Julian Cossmann Cooke

Spirit Varnish for the Convinced and the Curious

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I am adding a little well-cooked linseed oil from Woodfinishing -- they provide it cleaned, I cook it -- to the local pine resin spirit varnish I am trying to add some plasticity.  Without the oil, the varnish turns to dust when two instruments knock against each other.  Pictures below are the progression of the cook which ended at 205F.

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IMG_20190901_130846_020.jpg

IMG_20190901_130846_023.jpg

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Not sure that all of these qualify as spirit varnish, though they all include alcohol as a component: recipes from a book by Raimund Klawitter that appeared in 2001, the rough English translation of which is "History of Violin Varnishing - Materials and Techniques"  The attached translations are mine.

Klawitter varnish recipes.doc Klawitter casein ground recipes.doc

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@Julian Cossmann Cooke

Julian,

maybe it is a good idea to make one post giving references where raw varnish ingredients can be bought.

Not all sellers use the same nomenclature which can cause some confusion. 

(For example the 'Indian copal' must be to my understanding what is in the Kremer Pigments catalogue 'Manila copal' )

For participants posting recipes on the thread it would be nice to know the supplier for each ingredient.

 

 

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On September 7, 31 Heisei at 3:23 AM, Julian Cossmann Cooke said:

I am adding a little well-cooked linseed oil from Woodfinishing -- they provide it cleaned, I cook it -- to the local pine resin spirit varnish I am trying to add some plasticity.  Without the oil, the varnish turns to dust when two instruments knock against each other.  Pictures below are the progression of the cook which ended at 205F.

IMG_20190901_130846_026.jpg

IMG_20190901_130846_024.jpg

IMG_20190901_130846_020.jpg

IMG_20190901_130846_023.jpg

How long does it take to cook the oil? You are writing it ends at 205F (96C) does it mean that the temperature increases during the cooking process and it is interrupted once arrives at the right temperature (or color for the oil)?

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12 minutes ago, Andreas Preuss said:

How long does it take to cook the oil? You are writing it ends at 205F (96C) does it mean that the temperature increases during the cooking process and it is interrupted once arrives at the right temperature (or color for the oil)?

I cooked it over about 5 days just during working hours.  I would take it off the heat at night.  At the beginning, I set the hotplate on low and every few hours increased the heat until at the end, the setting was on medium high.  I don't know what temperature that was -- once I had passed the medium setting, I eyeballed the response of the oil to increased heat looking for color, bubbling and smoke.  Clearly, at the end things were bubbling before I noticed and took it off the heat.  It was coincidental that it was 205F at the time I took it off.

Greater precision probably would have been a good idea and I may move in that direction.  I know it would be preferable here to give temperatures rather than settings.  But in this case, vigilance seemed to work.

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24 minutes ago, Andreas Preuss said:

@Julian Cossmann Cooke

Julian,

maybe it is a good idea to make one post giving references where raw varnish ingredients can be bought.

Not all sellers use the same nomenclature which can cause some confusion. 

(For example the 'Indian copal' must be to my understanding what is in the Kremer Pigments catalogue 'Manila copal' )

For participants posting recipes on the thread it would be nice to know the supplier for each ingredient.

 

 

Absolutely right, Andreas.  Unfortunately, the author does not list where he sourced the materials.  I will try to get in touch with him and failing that, with the maker with whom he was consulting and see if I can get such a list and post it here.  Thanks for bringing this up.  It's too easy to lose track of the fact that copal is not always the same copal, etc.

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9 minutes ago, lflf said:

One of the laws of violin making seems to be that to be good it must be very complicated,  but many instruments have been beautifully varnished with simple mixtures of shellac (button lac, seed lac, orange shellac, etc), either straight, or with a spreading agent like oil of spike.  In the early Salt Lake days Prier and others were doing very nice varnish jobs using the 1704.   How you ultimately finish and polish it is the key,  a nicely rubbed and polished spirit varnish job is often mistaken for oil just because it looks so good. 

I find the simple-is-better argument compelling.  The best available technology tells us that Stradivari's varnish recipe was pretty straightforward in its ingredients.  For those of us foregoing the old Cremonese recipes in favor of finding something of our own creation that gives the results -- aesthetic and mechanical -- that we like, I think the KISS (keep it simple, Sam/Sally) principle makes sense as well.  But many, if not all, roads lead to Rome so I never would be critical of someone else's chosen path (not that you were suggesting either of us would).  

I would add application to your list of keys to success.  BTW, my local pine resin varnish is not compatible with traditional French polish recipes.  It dulls rather than shines.  But then the varnish once applied glows on its own.  It also seems to result in quite a bit of texture.  I am still looking for a successful French polish as an alternative to an abrasive, if only to help lessen the texture when that is what the customer prefers.  I am fully prepared to go with texture as a starting point -- easier to lessen than it is to increase once the varnish is on the instrument.

