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Varnish Made Easy

By: Woodsmith staff
Looking for an easy-to-apply finish? A gel varnish will give you a traditional look in a short time.

A classic varnish finish is hard to beat. It provides long-lasting, tough protection for most furniture projects. And the amber color of the finish adds a warm tone that brings out the best in wood. Gel varnish combines the best qualities of wiping varnish and regular varnish. Instead of being thinned down like wiping varnish, gel varnish contains an additive that gives it the consistency of jelly. You apply it with a rag and it dries pretty quickly. So in just a few hours, you can apply another coat. This means you’re less likely to get dust nibs and you can finish a project in a fairly short time.

As I mentioned earlier, gel varnish is easy to apply. But since it’s different from either regular or wiping varnish, there are a few things to keep in mind as you go along. I start by scooping some onto the surface. Then work it around with a rag. The thick consistency provides plenty of working time before it starts to get tacky. So I don’t need to worry about lap marks. Go over the surface thoroughly to get an even coat. After making sure all surfaces are covered, let the varnish stand for a few minutes. Then wipe off any excess. Here again, the thick consistency is an advantage. You can easily see areas where there’s too much or not enough.

When wiping off the excess, your goal is to leave an even wet sheen. But there shouldn’t be any visible ridges or thick spots. Working on flat surfaces is a pretty simple task. Where you might run into some difficulty is in tight corners. I like to use a fresh, foam brush to clean out the nooks and crannies. After each stroke, I wipe off the brush with a rag. (Safety Note: To avoid a fire, be sure to allow any rags with finish to dry flat before disposing of them.)

In a few minutes, the varnish will dull down as the solvent evaporates. You’ll want to let the varnish dry for a few hours before applying another coat. This drying period will depend on the temperature and humidity. Once you’ve sealed the wood with the first coat, the next coat will require a lot less finish. And it glides on effortlessly to create a smooth surface. Again, after applying the finish, wipe away the excess. After the second coat dries, I like to level the surface with an abrasive pad. I find that three coats are usually all that’s necessary. And the final coat goes on just like the other two. Once you’re done, you can rub out the surface for an even sheen. And then you can stand back and admire the results.

Published: May 11, 2017
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