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Thread: Varnish problems with current thinners and brush cleaners

  1. #1
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    Default Varnish problems with current thinners and brush cleaners

    Most of you know that I like and use varnish that is unadulterated with new additives; varnish that goes on smooth, gives a blazing gloss and great depth of color! I often use my sign painting brushes that are no longer available any more than the older varnish is and have always ended up with good results. In fact, I made a living using those brushes.

    Today I got a rude awakening when I started a new varnish job and thinned the first coat a bit with turnpentine. Much to my surprise, I found that the Behr Varnish that I have depended on for over forty years was turning into large crumbs and jello like globs as I laid on that first coat. After thoroughly cleaning the brush and pouring a fresh batch of material I got a repeat performance. In addition, that first coat was uneven and wrinkling up, plus the brush was again loaded with particulate! Long story short, the new synthetic turpentine and paint thinners are not compatable with old formulae paint and varnish products and will cause the material to curdle! I like turpentine for working with oil based finishes but the new stuff can cause a disaster when used with the old. Brush washing can also be a nightmare if one is using the new thinners that seem to contain acetone. So, it is now obvious to me that unless I can obtain "pure gum spirits of turpentine" for thinning old style varnish the job is guaranteed to be a failure!

    So, what ever products you use, one would be advised to purchase a thinner recommended by the the manufacturer that is intended to be used for either cutting the varnish or paint for the first coat and also as a brush wash. The new turps darn near ruined two of my very expensive varnish brushes! And, using the Sunnyside Thinner sold by Ace Hardware only made things worse! I found it necessary to use a stripping agent to dissolve the crud, followed by a gentle stroking out of the nerds with a fine wire brush. This was finished by flipping the brush against my fingers in a beam of sunlight at the shop door. It was amazing to see how many flakes and nerds came out of the brushes and I did several more rounds until no more nerds floated out of the bristles.

    Correctly maintaining a wooden boat is steadily becoming more problematic!
    Jay
    Last edited by Jay Greer; 11-17-2018 at 02:25 PM.

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Varnish problems with current thinners and brush cleaners

    Thanks for the warning Jay.

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    Default Re: Varnish problems with current thinners and brush cleaners

    Yes, I've had the same problems.

    The most recent was this summer's house-painting adventure. Our home was long overdue. I bought a new gallon of 'Mineral Spirits' for the few components that would receive an oil-based topcoat. I've used the "low-VOC" "green" version successfully in the past. But the latest iteration seems to be water-based, or something like it... and really mucked things up until I could get brushes and such cleaned up, dried out, and some real mineral spirits purchased. Baaahhh.

    For turpentine, it seems it is either the genuine article... or it's not. Any substitutions are problematic. I've gotten away with using 'mineral spirits' in the past, but I no longer even try.
    David G
    Harbor Woodworks
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    "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 problems with current thinners and brush cleaners

    Its getting harder to find decent products.Has anybody yet found a water based varnish for interiors that isn't pale and lifeless?I am growing weary of having to keep water based paint and varnish in the house to prevent frost damage and have had to dump a few cans that I neglected to keep inside.Anti-fouling that works is becoming a memory too.

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    Default Re: Varnish problems with current thinners and brush cleaners

    Yes, "Turps" is not turpentine. I was caught with my pants down so to speak and noted this in a thread several years ago.
    I used to buy it buy the case from Jamestown, about $12/gallon but they no longer provide it.
    If you are in Annapolis it's $25/gallon http://www.fawcettboat.com/pc_produc...SABEgL2IfD_BwE

    or $35 Amazon prime
    https://www.amazon.com/SUNNYSIDE-COR...re+gum+spirits

    edit; I see, Home depot has it for $8/quart, the real stuff!
    A little goes a long way for varnishing, I "wing it" to taste, but probably use a couple of tablespoons per cup of varnish. (Flagship varnish)
    (I don't pour out anymore varnish from the can than I can use in an hour or so. Into a cardboard cup, like a to-go coffee cup, then mix with turpentine and penatrol. How much depends on the weather)
    Last edited by Canoeyawl; 11-17-2018 at 05:14 PM.

