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Varnish: At my wits end!


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13 hours ago, Shunyata said:


Oh the anguish after all that work...


It is not really spoiled. You can wash the varnish down and start again. As long as it doesn't stain the pores you are safe. I have done this in the past and it taught me how important a good ground is. 

When the wash-down is finished there might be some varnish left in the rim at the joint of plates with the ribs. You can use it as a slight chasing for the next varnish. 

Best to start with an easy to apply varnish which contains a high percentage of shellac. 

I try to dilute it to the max (testing recommended) and then apply the varnish in slow controlled strokes trying to align the brush strokes like wallpaper with no gaps and no overlays. I do this every time from a different starting position.If lighter colored zones appear I try NOT to touch them up to make them vanish at once. I simply try to reduce the contrast and continue the varnish application when the underlying varnish is really completely dry. The thicker it goes the more even the varnish will be. 

Hope this gives you some ideas.

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All is not lost. The first varnish attempts can be really tough...

You will have to strip what is on it as others have stated.

The biggest piece of advice I can offer is to start with a varnish product commercially available made specifically for the string instrument family.

I would recommend an oil varnish over a spirit varnish for starters. (For reasons of application stated by others)

What ever product or system you decide to use, practice on scraps or a inexpensive white instrument until you have some comfort with which ever product or system you decide to use. Notice I said "some comfort". Good chance you will still have many challenges when you get to applying it to your instrument.

Good and proper tools for the job is often half the battle. I think a great deal of what you are fighting is just that, I have been there.

Every product or varnish type is going to have a learning curve.

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I agree that all is not lost.  One of my violins I stopped after 6 strip/revarnish cycles.  Some color may remain in the wood, but just do your best, and the next color coating will mostly even out the blotches.  It's also an excuse to do antiquing, which further reduces the obviousness of blotches.

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Davide Sora has some videos on youtube that show him varnishing with spirit varnish. If you haven't already, I'd suggest checking them out. Oil varnish will be easier to apply in even coats but has its own challenges. Unfortunately, there are no easy roads to varnish happiness.

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On 4/1/2019 at 6:14 AM, Shunyata said:

I am putting a super thin coat on - so not going thick.  The stuff dries so fast that there is no way to get on the next brush load without a big dark spot where you touch the already applied areas.

Stripping just soaks pigment into the wood which is just as bad.

Don't touch the already applied areas until it has dried. Use a brush that has bristles long enough to hold enough varnish to  do about half of a top or back. I use a 1704 recipe that I make and it works perfect, I have tried a spirit varnish that I purchased without success, but it was a little thicker than mine. the trick is thin and fast, and let it dry between coats. if I could remember how I would upload some pics you would like of a fiddle I was playing 3 hours after starting varnishing.

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If this is an alchol base varnish "spirit" then this is not a problem, just soak terry rags in alc and wipe it off a couple or few times, waiting in between wipings about an hour, at that point most of it will be wiped off with some pushed into the grain acting as a grain fill...

then after wipinp, super important, particularly if you try to resurface it with sand paper or scraping, which I would not, but either way tan it, be it sun or uv lights, give it uv to re brown it some.

then, if you are in the usa, go to any paint/hardware store or home depot and buy "SEAL COAT" by zinnser, NOT REGULAR SHELLAC , IT MUST BE SEAL COAT. ie. wax free shellac...

then, apply one coat using a cheap boar hair "chip brush" , let it dry 1 hour, and apply another coat.

The second coat will start to build, so do not play with it trying to remove brush marks, just get it on as evenly as possible, pay attention to the sound holes, dry brush them after doing the top so as to not get drips or sags

after your two coats are done, if you want super simple super killer looking, spen the money and buy 1 oz jar or Joe Robsons darkest "clear" varnish, get the Dark Amber if he still makes it, I would get it in lean oil formula...

then, after the two coated shellac is dry, use 400 grit paper, in one direction strokes ,being very careful in the recurve and lip....then repeat with 600 grit, then find a chunk of natural wool, like a sweater, a vigorusly rub the violin and the final smooth down...

then, with Joes varnish, in full strength, right from the jar, with a brush that will fit into the opening, dip your brush no more than half the bristle length, take the varnish and dollop blobs about 2" apart and about 1" off the edge, and then 3 or 4 blobs in the middle, it should take about 3 to 4 brush dippings to properly blob the top or back, less on the top because the ff;s

so, once blobed, with your raw naked hand  start to smear the varnish in a circular squeegee type motion, as fast as you can in order to smear the product across the entire back {in this case} once smeared out, starting from either top to bottom  or bottom to top, with the meaty part of the palm of your hand start to pat in a rapid patting motion until you have patted out the entire instrument plate. This patting help stipple and even the varnish out, if done right it drys with a very luxurious glossy leather like texture. he makes many different varnishes and each one has its own thing as far as final looks go...

Other options are to lay down some more shellac coats, then thin Joes stuff by about 50% and then you can brush on a watery layer, which still looks quite thick, and will lay down quite well, but you need to do at least 2 coats this way so as to not burn through on the final rub down.

the seal coat has a more amber shellac base and therefore gives you a more amber starting point , that stuff you have is very blonde, that makes you do stupid stuff with tint, having a even dark base like seal coat will make it much easier, having a varnish like Joes makes it easy and look killer...

his stuff MUST have uv light to dry well, so don't use it unless you have lights or can properly babysit it in the sun.

edit; also because it is winter'ish still and because you are not super experienced, DO NOT USE SEAL COAT ON RAINY COLD DAMP DAYS, unless you have a controlled interior environment, you will get "blush" or white spots...also because it is government poisoned alcohol [to save you from your self, or so they tell you} makes sure you have adequate ventilation, lung protection, no open flames, and wear gloves....denatured alc while seemingly "docile" can have cumulative negative effects on your health 

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