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Expert's Corner — varnish

TIP: Two coats, minimum

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TIP: Two coats, minimum

It almost always takes at least two coats of any finish to develop the sheen a finish is designed to produce: gloss, satin, flat, or whatever. The first coat seals the wood. The second coat develops the sheen. The exception to the two-coat rule would be if you apply the first coat really thick. This can usually be done only on horizontal surfaces. The reason two coats are usually necessary is that a lot of the first coat soaks into the wood, so there isn’t enough build to produce the sheen. If you’re applying highly thinned coats, as shown with...

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TIP: Pigment Colorants for Oil and Varnish

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The two widely available pigment colorants for oils and varnishes are oil colors and Japan colors. The difference is that oil colors are pigment ground in linseed oil while Japan colors are pigment ground in varnish. So the difference in practice is that Japan colors dry faster and harder than oil colors, though if you were to mix an oil color with varnish, it should dry well. The name “Japan” comes from the attempt in the West to imitate Japanned furniture (also called Japanese or Oriental Lacquer) that was imported in the 17th and 18th century. So the harder drying...

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TIP: Penetrating Finish

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The term “penetrating finish” is one of the most misleading in the vocabulary of finishing because all finishes penetrate. The term is generally used to describe just oil finishes, which dry slowly so they may penetrate a little deeper than faster-drying finishes. But depth of penetration doesn’t have anything to do with protection for the wood, and it’s here that the term becomes misleading because many people think it does, and some manufacturers claim it does. The common descriptive phrase is that the finish “protects the wood from the inside.” But the quality of a finish that creates better protection...

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TIP: Tung Oil and Varnish Sold as Tung Oil

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Finishing is hard enough even without the mislabeling that is so prevalent on the part of many manufacturers. The mislabeling makes it difficult for us to know what we are buying and using. The accompanying picture shows dried puddles of two commonly available products both labeled “tung oil.” These two products could hardly be more different. The tung oil on the left is real tung oil, the oil produced from pressing the nuts from tung trees, which are native to China. A puddle of the oil dries wrinkled, and it never really hardens. You can always scrape it off with...

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TIP: Filling Pores with Sanding Sealer

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It’s generally better to use a dedicated paste wood filler (pore filler) to fill pores than the finish itself, or sanding sealer, because finishes continue shrinking. This will cause the pores to noticeably open up a little after a few weeks or months. But you can use the finish for filling, especially if it’s water-based because water-based finishes sand fairly easily and don’t shrink as much as varnish and lacquer. Apply several coats, sand them back using a flat block to back your sandpaper, and continue doing this until the pores are filled. Varnish and lacquer are more difficult to...

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