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    Default Re: Varnish problems with current thinners and brush cleaners

    Ah, yes. I've been bitchin' about this for years now and catching flak for being a "climate change denier." (Hey, climate change is real. My nose is running and my eyes watering from smoke limiting any visibility to about a mile or two here in Northern California.) I've yet to decide whether the regulatory restrictions on oil based paint and varnish VOC content, while undeniably having a theoretical negative environmental impact, is truly of any help to the environment when we consider that the low-VOC alternative products last half as long or less, requiring twice as much, and occasion manufacturing processes which may well have a far greater "carbon footprint" than flax seed oil (linseed oil) and turpentine ever thought of having. And I don't want to even think of getting started going on about "eco-friendly" anti-fouling paints! The fact that our "nanny state" government has seen fit to exempt the Navy from such materials restrictions isn't lost on me, either. Maybe somebody can explain why it is that my local hardware store carries five gallon cans of acetone that sell like hotcakes to the meth cooks, but tells me I can't buy oil-based paint unless it's in a rattle-can (for the graffiti artists) because it "causes global warming."

    It would be a great service to all woodworkers and wooden boat folks if somebody started building a data base of where "the good old stuff" could still be sourced.

    Keep in mind, as noted in the posts above, you can't trust the labels on the cans at first glance anymore. For openers, if you see that "paint thinner" (or any other solvent) they advertise as "odor free," don't buy it!

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Varnish problems with current thinners and brush cleaners

    Artist supply stores still carry "real" turps. I got this at Blicks. It works fine with Behr varnish. It's expensive, but the varnish was cheap. Smells great.


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    Default Re: Varnish problems with current thinners and brush cleaners

    Like Dave, we have had to go searching for true turpentine, since the stuff marketed as Turpentine by ACE and others is a product of Viet Nam and, like the thinners is very nasty stuff. Artist supply shops have been our primary sources source, though we did find a gallon in a hardware store in Sidney, BC. Here in California, the low VOC laws are driving most of the oil-based enamels and properly-mixed varnishes from the shelves. Like Jay, we also lost a couple of brushes and days of work to this "good for us all" decision.

    End of rant.

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Varnish problems with current thinners and brush cleaners

    I always wash my brushes with dawn detergent after cleaning well with old thinner. I soak them in brush cleaner when they get material up in the ferrule. Then I rinse them with the same thinner and detergent. I think the detergent really keeps the brushes in good shape. I’ve known artist that keep their good brushes up with shampoo, and conditioner.

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Varnish problems with current thinners and brush cleaners

    Had a similar problem recently with below waterline primer and antifouling paint. Its not just varnish......
    Bottom line, use mfrs recommended thinners.

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    Default Re: Varnish problems with current thinners and brush cleaners

    American Rope & Tar http://www.tarsmell.com/products.html
    I've been using Le Tonkinois varnish for a while, seems to hold up well, smells great and is very forgiving to apply. They also have "real" turps, bit it's a bit more than a bit expensive.

    You can also get Le Tonkinois from Hamilton Marine https://shop.hamiltonmarine.com/prod...itre-1312.html .

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    Default Re: Varnish problems with current thinners and brush cleaners

