What’s Your Varnish?

Kent O. Smith Jr sent us in this beautiful shot yesterday. It says it all.

Kent O. Smith Jr sent us in this beautiful shot yesterday. It says it all.

One of the fun parts of the winter months is having time to love on our boats. I know, I know, many say it’s work. But there is something rather zen like being out in the barn/garage/ shop with the wood stove going, some great classical  music and your boat. We did this years ago, whats the perfect music to varnish to? It turned out, classical music was great because of … ah hell, I can’t recall, I just know it works. So there you are, you with some alone time with your 400 feet of rich beautiful mahogany. And a box of sand paper…. yeah.. sanding, more on that later.

Maybe a gallon of man o war will do it?

Maybe a gallon of man o war will do it?

Today is about varnish. And more importantly, your varnish of choice. Many folks have preferences in how there varnish flows, sticks looks, smells.. We would like to know about these. Do you like the thick rich flow of Epifanes? Or the sparkle and ease of Captains?

Found this in my grandmothers basement.

Found this in my grandmothers basement.

Brush’s play a huge part, or not, some like simple roll and tip with foam stuff, others there favorite brushs made from the hair of virgin monkeys in the south of Madagascar. So chime in and let it rip. For every guy that loves one brand, there is another who hates it!

55 replies
  1. Cliff
    Cliff says:

    EPIfANES! There is no substitute! You can only varnish to surf guitar or garage rock. Every can must be opened with “Louie Louie” by the Kingsmen. Personally I can only stain my wood with classical music or big band, but occionally a little Bruce Springsteen thrown in helps. Pre-varnish meal …..chilli dogs.

  2. Ford Knight
    Ford Knight says:

    I always liked the Petit Bak V Spar varnish. I can’t find it now because of the VOC’s and I really miss it. I had a stash of cans which I carefully saved to use on my 1954 Morehouse Custom Utility and was gratified to have just enough. Now though I wish I could find some more. All the new varnishes dry too quickly.

  3. ranger
    ranger says:

    thank you for this article…I can’t wait to hear from the others…

    this is definitely something I want to learn more about!

  4. Don Ayers
    Don Ayers says:

    I’ve always liked Captain’s. Not as thick as Epifanes and a nice amber tint. Epifanes is a close second. Badger brushes and Pink Floyd or upbeat pop music.

  5. Jim Staib
    Jim Staib says:

    I tried Epifanes once. I had an adhesion problem. I called the US rep for advice. I was told “You’re not old enough to know what you are doing” Now I use genuine Chris-Craft varnish.

  6. Terry (tuobanur) Limehouse
    Terry (tuobanur) Limehouse says:

    I’m still trying to decide what varnish to use but what I do know, I want be listening to any classical music (they don’t even play that in elevators any more), instead I will be listening to some Doobies, Dave Matthews, John Prine, James Taylor…….. 🙂

  7. Loren Sattler
    Loren Sattler says:

    I prefer Epifanes for its gloss and durability. However, sometimes I resort to cursing when having trouble getting it to flow out completely without leaving brush marks. Thinning it just right can be a challenge, especially for vertical surfaces.

    When I have been successful on the finish coat the gloss is brilliant with minimal runs and the finish will still look fresh for 8-10 years before showing signs of giving up. Great stuff!

  8. Terry (tuobanur) Limehouse
    Terry (tuobanur) Limehouse says:

    I have been playing around with the Interlux Scooner 96 but have been told there is another Interlux that you can start out with that as long as you don’t wait to long between coats that you don’t have to sand between every coat, can someone tell me which one that is and are there any other brands that alow you to do the same??

  9. Al Benton
    Al Benton says:

    My first can of varnish was Interlux Schooner #96. I learned on it and developed some successful techniques using a bristle brush. Other brands behave differently when trying the same methods as already acquired.

    I was back to “trial & Error” with different stuff for a while when Schooner changed their formula, but they eventually returned to the original stuff. So did I.

    As for music to varnish by, country music is ok, but humming or whistling a familiar tune is much more relaxing, and it keeps the neighbors away! I don’t provide ear plugs.

  10. Chad
    Chad says:

    I used Epifanes and a badger brush until I tried Captain’s with foam rollers and brushes.

    Roll-n-tip for me from now on.

    Sometimes I’ll finish with a coat or 2 of Flagship.

  11. Gary
    Gary says:

    My vote is for Epifanes in a warm garage, organic vapor cartridges on my mask, Badger hair and Handles water music.

  12. Troy
    Troy says:

    When starting out caring for “Yorktown”, about 8 years ago, it was suggested to me to apply a couple of coats of Pettit Flagship followed by Pettit Captains. I had trouble with the Captains so now I use almost exclusively Flagship. Some feel it is too dark but it sure looks good to me.

    I use a Purdy white china brush. Have heard that a Badger Hair brush is best, but have been challenged in knowing what one to try. I want to try rolling and tipping.

