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Decent Spirit Varnish?


polkat
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I've always used an oil varnish of some kind on my violins. Never given any thought to spirit at all. But recently while discussing finishes with a guitar maker friend of mine, he stated that there were a few quite decent spirit varnishes available or recipes for them. Supposedly they remain flexible and look good.

So who can tell me about decent spirit varnishes?

Thanks!

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I've always used an oil varnish of some kind on my violins. Never given any thought to spirit at all. But recently while discussing finishes with a guitar maker friend of mine, he stated that there were a few quite decent spirit varnishes available or recipes for them. Supposedly they remain flexible and look good.

So who can tell me about decent spirit varnishes?

Thanks!

In a spirit varnish alcohol (the carrier) evaporates completely leaving only the dissolved resins in a more or less thin coating on the wood. The only flexible spirit varnish you will ever find or make is if it's made from a non-hardening resin; and every resin I'm aware of eventually over time loses it's natural oils and becomes brittle. As far as I know there isn't really a substitute for the flexibility that a drying oil adds to an oil type varnish.
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I started off with a decent Shellac Elemi Propollis spirit varnish, but now I use oil varnish.

I find oil varnish much easier to use, it seems to wear better, and looks better to my eye.

Propolis has a wax component to it that is similar to a polymerized oil that would add a degree of flexibility to a spirit varnish. De-waxed propolis will eventually become brittle too in my experience.

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In a spirit varnish alcohol (the carrier) evaporates completely leaving only the dissolved resins in a more or less thin coating on the wood. The only flexible spirit varnish you will ever find or make is if it's made from a non-hardening resin; and every resin I'm aware of eventually over time loses it's natural oils and becomes brittle. As far as I know there isn't really a substitute for the flexibility that a drying oil adds to an oil type varnish.

Castor oil is soluable in alcohol. I am sure it has been used many times. It is a try-glyceride just like the other vegetable oils, but it has an OH radical in the middles of the fatty acids. If you see "hydrogenated castor oil", this is a regular drying oil that has the OH removed and subsituted with an H. (It is not soluable in alcohol)

Glycerin has also been used as a plasticizer, but it has a small molecular weight, and I would expect it to outgas over a few decades. Maybe this is why some spirit varnishes act nice for a long time, but eventually get too brittle. Ethelene glycol has two OH per molecule, Glycerin has 3. Ethyl alcohol has one. Ethelene glycol evaporates slowly over a period of days and will extend brushing of a spirit varnish. You can use car antifreeze, but it has some waterpump lubricants etc that might be a problem. But try it and see.

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a really good spirit varnish can be indistinguishable from an oil varnish. John touched all the relevant points. I'll add that spike lavender oil can improve brushability and the judicious addition of bee's wax can insure permanent flexibility of a shellac/mastic type varnish. I'm not impressed with elemy, Ive seen it turn into a brittle, hard rock over time. Propolis with a bit of wax in small quatities is ok.

Oded

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a really good spirit varnish can be indistinguishable from an oil varnish. John touched all the relevant points. I'll add that spike lavender oil can improve brushability and the judicious addition of bee's wax can insure permanent flexibility of a shellac/mastic type varnish. I'm not impressed with elemy, Ive seen it turn into a brittle, hard rock over time. Propolis with a bit of wax in small quatities is ok.

Oded

Yes Oded, I experimented with elemi and mastic both in an ammonia-water varnish. All of the standard resins such as copal which dissolve in alcohol can be usd with ammonia-water and alcohol. Except mastic and elemi. I suspect they both have essential oils that eventually evaporate. Mastic has a little bit. Elemi seems to have LOT of volatiles, which is what "essential oil" means. I see no reason to use it.

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If you have never used spirit varnish Scott Hersey has a video on making, and using spirit varnish. I have the video and it has many help full tips. I don't have a link to his web site , but if you just type in Scott Hersey and you'll get it. Also luscomb has a couple of 1704 versions at violin oil varnish, spirit varnish.

Berl

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I like two coats of spirit over semi dry oil varnish to finish, it can make a nice texture.

Ben, is that shellac you like to put on top of the oil varnish? Is it all right to add a spirit varnish on top of the oil varnish - will it not pull the oil varnish when applying it? One last question, if it is shellac on top of oil varnish will it not cause the varnish to craquelure?

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if it is shellac on top of oil varnish will it not cause the varnish to craquelure?

Yes, and that's why I do it.

I'm not much of a lover of craquelure and I figure it's a finish gone wrong rather than something to aspire to but I know there are those who like to see it on old violins.

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I try to make what sells, violins that look like showroom Ferrari's tend not to sell so well, on average.

Also, I don't make a heavy crackle, just a subtle crackle, it's pleasing to the eye because it adds texture.

Perhaps like how oak somked salmon tatses different to sushi, neither is perfect, both are good to my taste.

Isn't it fun to share all these somethings?

I find that it helps me define more accurately what I actually do, and how it differs or matches what others do, or don't.

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