October 17, 2010

The only way to varnish

THE TROUBLE WITH VARNISHING is that you need a good natural bristle brush to get the best finish. But if you use a good natural bristle brush, you have to spend a lot of time cleaning it afterward because you have invested a small fortune in that brush and you want it to last a long time. There’s a great deal of fussing with rags and baths of mineral spirits. Then you have to figure out how to store the darned thing over the winter, so it doesn’t get contaminated with dust or chewed on by mice.

There are, I regret to say, people who spread varnish with the aid of little slabs of foam stuck onto sticks. They are the sort of people who burp at the dinner table and pick their teeth in public. We try to ignore them, even as we realize it is not their fault They have simply not been brought up properly. They don’t know that nice people apply varnish with natural bristle brushes.

I was still in my teens when I learned this from one of those rugged round-the-world singlehanders who sailed into port one day. He showed me how he stored paint and varnish brushes that he’d had and used for 12 years or more. When they were clean, he soaked them in new 30-grade motor oil and then wrapped them in aluminum foil. He kept them in a bucket with a lid, in a cockpit locker. When he wanted to use them, he squeezed out as much of the oil as he could with paper towels, and then washed them in a tall can of paint thinner — mineral spirits or kerosene.

Coincidentally, there is much the same advice on the current Epifanes website. (Yes, you know Epifanes varnish. You just don’t know how to pronounce it.)

“The best way to store a good brush is to keep it wet, suspended in diesel fuel or kerosene. Yes, diesel,” says the Epifanes site. “Nothing works better as far as we are concerned. Diesel is oily enough to keep the bristles nice and soft while still having enough cutting capability to keep the brush clean. We have a brush that is easily 16 years old. Prior to varnishing, clean the diesel from the brush with mineral spirits, rinsing and spinning several times. Once done repeat the process. Your brush will be as happy as can be in a diesel or kerosene bath. Change the diesel once or twice a year.”

It’s obviously oil that’s good for bristles. Engine oil, diesel, kerosene, and mineral spirits are all close cousins on the catalytic cracker scale at the refinery. Some are just cooked longer than others but they all keep good brushes happy.

So save up your pennies and splurge on a really good varnish brush that will last you many years – and as for foam brushes, fuggetaboudit willya?

Today’s Thought
The wise man ... always reflects concerning the quality, and not the quantity ...
— Seneca, Epistulae ad Lucilium

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb, #108
Resale value, steel hull. If you want to sell a steel hull, you will find that the average price drops by almost one half after it reaches the age of 10 years. There are many exceptions to this general rule, but on the whole it holds good, as any experienced yacht broker will confirm.

“Do you like duckling?”
“I can’t remember. It’s been years since I duckled.”

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, for a new Mainly about Boats column.)


Ken said...

But...but...but...they're really good for tipping out a hull right behind someone with a roller.

Anonymous said...

John; I hope to never varnish again, using "Honey Teak" a product sold in Florida. I is two parts and testing indicates 3 to 5 years before recoating, which is a light sanding and recoating with clear. Best part is when painting you put paint brush in "Flow Fluid" sold by same company and I dought if you will ever have to buy another brush, it cleans and cleans and keeps brush soft and supple...amazing stuff this Honey teak and Flow fluid...
Dick Bangsund Lopez Island