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i would say that occam's razor should rule, instead of your good=complicated, and usually does. The less you refine, obsess, and overthink, the better your material will be---

at least if what we are after is finishes that act like, look like, and wear like the finishes of the past we admire.

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2 minutes ago, Julian Cossmann Cooke said:

I find the simple-is-better argument compelling.  The best available technology tells us that Stradivari's varnish recipe was pretty straightforward in its ingredients.  For those of us foregoing the old Cremonese recipes in favor of finding something of our own creation that gives the results -- aesthetic and mechanical -- that we like, I think the KISS (keep it simple, Sam/Sally) principle makes sense as well.  But many, if not all, roads lead to Rome so I never would be critical of someone else's chosen path (not that you were suggesting either of us would).  

I would add application to your list of keys to success.  BTW, my local pine resin varnish is not compatible with traditional French polish recipes.  It dulls rather than shines.  But then the varnish once applied glows on its own.  It also seems to result in quite a bit of texture.  I am still looking for a successful French polish as an alternative to an abrasive, if only to help lessen the texture when that is what the customer prefers.  I am fully prepared to go with texture as a starting point -- easier to lessen than it is to increase once the varnish is on the instrument.

jules, you need to look for a material-added polish to french polish over varnish like that. myrrh in spirit, or a high-benzoin content polish applied as an added layer, not as a wet rag mixing your base layers around. Jim Banicke passed a 50/50 shellac/benzoin with a few drops of eucalyptus oil added recipe to a couple of my employees at Potter's. It can add a shiny polish layer over just about anything, but needs some practice-- it requires a drop of oil on the rag almost every time, but will turn cloudy after a week if this need is overdone.

but then, do you want to be using a varnish that dulls when someone tries to polish it in 200 years?

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On 9/8/2019 at 11:20 AM, Christopher Jacoby said:

but then, do you want to be using a varnish that dulls when someone tries to polish it in 200 years?

Just have to throw 2 historical cents in here... Your advice (you need to look for a material-added polish) is good, and not that what's above is a bad question, but you might want to ask some dead makers the for their reasoning.  I don't believe they will answer, however. :) 

Any solvent manipulation of the varnish (polishing or whatever), should be approached with the same careful testing procedure that one would follow with solvent cleaning should be followed (water and spit  on up). Not doing so may not cause problems in the majority of cases, or with the general group of instruments one works on regularly (or your own instruments)... but when it is a problem... well.

Some instruments (especially 19th century French) will react negatively to some alcohol driven polishes, Heineke varnish does not "like" many spirit touchup formulas or polish and will craze like crazy when exposed to them. Pressendas (especially in the 1830s) will also react strangely to some spirit based polishes. Etc, etc, etc.

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On 9/8/2019 at 10:20 AM, Christopher Jacoby said:

jules, you need to look for a material-added polish to french polish over varnish like that. myrrh in spirit, or a high-benzoin content polish applied as an added layer, not as a wet rag mixing your base layers around. Jim Banicke passed a 50/50 shellac/benzoin with a few drops of eucalyptus oil added recipe to a couple of my employees at Potter's. It can add a shiny polish layer over just about anything, but needs some practice-- it requires a drop of oil on the rag almost every time, but will turn cloudy after a week if this need is overdone.

but then, do you want to be using a varnish that dulls when someone tries to polish it in 200 years?

Chris and Jeff, thank you for the good counsel.  My feeling as I experiment with "inventing" varnishes is that there are several steps in testing.  Application; appearance; mechanical behavior; response to natural wear; and polishing.  Natural wear is one of those wait-and-see things.  But once I have collected/bought materials, made the varnish, applied it, examined the appearance and mechanical behavior, response to polish is just another element in the testing sequence.  So far, I like everything else about this varnish and believe it is worth investing more time and effort before determining whether it is viable.  The first step, it seems to me, is to see if there are any additives that would get a better response to common polish recipes because those are what the varnish will encounter as it makes the rounds of its useful life.  Failing that, I would turn my attention to adjusting the polish recipe.  If the latter turned out to be the solution, the only protection I can offer going forward is to note the contents of the polish in the certificate that ideally will travel with the instrument.

If anyone else can suggest other permutations of the testing regime around French polish, I am wide open to options.

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On 9/7/2019 at 2:23 AM, Julian Cossmann Cooke said:

I am adding a little well-cooked linseed oil from Woodfinishing -- they provide it cleaned, I cook it -- to the local pine resin spirit varnish I am trying to add some plasticity.  Without the oil, the varnish turns to dust when two instruments knock against each other.  Pictures below are the progression of the cook which ended at 205F.

IMG_20190901_130846_026.jpg

IMG_20190901_130846_024.jpg

IMG_20190901_130846_020.jpg

IMG_20190901_130846_023.jpg

Hi Julian,  I have a stupid question.  Mixed with cooked oil, does the varnish request sun light (or UV box) to dry? Does it mixed well with alcohol and resin?