    Quote Originally Posted by John Husky View Post
    I always wash my brushes with dawn detergent after cleaning well with old thinner. I soak them in brush cleaner when they get material up in the ferrule. Then I rinse them with the same thinner and detergent. I think the detergent really keeps the brushes in good shape. I’ve known artist that keep their good brushes up with shampoo, and conditioner.
    No criticism of your brush cleaning method here but, my own experience with cleaning brushes that are used with oil based paints and varnish by using detergents and water has resulted in the bristles loosing their strength and snap and turning the brush into a limp and useless tool. Sign brushes are always rinsed in mineral spirits, dipped in Lard Oil and stored flat in a metal case. The problem is in the finding of true mineral spirits now! Pure gum spirits of turpentine will do a nice job of dissolving the coatings that can ruin a brush but the turpentine must not be allowed to dry in the brush as it does contain gum resins that will turn the brush rock hard if allowed to dry. So, the lard oil will protect the brushes. Lard oil is cheap but mineral oil works just fine as well. Of course it must be rinsed from the brush prior to using it. I find myself now using foam brushes for small jobs that do not require much feathering of the laps. My sign brushes that I use for accurate varnish work range from quarter inch in width up to inch and a quarter and are known as Greyhounds since dog hair was used to make them in the beginning. Now squirrel hair is used. Fortunately they last a long time if well cared for as they are obscenely expensive!
    Jay
    Last edited by Jay Greer; 11-18-2018 at 02:34 PM.

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    Default Re: Varnish problems with current thinners and brush cleaners

    Why, oh why would anyone use a thinner which is NOT the one recommended on the can. To save money? Is the 10 bucks or so a quart really worth risking all of that prep time? Varnishing is 90% prep time. Someone needs to explain this to me.

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    Default Re: Varnish problems with current thinners and brush cleaners

    Quote Originally Posted by pcford View Post
    Why, oh why would anyone use a thinner which is NOT the one recommended on the can. To save money? Is the 10 bucks or so a quart really worth risking all of that prep time? Varnishing is 90% prep time. Someone needs to explain this to me.
    Every time I've tried it... it was for convenience. Run out of the right stuff - then too rushed, or too lazy (or the chandlery is closed) to go get more. Such substitutions used to work mo' better, but new formulations have made the chemistry more exacting... and failures more likely. And, as you know, a finish failure is non-trivial - in terms of how much work it is to correct.
    David G
    Harbor Woodworks
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    "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 problems with current thinners and brush cleaners

    WOW! Thanks for the "heads-up"! It takes me a while to go through thinners since I'm just a hobbyist and I'm finishing up a couple of gallons I bought way back when. I'll be circumspect in future purchases!

  16. #16
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    Default Re: Varnish problems with current thinners and brush cleaners

    Time was when there was only mineral spirits for brush cleaning and turpentine for thinner. Back then, one had to worry about the thinner ruining the job!
    Jay

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    Default Re: Varnish problems with current thinners and brush cleaners

    The oil and chemical companies have been trying to swindle sailors since the turn of the last century.

    This Ohio law from 1910 warns about claiming use of the word "turpentine" for something else.
    (I think there are trade name laws or rules in place today, and a careful read of the label may tell the tale. I know for certain that solvent marketed as "Turps" is not "Turpentine")

    "(A) The sale in this state, of any naval stores or of anything offered for sale as such, except under or by reference to the official naval stores standards of the United States;(B) The sale of any naval stores in this state under or by reference to the official naval stores standards of the United States, which is other than what it is represented to be;

    (C) The use in this state of the word “turpentine” or the word “rosin,” singly or with any other word or of any compound, derivative, or imitation of words, letter, or combination of letters, provided in the Naval Stores Act to define the official naval stores standards of the United States, to be used or to designate naval stores of any kind or grade, in selling, offering for sale, advertising, or shipping, anything other than naval stores of the official naval stores standards of the United States;

    (D) The use of any false, misleading, or deceitful means or practice in the sale of naval stores, or of anything offered for sale as such."

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    Default Re: Varnish problems with current thinners and brush cleaners

    Quote Originally Posted by pcford View Post
    Why, oh why would anyone use a thinner which is NOT the one recommended on the can. To save money? Is the 10 bucks or so a quart really worth risking all of that prep time? Varnishing is 90% prep time. Someone needs to explain this to me.
    I agree with you for thinning your varnish but I don't want to waste the good stuff cleaning my brushes. My understanding from the OP is that there is a problem using synthetic thinners for brush cleaning. I intend to hoard my remaining supply of mineral spirits!
    Schooner captains love to get blown offshore!

