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let's make some mastic varnish


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Regarding photo #9562...

Definately none of that bottom drek visible in the Chios Mastic I used.

I am wondering if there was any type of processing used in that batch from Chios, in order to render it "food grade"...

It sure looked like tears directly from the tree - with perhaps just a tumbling , if anything, to remove surface contaminants - etc. ...

I'd really like to hear from any other makers who bought Mastic from Chios, what happened with your varnish? Perhaps I'll go with Woodfinishing Enterprises mastic this time.

Seth, this is your second time using their product, am I right?

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I bought around 1 1/2 kg of mastic from the gift shop there around 5 years ago.Ive never had any problems with drying but have noticed one or two things.

All the pieces i got were nice and big ,all above 1 cm.They were all clean with little if any dirt or powder.I have found a couple of ants in it though.They must prefer the food grade stuff as well!

These are best pieces to use for varnish, the less the gunge you get in the bottle when dissolving the better.

When i first bought it, the mastic almost completely dissolved at room temp.(not as hot as New Mexico).As time as gone on ive noticed that i get more gunge.The large pieces of mastic have the least amount of surface oxidation, the smaller pieces and the dust have alot.This is the stuff which wont dissolve properly . With varnishes its more likely a problem with the oil than the mastic with any drying problems.

Food grade mastic, is just the more carefully cleaned mastic usually taken from the second harvest in August.But not always. Large pieces are preferred.Usually the dirty ,more oxidised stuff is sold off to paint ,art supliers ,etc.. The majority of the best mastic disappears to the middle east.

Either way the stuff you can buy directly from chios is usually the best available, and probably the most recently picked/least oxidised.

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That's really interesting. Obviously, the dark specks in this gunk are bits of tree bark and whatnot. The whitish stuff though, it's interesting that that might just be oxidized mastic. What's interesting is that when you look at the mastic as it came from Woodfinishing Enterprises, it doesn't look like it has all these little bits of bark in it. Just go back and look at the first photo I posted in this thread. You can't see it. But when you dissolve it, it's there, and when it's all together in one thin layer at the bottom of the jar, it looks like there was a lot of it.

I'm curious how this stuff would dissolve if it were heated. I may test that out. I poured the mastic syrup into another jar this morning and added 100 grams of washed linseed oil. I'll post some pictures in a little bit. It's still hazy looking, but that haze will completely clear up over the next few days or a week or so. When I made this stuff before, the haze simply sank to the bottom of the jar over time, leaving clear varnish over the haze as it sank. Then it formed a very thin white layer at the bottom of the jar, and I poured the clear varnish off into another container.

To answer Craig's question, this is the first time I've used the mastic from Woodfinishing Enterprises. The first 200 grams I bought, in 2004, I bought from Kremer Pigments, 100 grams at a time. So far, though, this mastic has behaved exactly like the mastic I bought from Kremer back then, as far as I can remember.

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I've had a couple of offline requests by people not to stop posting pictures until this stuff is completely done, so here goes.

This morning I poured the mastic syrup into another jar, and added 100 grams of washed linseed oil. Here's a picture showing what it looked like after I poured the oil into the mastic, but hadn't shaken it up yet.

The second picture is the same stuff after I shook it vigorously for a minute or so and then let it settle for a couple of hours. This haze will slowly sink to the bottom of the jar, leaving just crystal clear varnish. I'll get some photos as it starts to settle.

mastic syrup and linseed oil 9565.jpg

mastic oil mix 9566.jpg

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Has any one used this varnish over top other oil varnishes, is

it compatable? tThe reason I ask is that I have a varnish right now

that I really like and can get some awesome colours out of, but, is

has the one fatal flaw of being very reactive to heat. heat from

your hand will soften it up enough to imprint and also given enough

time will turn the varnish black. But other than that,


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Hi Darren from another Molnar,

I wouldn't cover this varnish from hell with anything. It may still turn soft to heat with the new top layer. Then you could have a royal mess literally on your hands. That's my two-cents worth.

Tell us more about this varnish. Perhaps some of the real experts here can help you.

Mike Molnar

PS: Why not start your question as a new thread so we can stay focused on Seth's great explanation of making Darnton Mastic Varnish?

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I decided to geek out and have some fun with this. I'd actually dreamed about doing this very thing for quite some time now, if that tells you anything about me.

I set my camera up with an off-camera flash shooting into an umbrella. I put the jar of varnish on a sheet of posterboard to act as a white background. My camera has a built-in timer functionality, and I was able to set it to take a photo every 15 minutes. I'm going to let the varnish just sit there and clarify, and let my camera just automatically snap a shot every 15 minutes for a few days, or a week or two at most, if that's how long it takes for the varnish to clarify. My flash, at the power setting I used, can last for days on one charge of the batteries, and I have another spare set ready to go. My camera can also go for days this way, plus I have an extra camera battery and memory cards.

In the end, when the varnish has clarified, I intend to batch-process the images into some low resolution and combine them with whatever tool can do this into a Quicktime or other movie format. I hope to be able to view this whole clarification in like 30 seconds at 30 frames per second or something like that.

Anyhow, I'll let this run and in the end, if it looks interesting enough, I'll post a link so people can see it themselves. Even if it's not interesting to look at in the end, it'll have been interesting for me personally to figure out this timer functionality on my camera and learn how to do a movie this way to capture a long process over time.

