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Basic varnish question


Craig Tucker
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Aha! I wondered the same thing. I'm nearing completion of #1, so I'm just starting to learn about varninshing a techniques. It looks as though many complain about the working time of certain varnishes and avoiding streaky/blotchy jobs. Intuitively, I would think spraying can be accomplished faster, and more evenly....however there's something appealing about a brush making solid contact with the violin itself. I read some threads where repairers use airbrushing for small repair jobs, but, as Craig asks, is it possible to do a nice job entirely by spraying?

(also curious, since I've got a high quality air brush and compressor which I'd be willing to try)

John

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On a new violin I always brush on my varnish. Spraying puts too much varnish in the air, up my nose, all around the shop, you get the picture. I'll sometimes use an airbrush to tack down colored touch-up varnish so that a brush doesn't 'pull' the color away. I once revarnished an inexpensive violin with an airbrush and then did a fair amount of antique work by hand.

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I know someone who used an airbrush for oil varnish, and didn't have any problems, but the lore is that you need to push it around on the violin to get it to stick, and if you thin it too much, you can be left with islands and streaks of varnish with bare between them because the varnish is too thin and collects itself into a thicker coat in some places, cleaning others off. . . that is a problem that I have experienced, too. I guess the answer is that spraying is maybe OK if you don't thin too much.

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"The problem is that we can't use an airbrush with oil varnish. Since I only use oil varnish..."

I have also varnished a violin with oil varnish and an airbrush with decent results, although I agree that brushing is better and is what I normally do anyway, but it can definitely be done and is not impossible. In fact, I had more trouble spraying spirit varnish than I did with oil because I found that the tip would get clogged and cause an uneven spray more frequently. For the oil varnish, I thinned it with turpentine a little more than I would have for brushing and it flowed out nicely.

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I totally agree with you Claudio. In fact, that was the reason I never continued using it after trying a few times. A buddy of mine told me "It looks cheap" and that was enough for me to stop messing with it apart from my own thoughts about it. Brushing allows for more control and better texture without a doubt! ... but the point of my post was to state that it was not impossible to accomplish.

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Once an area that needs touch-up varnish has been filled and levelled a succession of VERY thin coats of colored varnish are applied, sometimes as brush strokes, sometimes as dots of color. If you go over that area with a brush loaded up with clear varnish you can basically melt the colored varnish and pull it right off the very area you were trying to touch-up. By airbrushing a clear coat on the area you avoid the possibility of pulling the varnish. Sometimes there is a need to apply color, airbrush clear, lightly sand, apply more color, airbrush etc., atc.. Color does not have to be a one-time shot at perfection. Much as in applying varnish to a new instrument, touch-up color can be steered in the right direction by using multiple thin coats, checking for color, opacity, etc..

If the area being touched up is considered too small to go through the headache of setting up and subsequently cleaning the airbrush, I have occasionally used a Q-tip, with a small amount of varnish worked into the cotton, acting like a mini roller. However, you only get one pass at the touch-up area. If you go back you'll lift the thin varnish right off the instrument.

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Seth, I guess one could try it but I should have been more clear on what my results were. I was actually referring to the evenness of the color as well as the texture combined. A sprayed finish looks to uniform in color and does not have the slight variances that one gets from brushing (dimension of color not surface texture). So, I don't think that it is possible to get the same effect by doing what you suggested, but again I have only experimented with it very little. Some of the experts here may be able to achieve this, but I didn't.

But ... I know one guy at a very reputable violin shop who varnishes violins in complete with an airbrush and spirit varnish. He is quite amazing and gets outstanding results. He can also crank them out and do a complete violin in a day. He only does his antiqued models like this, but they are quite outstanding when he's done. They have surface texture and beautiful color shadings, not at all like a factory sprayed finish. He can even copy a particular violin from a poster with very realistic results. He is the reason I tried my hand at it but quickly found it was not my cup of tea.

Joe

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I have finished 10 instruments (including 3 solid body electrics). I have brushed 5 and sprayed 5. 3 of the 5 were sprayed with nitrocellulose lacquer and 2 were sprayed with Hammerle oil varnish. Under normal circumstances it would be very difficult to spray oil varnish but I have a very good spraypainter working in my factory:-)

I certainly get a "better" finish using a spraying system but that depends on ones personal definition of what "better" is. Having discussed varnishing in great detail in these pages recently I have come to the conclusion that traditional violins should be hand brushed though. A good brushed finish can be achieved with (a lot) of patience and practice. As I understand it, a sprayed finish will also lessen the value of a violin.

My spraypainter is able to spray a violin in 20 minutes compared to the 6 weeks it's just taken me to hand varnish #10. Having said that, I have always spent 40-60 hours hand rubbing (micromesh) the sprayed violins to high gloss. Which, I have discovered is also not desirable.

I comes down to taste and cost. Some people really like my high gloss (and coloured) violins, others prefer the more traditional ones. As far as selling is concerned, I would give that as an option to clients, hand varnished violins are a lot more expensive than the sprayed variety.

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