    As far as music goes, I am currently working in a barn without electricity so the generator would drown out the music anyway, so I listen to nature and lobster boats out on the river.

  13. ken macstephen
    ken macstephen says:

    Lionel Cope was the varnisher at Dukes in Port Carling for over 50 years he spoke to our chapter near his retirement and he had some beautiful quotes about varnish, I remember a couple…. Some of it never dries… Not enough tung oil in current varnishes and lastly if you find one you like, stay with it!

  14. Tobias Sullivan
    Tobias Sullivan says:

    A colleague of mine who works for the National Trust for Historic Preservations recommends Le Tonkinois. Its petroleum free (linseed and tung oil based) and is supposed to simply wear off like layers of an onion rather than peel or crack. Doesn’t need thinning or switching from one product to another. The exterior doors I’ve seen coated with it look fantastic and have held up really well so I’m to give it a try when my project gets to that point…if only my project was at that point…

  15. Bill John
    Bill John says:

    I have been varnishing vintage wooden boats for over 30 years, beginning with my beloved Gar Wood Speedster Obsession in 1979, which I still own and maintain. Over the years I have read many articles and books on varnishing, used many different products and tried many different methods of applying varnish. Then in the Spring of 2002, I finally took the plunge, casting off my career in Corporate America and started my new, semi-retirement career with my own Vintage Race Boat Shop. It was time to follow my dream and my bliss, working on vintage wooden boats and specializing in stain and varnish work.
    Here is the link for how I stain & varnish:

  16. charley quimby
    charley quimby says:

    Nothing performed for me better than Pettit Bak-V-Spar laid on with a badger. So then the powers that be discontinued it, for what reason has never been made clear. Great amber coloring and had a long-lived wet edge. I would’nt give a dime for a 55 gallon drum that Dutch stuff. Use Captain’s now, but do not like it nearly as much as BVS.

    • Mike Dolan
      Mike Dolan says:

      Loved the BVS ,from Petit and used it for 30 years, also had some stashed. Tried Interlux and Epiphanes but found that the Man-O-War was the closest to the BVS with its edge, flow, shine and smell 🙂

      1929 Chris Craft 24′ triple

  17. Jim Frechette
    Jim Frechette says:

    I have used Interlux Schooner for over 30 years. I was very happy when they discontinued the “new” formulation and went back to the old. It smells “right” and has been very durable and easy to apply. Needs no thinning after the the first few coats of sealer or CPES.

  18. Walter
    Walter says:

    I used to use Captains. Then heard all of the Chris Craft and GarWood folks oooh and aaah over Epiphines and used that on a boat. Honestly, I can’t tell the difference so I’m going back to Captains.

  19. Captain Nemo
    Captain Nemo says:

    I used the Man-O-War for years, until I couldn’t find the the good ‘ol nasty VOC formula anymore. I found 1015 Captain’s to be just as good and a white chinese Purdy brush with Robin Trower playing in the background works well for me.

  20. JFunk
    JFunk says:

    Epifanes gloss with Ox Ear brush. Wet sand last two coats with 400. Thin 5%, will flow better and extends flash over time. Done a hundred finsihes with this, great results.

  21. 'Bone Daddy' Deems
    'Bone Daddy' Deems says:

    I know the purists are going to frickin’ flip out….but..I have been doing a little experiment with Cabots yes from Lowes $33.00 a gallon! Using it for three years on everything, yep a little thinner=more coats, but awesome color, and so far very durable, UV unknown. So you know I have one Chris done completly with Epiphanes, and I also use Flagship on a buddies boats, also have in my stash, Man-o-war, Captains, Schooner. Varnish isn’t really a hi tech, mysterious product…a little linseed, tung, walnut oils, Phenolic resins, and some UV thrown in…Try it! You’ll Like It! PS: Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Greatest Hits

  22. RiverRat
    RiverRat says:

    Epiphanes modern wood gloss for fast build. When done laying on the coats, sand, then top with epiphanes old formula for harder finish. My finish is not the best, still learning, but I know that the wood is protected.
    Music loud classical to bluegrass to rock and then some Bruce.
    Love the math problem. Some kind of tautology.

  23. Mike Green
    Mike Green says:

    I depends on what I coating but most of the time now I use Pettit 1015 Captains. If the boat is going to see hard time like Alaska I used Epifanes clear high gloss I used to use it all the time but they changed the formula and it was hard to use. On blonde decks I use Captains as well due to the more clear an none amber color. I always use foam for tipping and rolling because of the high cost of the nice brushes. Today for music we Scotch britted the boat to a little Motown and varnished to a mixed blues playlist.

  24. m-fine
    m-fine says:

    Epiphanes, heated to 550 degrees F, in a sealed scuba tank pressurized to about 2500 psi, then applied with a special high pressure, high volume spray gun. Goes on fast, dries instantly. No music and definitely no smoking in the paint booth.

