribbing it out, we removed all the frames, added a bit of string to keep them bent. Sanded and layed many interior coats into the frameless boat and did the same to the frames. Then all the frames went in, the rivets reapplied but now headed over. This is a long way of saying that prefinishing parts on a little boat works really well as long as you then protect the part from abuse. That interior got a bunch of old foam cushions and a drop cloth as there was lots of tool work to come. When the deck went on all of the planks were coated on their undersides before final fastening.
    Last edited by Ben Fuller; 02-14-2018 at 05:47 PM. Reason: more info
    Ben Fuller
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  28. #28
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    Default Re: applying varnish

    I use Kirby's on my current boats but I have also been quite a fan of latex in the right context. And I have wide experience with various clear coatings, varnish, epoxies, and other stuff.

    How you handle varnish and any oil paint are totally different.

    Paint likes to be really worked - mix with the rotor on the end of a drill, roll it on and then stroke it out with some vigor. Of, as i often do, just roll it on. A little stipple on semigloss looks good.

    Varnish, on the other hand, can be gently mixed with thinner by a hand stick but you must be careful to not introduce bu bbles, and is then more laid down by brush, not swirled all over like paint.

    G'luck

  29. #29
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    Default Re: applying varnish

    Quote Originally Posted by Jay Greer View Post
    Yep, varnish is laid on dry to wet and feathered off by raising the brush off of the surface at the end of each stroke. This eliminates "Shingles" in the varnish.
    Jay
    +1 On this. Paint, varnish or whatever.
    Last edited by navydog; 02-15-2018 at 09:34 PM.

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