Jump to content
Maestronet Forums

Hammerl varnish - lightfastness?

Marc Genevrier

Recommended Posts

Hello all,

I'm currently making some varnish trials for my first violin (I just strung it up today for the first time!). I'm planning to use Hammerl/Joha Oil Varnish Ia, mixing different colors to obtain the color I want - I bought red, yellow and dark brown. To my surprise, it seems that the red varnish in particular fades extremely quickly, or let's say that the color completely changes during drying - to the extent that, on the next day, pure red varnish has already turned completely orange. So you prepare some nice brown color and end up the next day with a strange flashy orange! Disappointing!

I will manage to get an acceptable color (at least to my taste) using their "liquid coloring extract", but I'm wondering how this may be. I'm applying the varnish on scrap wood that has been prepared exactly the same way as I will do for my violin, i.e. Hammerl Ground Varnish after gelatine sealing.

Does anyone have had a similar experience? Or am I doing something wrong?


Link to comment
Share on other sites

My experience agrees exactly with Ben's.

Wet color varnish does not necessarily look the same as when dry.

Also, Hammerl colors are very lightfast. They hold up in my UV box even when overexposed. I understand that International Violins sells Hammerl varnish as a generic brand.

I must warn others, however, that I found the Omega-Brown brand sold by International Luthiers (not International Violins) to be fugitive.


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hammerl make different grades of varnish, you can get a PDF of all the info and prices, online, I have it filed away.


I think the basic grade is Ia, it is 'mostly a natural product but includes driers', - as the technical people told me.

I used Ia brown in the past, and always wondered what exactly the ingredients were, anyone know ?

Ia dries without U.V. in about 8 hours, it's easy to brush.

There are better grades by Joha, but they take longer to dry, and are more expensive.

You can mix Ia dark brown with artists oil colours such as madder brown, Rose madder, or Alizarin, and get a very nice transparent colour. If using artists oil colours try to afford the series 1 or 2, they are much better though expensive.

I have never used the colours supplied by Joha, but the manufacturer says they are lightfast :

'' Color extract

JOHA® Color extract (order# 2901 - 2910) is a liquid, light-resistant, transparent color for tinting colorless JOHA® varnishes, although it can also be used with spirit, oil and synthetic resin varnishes.

JOHA® Color extract is available in the following colors:

yellow, golden yellow, red, brown, amber,

golden brown, red brown, black, green, blue.

The colors can be mixed with each other, so that any shade of instrument varnish can be matched.

Our JOHA® color extract is superior to spirit and oil soluble powder colors as it is much more resistant to light than powder colors.

JOHA® Color extract is dissolved completely and can be added directly to the varnish (maximum 50 ml color extract for 1 liter varnish) ''

My own home made oil varnish is a basic Linseed oil and Colophony job with some Benzoin for shine and elasticity.

I prefer it to the Joha Ia mainly because it smells nice, I like the greenish tinge, it's alot thicker, it's cheaper, and I know exactly what's in it.


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thank you, both of you!

Now I can rest assured that the color won't change much after the initial "shift" during drying. This matches my first experiments, too, but of course I can't simulate a long time exposure (I don't have a UV box and simply rely on the wonderful sun of southern France - but there is plenty of it here!).

I find it strange, though, that they sell as "red" a varnish that immediately turns orange...

In any case, I think I have found "my" color now. Let the sun work for me on the bare wood for further 2-3 weeks and I will make the varnishing.


Link to comment
Share on other sites


Perhaps this will be interesting to some. Does it seem likely to others that the availale solvent dyes are the most likely source of color in commercial violin varnishes? If so, you can perhaps dye your favorite oil varnish yourself. The advantage is that you can separate the coloring of a varnish from other considerations.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Ben, thanks for the tip, I will look at Hammerl Web page. From what I read so far, however, they recommend their liquid extract as being more lightfast that powedered dyes. But this may not include powdered madder root.

Rob, I applied it on a yellow ground as well as on bare wood with colorless ground/without any ground and the result was very similar. If it was only the ground, I guess that the color would look different straight ahead, as soon as you apply it, except for a slight change during drying.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hi Marc:

I have found exactly the same thing with the varnish from International Violin - which I think is from Hammerl - except that it has taken about 6 months for the red to disappear. I have used two different batches, and also tried the clear varnish to which I added the color extract myself. Each time I used a 50:50 mixture of the Golden Yellow and the Red. It gives a very nice red color at first, but after a few months it is a sort of orange brown. This is under normal room lighting. Right now I am trying out some metal complex dyes (Trans Tints) which are not as intense a color, but are supposed to be more stable.


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Ed, thank you for sharing your experience.

I also used Hammerl varnishes in the past for a cello (no mixing, simply using their golden brown color "as is") and also found that the result was way more orange than expected/depicted on their Web page. But since I had stained the wood back then, I thought this was a bad procedure from my own. Unfortunately, this doesn't seem to be the case.

Still, what makes me wonder is what may be in the air or the light here to make it happen so quickly.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

It's quite normal for many oil varnishes to change color as they polymerize (dry). I don't know why this is...... perhaps because the refractive index changes.

Whether a color remains light-fast after drying can't really be known from a manufacturers claims. It needs to be tested exactly the way you use it, with your wood treatment, your ground, your solvents, etc.

The easiest way I've found to test light-fastness is to prepare a sample exactly the way you varnish, break it in half, and put one piece in a drawer, the other taped to the inside of a window which gets a lot of direct sunlight. Even this isn't foolproof though, because it may fail to mimic chemical reactions which take place over a longer period of time, even in the dark.

The most stable dyes I've ever used in a spirit retouching varnish failed badly after several years when I used them to color nitrocellulose lacquer. This must have been some sort of long-term chemical reaction, because the object wasn't exposed to much daylight.

These same dyes also fade over time in an alcohol solution (premixed retouching base color). Once the alcohol is gone, they're fine.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Not to hop on the bandwagon, but I've had the same experience with this varnish. I've tried golden brown and brown but they both turned out more orange. I like the varnish itself but I haven't been too happy with the coloring. I've found some dyes that I'm going to be adding next time to give me the color that I want so I'll see how it goes.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 11 years later...
2 hours ago, Omar said:

hello, I bought the color extracts with clear varnish, but im not sure how to mix them together and the ratio of the varnish to the color extract. Does anyone have an idea?

You need to experiment. Pour one ounce of clear varnish into a small jar. Use disposable plastic pippetes to add drops of colorant. There is no magic formulation. So, get lots of wood test strips and take copious notes.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I made some experiments with natural color dyestuff to test how lightfast they are. However I made the tests with spirit varnish.

The result was very simple. Colors blended with a blonde clear varnish would fade very quickly whereas colors blended with normal orange shellack would fade only a little. So a 'dark' varnish body seems to protect the colors better than a light and clear varnish body.

As far as I remember is the Joha varnish pretty light colored so the fading colors are not really a surprise.

The problem there is when you blend the colors you will never know how it will look like in a few years. To keep things as simple and uncomplicated as possible looking for another varnish might be the better option.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

  • Create New...