  25. Eric
    Eric says:

    Epiphanes warmed and Hank Williams or George Straight (only time I listen to country). It’s how my dad tought me many years ago. I did switch to foam brushes, hopefully he doesn’t mind…

  26. Jimmuh
    Jimmuh says:

    35 responses and not one person admits to varnishing naked? This site is getting way too PC for me……..

  27. John Rothert
    John Rothert says:

    I varnish like the guy in the header…..wear those same boots…..since I spill as much as I apply!!

    John in Va.

  28. Chad
    Chad says:

    I wear nothing but boxer shorts and rubber gloves. I prefer to varnish on warm nights in the garage, with a damp floor.

    Sorry for the visual.

  29. Kathy Muller
    Kathy Muller says:

    Ohhh, trade secrets….. Epifanes thinned to a 7-second drip applied with a badger hair brushes or roll & tip depending on the boat. Music…. hum, a variety– jazz, pbs, classical, can’t listen to the same thing everyday. Apparel? Oh please!!!

  30. red dog
    red dog says:

    what about mixing varnishes? as in putting captains over cured epifanes (or two other different brands)? any that should be avoided? also tuobanur asked about sanding between build coats but i dont think anyone replied terry , i read epifanes has a no sand varnish but dont know which one.

  31. Don Ayers
    Don Ayers says:

    You can put different varnishes over each other as long as they have completely gases off. I would be cautious about changing from one brand to another in the middle of a wet coat. Perhaps you can.

    I do know you can’t apply a two-part system over a varnish

    • Kathy Muller
      Kathy Muller says:

      Thinning Epifanes by a certain percentage is difficult, particularly if you are using a can that has been previously opened. I thin it to a “guesstimate” and then check it using a drip test: Take the stirring stick out of the varnish and let the varnish run back into the pot. Count how many seconds it takes until it starts to drip. Out of the can with no thinning is around 20, I varnish at 7. I’m not too precise about the seconds– just do it in my head.

  32. thomas d.
    thomas d. says:

    how about a “how to varnish” article from katz marine and an all expense paid trip to see how they do their fantastic finish to the one who suggests it.

  33. Troy
    Troy says:

    Two friends I have spoken with apply multiple coats without sanding. One is using Epiphanes and the other Interlux.
    When I asked about this of the shop that produces some of the nicest work around they explained they were not interested in cutting corners to speed up a job.

  34. Terry (tuobanur) Limehouse
    Terry (tuobanur) Limehouse says:

    I know that I have read that a chemical bond is better than a mechanical bond so that is why I was asking about applying without sanding on the build coats. I know that Interlux has a varnish that allows this I just don’t know which one.

  35. Mike D
    Mike D says:

    I have a wooden door to my workshop that I have varnished with the remains in the bottom of the pot for each layer I put on the boat. I have varnished the door multiple times without any sanding. The door faces south and is exposed to Wisconsin weather. I use Epiphane and after two years there is no lifting of any varnish. This leads me to believe that it might be possible to varnish without sanding between each coat. I will monitor the door for a couple more years before I try it on a boat.

  36. Andreas Jordahl Rhude
    Andreas Jordahl Rhude says:

    I enjoy and like using Interlux Schooner 96.

    I used Epiphanes on a recent varnish job. Absolutely hated it. I will never use it again. Ugh. Had to sand it off and do it over, twice. Never again shall Epiphanes cross the threshold of my shop. Never have had any problems with Interlux Schooner 96.

    Andreas, sitting in Peshtigo – 300 ft from the old Thompson Boat factory

  37. MikeM
    MikeM says:

    I went from Bak-V, to Captains and now build with Epiphanes Woodfinish, sanding after 4 or 5 coats. Then use Epiphanes Clear Varnish for the last few. Wet sanding between those.

    I have a varnishing playlist that is mostly ass kickn’ blues, Stevie, Muddy, Champion Jack…..

  38. frank Miklos
    frank Miklos says:

    The Boydel is what Century used at the factory in the 50s and 60s.. Maybe earlier… We still have a few boats with usable never stripped to bare wood varnish… It was good stuff…. I actually feel it was much better than anything available today… Thanks EPA… Not a fan of epiphanes way too dark horrible on blonde wood. and holds up no better tan z-spar captains interlux or petet… I have heard good things about Kerby but have not tried it yet… key is a true amber varnish for proper coloring …. (unless you are doing a Blue and Gray Century Arabian ) then you want clear finish… Century also used Boydel finish on those but it was called Crystal Clear varnish Century also applied the varnish heated…. Photo is of a Resorter 17 being varnished at the factory…

  39. Martie Maloy
    Martie Maloy says:

    Captains varnish, calming slack key Hawaiian for a steady hand, foam brush, not nude boys but always braless.

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