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    Default Re: Varnish problems with current thinners and brush cleaners

    Quote Originally Posted by SchoonerRat View Post
    I agree with you for thinning your varnish but I don't want to waste the good stuff cleaning my brushes. My understanding from the OP is that there is a problem using synthetic thinners for brush cleaning. I intend to hoard my remaining supply of mineral spirits!
    Maybe in Cali it's different. Here, the right stuff is readily available - there are just an increasing number of
    'non-right' options to confuse the unwary. No hoarding necessary... just careful shopping?
    David G
    Harbor Woodworks
    https://www.facebook.com/HarborWoodworks/

    "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 problems with current thinners and brush cleaners

    California is, most likely, the most eco conscious state in the union, so far as new rules and laws concerning pollutants are concerned. In some respects I question the sanity of such legislation as commercial aircraft and diesel trucks have proven to be the biggest polluters of them all! One jet landing and take off dumps more unwanted poison into the air than a thousand wooden boat owners can produce in many lifetimes! Almost all oil based and related thinners and additives have now been outlawed. Sadly, the new products are causing havoc with woodenboat maintenance. Some owners have even been cited for sanding and varnishing rails and other wood work with the boat in the water in Newport Beach California!
    Jay

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    Default Re: Varnish problems with current thinners and brush cleaners

    Quote Originally Posted by SchoonerRat View Post
    I agree with you for thinning your varnish but I don't want to waste the good stuff cleaning my brushes. My understanding from the OP is that there is a problem using synthetic thinners for brush cleaning. I intend to hoard my remaining supply of mineral spirits!
    That was my problem with the anti-fouling paint - needed the expensive thinner to clean the brushes. Use disposable ones next time....

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    Default Re: Varnish problems with current thinners and brush cleaners

    Quote Originally Posted by Jay Greer View Post
    my own experience with cleaning brushes that are used with oil based paints and varnish by using detergents and water has resulted in the bristles loosing their strength and snap and turning the brush into a limp and useless tool.
    Jay
    I like the Purdy Oxtail brushes. They’re mid-priced, about $30 each. I use them for a few years until they get too much dried gunk in the ferrule. Then I casually throw them in the trash and say that if they can’t take a little abuse, I don’t want them around anyway. They get used a lot.

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    Default Re: Varnish problems with current thinners and brush cleaners

    Quote Originally Posted by Dave Lesser View Post
    Artist supply stores still carry "real" turps. I got this at Blicks. It works fine with Behr varnish. It's expensive, but the varnish was cheap. Smells great.

    Yes. You can get small bottles of Japan drier from artist supply stores, too. It's also outrageously priced. Totally ridiculous. You can buy raw linseed oil in health food stores. It's bottled as "flax seed oil." It's also more expensive that raw linseed oil used to be, because it's "food quality." You can eat the stuff, but you can't let it evaporate into the atmosphere, I guess. I don't know what they do about keeping health food nuts from farting!

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    Default Re: Varnish problems with current thinners and brush cleaners

    Quote Originally Posted by David G View Post
    Maybe in Cali it's different. Here, the right stuff is readily available - there are just an increasing number of
    'non-right' options to confuse the unwary. No hoarding necessary... just careful shopping?
    They get their foot in the door with the "green alternative" stuff and the next thing you know, the real stuff is outlawed. I can't prove it, but my guess is that it is cheaper for the manufacturers to make "green stuff," although they sell if for more, and they sell more because it lasts less than half as long. No firm evidence of this, but just sayin'.

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    Default Re: Varnish problems with current thinners and brush cleaners

    Quote Originally Posted by Jay Greer View Post
    California is, most likely, the most eco conscious state in the union, so far as new rules and laws concerning pollutants are concerned. In some respects I question the sanity of such legislation as commercial aircraft and diesel trucks have proven to be the biggest polluters of them all! One jet landing and take off dumps more unwanted poison into the air than a thousand wooden boat owners can produce in many lifetimes! Almost all oil based and related thinners and additives have now been outlawed. Sadly, the new products are causing havoc with woodenboat maintenance. Some owners have even been cited for sanding and varnishing rails and other wood work with the boat in the water in Newport Beach California!
    Jay
    And in most places, if you pump your bilge and it "leaves a sheen on the water" of any size, shape, or form, you are liable to get a hefty fine for "polluting."