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Kae, not stupid questions at all.  Samples have dried without UV or sunlight (other than the light in the shop).  I have not used it yet on the instrument.  The oil does mix well with the alcohol/resin combination when the material is warmed on a coffee warmer.  Again, I have yet to gain experience with the application of the varnish/oil, though under normal circumstances adding alcohol  to thin the varnish has helped with the pre-oil version.

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I was at a bowmakers home shop this weekend getting a re-hair.  As we chatted during the rehair, I kept looking at his trash can full of pernambucco shavings.  I instantly thought about tinctures and started chanting to myself "ask to take the trash on the way out...ask to take the trash on the way out...ask to take the trash on the way out...".  Then he was finished and as soon as my bow was in hand I forgot all about the shavings.  Big dummy!  Maybe next time.

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56 minutes ago, Jim Bress said:

I was at a bowmakers home shop this weekend getting a re-hair.  As we chatted during the rehair, I kept looking at his trash can full of pernambucco shavings.  I instantly thought about tinctures and started chanting to myself "ask to take the trash on the way out...ask to take the trash on the way out...ask to take the trash on the way out...".  Then he was finished and as soon as my bow was in hand I forgot all about the shavings.  Big dummy!  Maybe next time.

I would have had the same reaction, Jim.  If I remember correctly, pernambuco has lightfastness issues.  I read that and my immediate reaction is to wonder whether that is true under exposure to ambient light or just when blasted with UV.  And what if any difference, the overlay of solvents and resins makes.  Still and all, as an inveterate varnish tinkerer, I probably would noodle around with it.  In fact, I have a couple of sticks in really bad condition.  Hmmm.^_^

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There's a set of books here, the first two volumes of which Ernie sold recently on the Exchange (before I saw the listing, damnit) - "The manufacture of varnishes and Kindred Industries". The first volumes, which I have in PDF (the work is well into the public domain now) deals with linseed and other drying oils, including linoxin, which some makers (Davide comes to mind) process for use in spirit varnish. The second (I have it, too) discusses all manner of oil varnishes and materia. 

The third, most relevant to this thread, is all about spirit varnishes. I have yet to find it, digital or physical, but as useful and cogent as the first two volumes are, it would probably be handy to have.

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1 hour ago, JacksonMaberry said:

There's a set of books here, the first two volumes of which Ernie sold recently on the Exchange (before I saw the listing, damnit) - "The manufacture of varnishes and Kindred Industries". The first volumes, which I have in PDF (the work is well into the public domain now) deals with linseed and other drying oils, including linoxin, which some makers (Davide comes to mind) process for use in spirit varnish. The second (I have it, too) discusses all manner of oil varnishes and materia. 

The third, most relevant to this thread, is all about spirit varnishes. I have yet to find it, digital or physical, but as useful and cogent as the first two volumes are, it would probably be handy to have.

https://ia801601.us.archive.org/8/items/in.ernet.dli.2015.37072/2015.37072.The-Manufacture-Of-Varnishes-And-Kindred-Industries--Vol3.pdf

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31 minutes ago, Julian Cossmann Cooke said:

Neat! I assume you've read it? 

Edit: I tried to download this and my phone reminded me I already have it. So I opened it up and remembered why I had put it out of my mind - it's a terrible scan. But it's better than nothing! Thanks, man!

If someone has or finds hard copies of these or other books in the public domain, I'll be happy to scan them and return them to you. I have access to a real amazing book scanner. Then someone with a website can put them up for the good of the trade.

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18 hours ago, JacksonMaberry said:

Neat! I assume you've read it? 

Edit: I tried to download this and my phone reminded me I already have it. So I opened it up and remembered why I had put it out of my mind - it's a terrible scan. But it's better than nothing! Thanks, man!

If someone has or finds hard copies of these or other books in the public domain, I'll be happy to scan them and return them to you. I have access to a real amazing book scanner. Then someone with a website can put them up for the good of the trade.

No, JM, I have not read it. But it is now on my list.  And in my archive.

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Earliest spirit varnish recipe I found in my library is Werckschul 1696. It is interesting that the author (who apparently is not the one who made the varnish formula) identifies the recipe as from a famous maker in the city H.

What comes first to mind is Joachim Tielke in Hamburg. 

The recipe describes the procedure. The varnish is made in three different vessels. In  the first vessel the clear varnish consisting of gummi lacca (maybe shellack) and sandarack is dissolved in alcohol.

In a second jar dragon blood and the roots of red berries( in the German text: rother beern Wurtzel) is mixed with alcohol.

in a third jar the yellow color is blended with colophany aloe and Orleans.

When the ingredients are entirely dissolved and colors completely extracted they are filtered and poured together. The mixed varnish has to stand for another week that remaining impurities go to the bottom. The dirt free varnish is carefully poured in another vessel and then ready to use. 

What I find interesting is that colors and the clear varnish are dissolved separately. Maybe when the colors and the cleR varnish are blended not all color is used taking just as much as to achieve the right color either more red or more yellow. 

Does anyone here know of an earlier recipe?

image.jpeg

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