How to apply varnish

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How to apply varnish
Protect wood from damage with a couple of coats of varnish. (zhykova/iStock/Getty Images)

Varnish protects wood from scratches and stains with a durable coating. The tough lacquer also adds to the natural beauty of wood by bringing out the grain. These instructions apply specifically to oil-based varnishes, which are easiest to work with.

Things you need

  • Disposable containers
  • Disposable foam brushes
  • Clean rags
  • Steel wool
  • Varnish
  • White spirit
  • Rubber gloves
  • Newspaper
  • Linseed oils
  • Tack cloths
  • Pollen/dust masks

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  1. 1

    Lay a layer of newspapers to protect the work area. Make sure the area is well-ventilated.

  2. 2

    Set the room temperature to around 21 degrees C (70F), which helps the varnish dry quickly without causing air bubbles and streaking.

  3. 3

    Gather your disposable foam brushes, clean rags, steel wool pads and white spirit so that they are nearby when needed.

  4. 4

    Strip any pre-existing finishes with a paint stripper. Wear gloves and a face mask while you work.

  5. 5

    Clean the wood to be treated with a steel wool pad dipped in white spirit mixed with 10 ml (2 tsp) of linseed oil. Use a clean rag to dry the wood.

  6. 6

    Pour enough varnish into a separate container to do the first coat, and dilute it with 20 per cent white spirit -- one part spirit to four parts varnish. This coat seals the wood. Read the label before use and follow the manufacturer's warnings and suggestions carefully.

  7. 7

    Use the foam brush to apply this diluted varnish into the wood. Work with the grain. Let that coat dry at least six hours, but not more than 20.

  8. 8

    Apply the second coat undiluted with a new foam brush. Put on up to five coats, depending on how much wear you anticipate the surface to receive. Use a new brush for each coat.

  9. 9

    Dispose of rags, brushes and remaining stripper as advised by the stripper's manufacturer.

Tips and warnings

  • Keep everything as clean as possible. A piece of lint or dust stuck in the varnish can ruin its smooth look. If you discover dust in the varnish, let it dry and then sand it with very fine sandpaper before applying the next coat.
  • Dragging the brush across the rim of the can will cause bubbles. Dab it instead. If you keep getting too many bubbles, thin the varnish with a little white spirit.

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