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    Default Re: Varnish problems with current thinners and brush cleaners

    And in most places, if you pump your bilge and it "leaves a sheen on the water" of any size, shape, or form, you are liable to get a hefty fine for "polluting."

    As you should.

  27. #27
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    Default Re: Varnish problems with current thinners and brush cleaners

    Quote Originally Posted by keelhauler View Post
    And in most places, if you pump your bilge and it "leaves a sheen on the water" of any size, shape, or form, you are liable to get a hefty fine for "polluting."

    As you should.
    I guess you haven't pumped that many bilges in your day. Do you have any idea how little oil it takes to leave a sheen on the water and how little difference it makes to the environment?


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    Default Re: Varnish problems with current thinners and brush cleaners

    Just to comment on oxtail bristle brushes for varnish work. I try to use China or Russian boar hair brushes rather than oxtail tools. The reason is that the boar hairs have natural split ends that allow the brush to carry more material than an oxtail brush of the same size will. The boar hair brushes are thinner and allows for better feathering and cutting in than the ox tail variety which must be made thicker than the latter in order to carry same amount of material. This makes for a brush that is fat and clumsy and difficult to feather and cut a clean line with.
    Jay

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    Default Re: Varnish problems with current thinners and brush cleaners

    Jay,
    It seems that Behr discontinued their spar varnish 10 years ago. Are you still using 10 year old varnish? I'm impressed with the stability if it is still working well.
    Quote Originally Posted by Bob Cleek View Post
    Keep in mind, as noted in the posts above, you can't trust the labels on the cans at first glance anymore. For openers, if you see that "paint thinner" (or any other solvent) they advertise as "odor free," don't buy it!
    Well, don't buy any crap that says 'alternative' on the label. You might want to read the SDS before you buy or avoid the product. Klean-Strip Odorless Mineral Spirits (not for sale in CA) for instance is just mineral spirits with the stink 'washed out' (CAS # 64742-47-8 Hydrotreated light distillate (petroleum)). It is still "a mixture of C10-C14 naphthenes, iso- and n-paraffins. Neither the concentration of aromatics nor of hexane is greater than 0.1 % by volume. Depending on the raw material and the production processes, the composition and physical properties of this solvent can vary considerably." The stink in mineral spirits isn't the part that works, it is just the part that warns you that you are breathing bad ju-ju. All solvents are bad ju-ju, so I don't huff them, but don't hesitate to use them as needed.
    Management is the art of counting beans. Leadership is the art of making every being count. --Joe Finch

  30. #30
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    Default Re: Varnish problems with current thinners and brush cleaners

    Yes, I am still using ten year old Behr Varnish. When I found out that it was to be discontinued, I bought enough to last for many many years. If the can is unopened varnish will last indeffinatly. That is, if it is of good quality! I still have a quart of "Hong Kong" varnish that is nearly sixty years old and unopened! I plan to use it on an up coming varnish test.
    Jay

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    Default Re: Varnish problems with current thinners and brush cleaners

    Quote Originally Posted by Jay Greer View Post
    Just to comment on oxtail bristle brushes for varnish work. I try to use China or Russian boar hair brushes rather than oxtail tools. The reason is that the boar hairs have natural split ends that allow the brush to carry more material than an oxtail brush of the same size will. The boar hair brushes are thinner and allows for better feathering and cutting in than the ox tail variety which must be made thicker than the latter in order to carry same amount of material. This makes for a brush that is fat and clumsy and difficult to feather and cut a clean line with.
    Jay
    Very true. I remember as a kid when the Cold War got going and imports from China stopped, my cousin, whose father ran their painting contracting company at the time, bought up all the Chinese boar bristle brushes he could get his hands on. He kept them in a big safe they had at the shop and only issued them out to his master painters who took good care of them.

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