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Varnishing on the Cheap


Stanley5184

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Hey, i've PM'ed some members recently about varnishes they use and nearly all have been using or suggesting, Joes, Magister or oldwood products. Looking at all these options, they all come to well over $100 which is well beyond my budget for my first cheap white ebay viola. I'm wondering if any of you have cheap recipes that result in a good end product. I know that it will never look as good as the commercial products like joes but its my first instrument and my expectations arn't super high.

i've thought about things i can do myself:

gelatine primer - thats cheap

onion skin for colour - super cheap!

artist oils for glazing to get desired colour - also fairly cheap

not sure what sealer to use?

Maybe coffee or linseed to stain - very cheap

maybe buying a clear oil varnish from hardware store?

not sure about the mineral/ground coat?

I'll most likely make a UV box, flourencent tube are not that expensive.

I'd like to know how you all would go about the process saving where possible but definitely spending where needed to ensure a good finish.

Thanks

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If you have sun where you live (we don't) you won't need a uv box.

You can use a light water stain if you wish, and a light wipe of linseed oil and a good suntan gives a great ground colour.

If you can get some writers goldsize, that's just copal varnish, in your local art or paint shop, you can use it mixed to a paste with pumice or silex or even plaster of paris, as a ground. I'd add a little pigment here too.

Add colour to your goldsize, powder pigments are good, and you have a fair varnish. Instruments varnished this way can look really good; you can get a pretty result, even though it may not be 'Cremona'. I hate to see people becoming obsessed with making 'Strad' varnish, (often from descriptions in books!). Too often rather than making something beautiful in its own right, they condemn themselves to disappointment from day one.

You can add a little clean egg yolk to the varnish if you like. Too much egg tempera will ruin the varnish, but a dot can help it 'sit' nicely on the wood, and gives more a lustre than a gloss

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i think joe robsons varnish is the cheapest option, making your own always includes the risk of burning yourself or the house, and cheaper varnishes almost guarantee ruining the violin, so forget the uv box and use the money you save to buy joes varnish IMO

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I believe Manfio has posted on this forum about using strong tea as a ground, and Oded has posted about a really nice madder tincture that he uses. Michael Darnton has also posted about a shellac/alc ground. My personal philosophy is always to use the highest quality materials for varnishing, no matter what the cost. I think you may get a better quality learning experience using proper ingredients. (Lyndon has some sage advice above.)

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There's no doubt that some of the varnishes available can give great results. I haven't tried Joe's, and I'm not sure it could be posted to me with the 'flammable liquids' rules. I'm sure it's good. I make my own, partly because I can cook it to give me the intensity of yellow gold that I like. I like to put it on in one thick coat, and I like the surface and texture I can get.

W&N had Indian yellow in the past, which was very useful, but I can't find anything to replace it. If anyone has a good alternative, I'd like to know about it

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Thanks for the quick replies

Would i be able to use raw linseed oil.....just wondering because i got some from using on my cricket bat.....i like cricket!

Living in Australia...i get a fair bit of sun, maybe i wont need a UV box after all.

Ok, this may sound kinda dumb and make me look like a retard, but i'll be honest and say i seriously do not have a clue what a single one of the ingredients CRussell said are or look like, let alone know where i could buy some. However i'm livking the idea and it sound great, but if its too complicaterd i may just have to go witih joes.

another dumb question....when you say, you suggest you mix rosin with turpentine, i got the turpentine but, could you explain the rosin bit....is it rosin for the bow??

This all seem a bit complicated for a beginner like myself, if i were to buy joes varnish, would i be able to just buy the varnish which on his site ranges from 25-50....i just need this if i make the ground and but artist oil right?

I've complied a few pics of my dream finish from pictures taken from the whats on your bench thread, so they pics of your violins if you dont mind. So, yeah, i'm kinda striving for a finish like these. I love the antique corduroy look though

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post-53490-0-70567400-1344256002_thumb.jpg

post-53490-0-95961000-1344256025_thumb.jpg

post-53490-0-63910200-1344256104_thumb.jpg

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Judging from your limited experience and the pictures you've chosen above I'd say you should go for Joe's varnish or similar unless you're prepared to spend a lot of time experimenting and even if you do go with a professional varnish there'll be plenty of that anyway. Either way, you'll have fun, best of luck. smile.gif

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I've seen Ace Spar Varnish mentioned here as a viable option, and McCloskey's ought to do well also. They are both tough and flexible. Just keep your film build down.

You can also make a good spirit varnish with 70% shellac flakes, 15% sandarac, and 15% mastic. Spirit's harder to do well than oil varnish, though.

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like i said, youre better off using joe robsons varnish than ruining your violin with cheap alternatives, the person that reccomended boat varnish must have been taking his violins sailing, maybe joe robson could comment????

You don't have to take my word that commercial oil based spar varnishes are an acceptable inexpensive alternative for violins, which is what the OP was looking for. Read the comments of some of our better known and more respected contributors in this thread: Varnish (I think Joe R has already commented.)

What people name a finish isn't nearly as important as what's in it, and how it performs. Good oil based spar varnishes have a nice balance of toughness and flexibilty, as long as you don't get too heavy a build. Names are just a marketing decision, and the same product may be sold under a variety of names to different markets. For example, take a simple alkyd oil varnish, and thin it down 50% or so -- Presto,instant Tung Oil Finish! Not a drop of Tung Oil in it.

IME, the skill in application is more important than the exact formulation of the varnish, to a great extent. Now ground is another matter, but that's for a different thread, and much more controversial.

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i think the "honoured respected" contributor you refer to was ct, who like i said was taking his violin sailing, ive heard nothing but bad stuff about spar varnish and pure shellac varnish for that matter. shellac gives a hard brittle edge to the sound and robs the lows and mids, giving really obnoxious loud highs, what little ive heard of spar varnish it seems to have a deadening effect, and isnt flexible enough

id like to see that quote where joe robson says spar varnish or shellac for that matter sounds as good as his varnish

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no but i would call spar varnished violins "sailboats" that or SVOs sailboat varnished objects!!

Have you actually experimented with the stuff? I did when I was looking for a simple way to test the nano iron oxide colors. It wasn't half bad, and that's better than I can say about most "violin" varnishes.

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According to a scientific paper i read somewhere recently. onion skin colour is one of the few vegetable colours that can actually intensify in colour with age.

Well I don't know but I recently stripped a violin on which I had used onion skin as a yellow/golden stain (it was a little more than 1 year ago) and indeed the colour was still very much there.

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Have you actually experimented with the stuff? I did when I was looking for a simple way to test the nano iron oxide colors. It wasn't half bad, and that's better than I can say about most "violin" varnishes.

did you try it on a playing violin, or just test it on a piece of wood, david?? most of what i heard was from my boss' opinions about other people who tried it, honestly hes not going to find ace spar varnish in australia, and australian boat varnish may be an entirely different untested animal, but would you reccomend he not pay 100 for a decent oil varnish like joes, or save 90 and buy an untested australian "equivalent" to spar varnish, seriously now

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We did some training with the chemist from the local paint factory in school. It was a lesson in safety, and quality control, and the bass varnishes they made for gloss paint were made pretty much exactly as we make ours, except in two story high kettles.

Anyway, out in the yard, under awnings they made special orders, in 100 gallon batches, I think. The first class yacht varnish was very like the stuff we were learning to make for fiddles! Linseed oil and resin, cooked by a guy with a huge stirring stick, in a fireproof siut. They were at pains to keep the colour pale and not to burn the resin, but it was indistinguishable from some of the commercial violin varnishes available at the time, which were just repackaged copal varnish.

But if Joe can send you some of his, use it.

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