The Tool Barn

Applying Varnish

Varnish is one of the more durable interior finishes available.  It was very popular in days past and is still favored for places where durability and beauty are valued.  Unfortunately, it can also be one of the more difficult finishes to properly finish.  Varnish is applied in coats.  Some furniture can take as many as 5 coats of varnish.  Generally, you want to apply at least 3 coats.  The items in the pictures are kitchen cabinet doors that will receive 5 coats.  Two notes: 1:  Use varnish in a well-ventilated area - no kidding.  This stuff smells worse than almost any other finish. 2: The temperature should be above 70deg. (F) when you apply varnish otherwise it won't flow out right.

Sanded surface
Items needed:
Assortment of sandpaper
Several disposable buckets
High quality brushes
Safety Suggestions and Tips
Use good brushes
Use varnish in a well-ventilated area
Do NOT rush this job
Level of difficulty

Time Required:


Sandpaper assortment
Sandpaper assortment

Step 1:

Make sure that the surface to be finished is ready and clear of debris (you will need an assortment of sandpaper for this job).  Cut (dilute) the varnish for the first "spit" coat by 50% (one part varnish to one part solvent).  The solvent for varnish is normally mineral spirits.  Subsequent coats may normally be applied full-strength.

Use a good brush
Use a good brush

Step 2:

Use a high-quality brush (important).  Dip the brush into your bucket and lightly "pat" it against the side to remove excess.  Do not wipe it on the rim, this may introduce air bubbles into the varnish. 

Carefully brush varnish on
Carefully brush varnish on

Step 3:

Carefully brush the varnish onto the piece.  Start in the middle and brush "off" the ends.  Don't simply stop at the end.  Varnish builds quickly and will build humps in the finish if you give it a chance. 

Tipoff the finish
Tipoff the finish

Step 4:

Let the varnish sit for a few minutes and the "tip-off" the finish by holding the brush perpendicular to the surface and lightly sweeping it across the area.

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