How to Varnish Wood

HOW TO VARNISH WOOD

HOW TO VARNISH WOOD - TIPS BEFORE YOU BEGIN

  • Applying two or three coats of varnish to your wood is usually enough.
  • Weather affects application.  When days are cold and damp - try not to varnish.  It will take much longer for the varnish to dry.  Having an even longer drying time for varnish isn't good because more dust will settle into your finish, etc.
  • If you don't want problems, don't apply varnish below 60 F or above 90 F.  The ideal temperature is 70 F.  Below 60, it could potentially take days to dry, above 90 it actually dries too quickly to apply the finish well with a brush.  It also just might leave bubbles in the finish.  To reduce this effect, thin the varnish when temperatures are too warm.  This is good to know when you are learning how to varnish wood.  Thinner varnish dries more slowly.  Slower drying time allows the bubbles to "pop" out, or escape.
  • Varnishing is a balancing act.  You want the finish to dry slow enough so that bubbles don't form, but not so slow that tons of dust settle in your finish.
  • Another key in learning how to varnish wood is to lay your pieces flat.  Because of varnish's slow drying time, if left vertical, the finish will run and sag.
  • If you can't lay everything pretty much flat, you may have to consider another finish (or go with polyurethane which is often made to dry much faster).  Also, ask your supply store about faster drying varnishes they may have.  You should talk to your supply store anyway.  Let them know what you are using the varnish for, and they can often help choose the right kind (not always though - make sure you've got a good sales rep).  We always had good luck with Sherwin-Williams in our custom cabinet shop.

HOW TO VARNISH WOOD - MAKE SURE YOU HAVE A CLEAN AREA TO WORK IN

Remember - dust WILL settle on varnish.  It's just a matter of how much, so make sure your area is as clean as possible.

  • Don't sand in the room where you'll be varnishing (at least for a few hours).
  • Wet-mop the floor before you apply varnish.  It's a pain, but well worth the time.
  • Put clean paper under your work.
  • Make sure your brush is clean.
  • Wipe your wood surface with a tack cloth.

HOW TO VARNISH WOOD - 6 STEPS OF APPLICATION

  • Apply a sanding sealer or a thinned varnish (50% mineral spirits - paint thinner) for a first coat.  You're first coat should be thinned to make sure it cures hard.  When you are brushing varnish, you can go with or against the grain, all but for the final coat, then you must go with the grain.
  • Allow the piece to dry at least overnight, or as long as needed to ensure it is completely dry and fully cured.
  • Scuff (sand lightly) with 280 or finer grit sandpaper.  Use stearated (self-lubricated) sandpaper.  Stearated sandpaper won't clog as soon as regular sandpaper.
  • Remove sanding dust with a tack cloth.
  • Apply a coat of full strength varnish (or thinned 10% - 20% if you prefer).
  • After making sure that coat is fully cured (your fingernail won't leave an impression) scuff this and consecutive coats with 320 or finer grit stearated sandpaper.  You can also use a Scotch Brite-Pad.  We don't advise using steel wool.  Steel wool fibers can be caught in your finish, and you won't even see them.  Over time, they may cause orange looking or dark spots on your piece because, if water or water-vapor comes in contact with the steel, it will actually rust.
  • Again, remember your final coat must go with the grain, and do not scuff it.  You can "rub" the final coat out, but make sure you practice on a piece first and follow the manufacturer's directions regarding rubbing finish out.

Be Safe

All finishes, other than water base, are susceptible to flames and combustion.  Just like any other finish, keep use of polyurethane away from heat and flames.

Have adequate ventilation and use a respirator mask when applying the finish.

If you can smell the fumes while you are using a respirator mask, something is wrong.  Check to make sure you don't have a leak.  If you don't, you need to change the cartridge in the mask.

Follow all manufacturer's guides and be conscious of their warnings.

AFTER YOU LEARN HOW TO VARNISH WOOD, YOU NEED TO KEEP IT CLEAN

Keeping your cabinets clean is important.  A mild soap and water will do the trick.  If you have some grease build up, try Dawn dishwashing liquid, or Murphy's Oil Soap.

If cleaning isn't enough, and your finish has deteriorated, you will need to refinish or get new cabinets.  Be sure to know what finish you are working with before attempting any refinishing project or consult a professional.

Return to Kitchen Cabinet Finishes from our How to Varnish Wood page.

And remember - HAVE A HAPPY KITCHEN!!!

OTHER RELATED SITES:

Cleaning Wood Kitchen Cabinets - It's easy, you don't need to have "secret" cleaners or be a Pro!  This page tells you how.

Home Improvement Resources - Some neat sites we've run across.

How to Stain Kitchen Cabinets - 6 easy steps & 13 things you must have BEFORE you start.

Ideas for Painting Kitchen Cabinets - 4 really simple and useful ideas to make your life easier.

Kitchen Cabinet Finishes - From lacquer to water based.  What's really right for you?

Kitchen Cabinet Finishing - Do your homework BEFORE you finish or refinish & you'll have an easy time of it.

Polyurethane Varnish - The varnish that works fast and furious.  Tips and Tricks.

Repaint Kitchen Cabinets - Yes, you can repaint your kitchen cabinets in 5 easy steps.

Wood Varnish - The 7 types and 3 properties of varnish.  Making sense of them.

The Woodworkers Depot - Online hardware store.  Great prices, great hardware.




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