Here's a shot showing the simple setup. I took it with my daughter's inexpensive point and shoot camera.

mastic clarifying photo setup 0505.jpg

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Actually the remote flash is just a normal Nikon flash. The silver umbrella in this picture cost $19. Add in the $15 bracket to hold the umbrella and flash, and an inexpensive stand to mount it on (can use a cheapo tripod if you want) and going off-camera like this really doesn't cost much. I already had the flash when I got my D200, so beyond that, even buying the stand shown in the picture specifically to hold the umbrella and flash, my off-camera setup cost me under $100. At the most basic, a person with a D70, D80, or D200 and a Nikon SB-800 or SB-600 flash can go off-camera just by going into Commander mode with the camera's onboard flash, setting the SB-600 or SB-800 to Remote mode, and setting it on a chair, pointed at the ceiling or bouncing off a piece of posterboard or something. I've taken off-camera flash photos before just by having my daughter or someone else hold the flash pointed at what I wanted, while I held the camera and took the photo. Nikon makes it so easy.

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Here is a pic I took shining a small LED flashlight through the back of the jar. I did this because the other photos weren't showing what's been happening in the last day. By tonight the very fine haze particles are clumping together into larger clumps. Eventually all this haze will have settled to the bottom of the jar.

I changed my off-camera flash setup. I put up a piece of dark posterboard behind the jar, and rigged a simple cardboard snoot (a little tube to limit the light cone coming from the flash and make it very directional) onto the business end of the flash, and set it up to come in from the back somewhat, in an attempt to be able to show the same kind of effect that I have with this flash light shot. So in my eventual little movie of the clarification process, the first second or two will be with the umbrella, and the rest of it will suddenly change to a different lighting setup. Oh well.

flashlight from the back 9656.jpg

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Just the fact that we are interested in seeing the sequence of photos on this varnish clarificatiion tells me we really are geeks. Kind of makes you wonder about the old saying "bout as interesting as watching paint dry". We may not be the most exciting group of people in the world, but we sure do love this stuff.


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Thanks for the comments Berl! Here's another one. This shows the clarification about 52 hours since I mixed the linseed oil into the mastic syrup.

I should remark that this is clarifying a bit differently than I remember my previous batches doing it in 2004. Back then there was actually a dropping of the haze to the bottom of the jar that left a clear, and growing, layer of pure varnish as it decended to the bottom over a number of days. This time around the haze particles are coalescing into larger clumps, sort of like wet snow for those of you who live in appropriate climates. You can see a growing layer of sediment at the bottom of the jar as this stuff slowly settles out. You can in fact see a very thin clear layer just below the surface, but it doesn't seem to be growing the same way that I remember. I guess the next day or two will probably show how this is going to progress. At any rate, this varnish will be crystal clear before it's considered done. And I don't have to do anything to it at all except let it sit and let nature take its course.

mastic clarifying ambient light 9744.jpg

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The washing machine would work - little duct tape, maybe.

Or a lot.

Or industrial grade superglue....

Seriously, though, if anyone's brave enough (with the nessesary

running capabilities), and has the required stuff, why not? I would

be interested.

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When I was in Switzerland and Germany 20 years ago, none of the apartments I lived in had clothes driers. They all had these centrifuges you'd stick your clothes into instead that would spin about a hundred gajillion times faster than the driers we use in America. Most of the water would come out of the clothes. In the first few seconds of spinning really fast you could hear the water raining out of the clothes onto the inside surfaces of the centrifuge, and then the noise dissipating as the water was gone. The clothes would come out just barely damp, and we'd hang them up on a rack to complete the drying.

Now that would be a cool thing to have around. Build a little wooden jig you could put down inside the centrifuge, with your jar of varnish or whatever on one side, and opposite that a counterweight of the same mass as the jar and its contents. I bet those clothes spinners go fast enough to separate things like varnish and the fine particulate I'm waiting to settle out here.

But really, if I weren't photographing this whole process to document it for Maestronet, I'd just put it on the shelf and forget about it, and a month or two later I'd remember in an "oh yeah" moment and take the jar down and it would be crystal clear and ready to pour off into another clean jar. This kind of thing really is better done with supreme patience and calmness. You can't be in a hurry and make this stuff, so make it now and let it take its natural course, and by the time you actually need it, it'll be there for you. :-)

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What about some inert additive such as pumice to help the fine globs glob together? in winemaking one uses "finings" to clarify the fermented juice. There must be some equivalent for oil-based mixtures.

I don't think any model of washing/drying machine would spin fast enough to have any measureable effect on those particles. And I'd hate to have the jar break. I can imagine what SWMBO would say about that ...

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Hmm, that's a really interesting idea Matt, using something like pumice to force the settling out of the haze particles. I'm not sure I'm ready to try it out on this batch, but I'd be very interested to hear if anyone ever tried it. Yeah, I'm not tempted to put this 700 grams of mastic varnish into the clothes drier. :-) SWMBO has nothing to fear from me on this account, harming her precious utensils.

Barring something like the use of pumice or some other form of "finings", the natural settling due to gravity works fine, if only someone has the patience.

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Ok. Here are two pics of the varnish as its clarifies. I mentioned previously that I changed the photo setup from using an umbrella with my flash, to using a snoot with the flash instead, and changed from a white background to a black background. I did this because I felt it would help improve the contrast between the haze and the background and thus make it more obvious as it it clarifies.

So, here's a picture of the varnish as it was on Tuesday, with the current lighting setup. Note that on Tuesday it had already been clarifying for two days.

clarifying may 15th 9678.jpg

And here's a picture from today. You can see that it's already clarified significantly over what it was just two days ago. There's still a lot of haze in there, and it's not crystal clear yet by a long shot. Also, the haze seems to be just nearly evenly disappearing, whereas varnish I made in 2004 actually saw a haze level drop with a distinct line where it went from hazy to crystal clear, and the line went down slowly and evenly over time. This time that's not happening - the haze is just settling out slowly and the stuff is becoming more clear over time.

clarifying may 17th 9925.jpg

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