Where to work:
The ideal place to apply varnish is indoors out of direct sunlight and away from any breeze but of course sharing a dusty workshop with someone sanding their decks isnt a very good idea. If you are varnishing a yacht outdoors, ask the boat yard to position the hull so it is on a North/South axis. You can then work on the shaded western side before lunch and move to the shaded eastern side after lunch. You can even sit in shade under the boat to eat your lunchtime sandwiches. The main problem with working outdoors is being able to predict when the weather is suitable, so if you have a looming launch date it may be worth considering hiring a covered space. Wherever you choose, make sure you have good all round access to the parts you are varnishing as varnishing needs to be done without any interruptions.
If you are applying varnish to an existing varnish you will need to decide whether to strip back the old coatings, or apply on top. Often large areas of varnish remain in good condition but there are patches that have worn through or caught the sun. You should bear in mind that any patch priming will show up and this needs to be weighed against the time needed to start from scratch. Varnish gradually goes honey coloured over the years so generally patches show up as dark areas. Note: This is not normally the wood that has gone dark but the varnish that has gone light. Dont try to bleach the timber under these circumstances, it will not help! I normally accept some patches and put it down to character but every 10 to 12 years I reckon on stripping right back and starting afresh. Slight crazing in the varnish can normally be predominantly removed with gentle sanding. The varnish will disguise it but it is a tell tale sign of deterioration. If you want to strip right back then the best method for very old varnish is a hot air gun and a scraper. It will lift off easily but keep the hot air gun moving so you dont scorch the timber. Try to buy a gun with adjustable temperature control. Dont ever use a blow lamp! Strangely really thick old varnish will come off a treat but newer, thinner, layers tend to be more tenacious and a bit messy. For the initial lifting of the varnish a Traditional Scraper will be fine but to clean up the timber it is well worth buying a couple of Bahco Ergo Scrapers which will clean off any final residue with ease. Should you decide to use stripper then Blackfriars Paint and Varnish Remover is the best type. It requires no washing down and will not discolour the surface. It is also handy to renew old brushes. Prepare any bare timber using 120 grit abrasive, finish by sanding along the grain. Please dont scrimp on the abrasives or the equipment. If you are varnishing every year considerable time can be saved by purchasing decent sanding equipment such as Festool Sanders which have the added advantage of creating hardly any dust when connected to their vacuum units. Arthur Beale can competitively supply all Festool equipment through our sister company who are main dealers. Once the sanding is finished, brush and vacuum the timber to remove as much dust as possible. An air blower fitted with a moisture separator can be very helpful to blast dust out of cracked splines etc. Once the dust is virtually clear, wipe down with Isopropyl Alcohol. It evaporates quickly unlike white spirits which soaks into the timber and can take hours to finally evaporate. Solvent entrapment is often the cause of varnish failure. Oily woods such as teak or iroko should be initially wiped with Acetone to remove any surface oil. Just before applying the varnish, wipe the surface with a Tack Rag to remove the very last traces of dust. A tack rag is an essential piece of kit for dust free varnishing.
One of the great things about varnishing is that it is quiet! You can varnish on Sundays without disturbing the neighbours or the boatyard curfew. It is even a chance to catch up with the Archers. Choose a calm still day, preferably not too hot. I aim to start varnishing as early as possible. As soon as the dew has completely cleared from the hull I give the varnish a final wipe down with a chamois and get started. The advantage being that I can normally get the hull of my small yacht varnished before the yard activity picks up and creates unwanted dust. However on the first two coats it would be best to wait until there is some warmth in the air. I make sure that I stop in plenty of time for the varnish to set up before the evening dew sets in again. I would suggest working in the shade and finishing at least three to four hours before dusk. That will give you plenty of time to clean the brushes and get down the boozer.
For the first coat, pour 500 ml of Epifanes Clear Gloss Varnish into a spotless Paint Kettle and stir in 250 ml of either Owatrol Conditioner or the recommended thinner. Arthur Beale sell 500 ml cans of Epifanes varnish at exactly half the price of 1 L cans. We believe it is best to use freshly opened varnish rather than the second half of an opened can so we reduced the price to encourage it. Do not use White Spirits, I know it is cheaper but why mess up the whole job at this stage. The manufacturers make very specific thinners which are different for spraying and for brushing. It is important that the evaporation rate is correct.
Ensure the varnish and conditioner is well stirred whilst taking care not to incorporate any bubbles. Use with a good quality brush as large as you can handle. Purdy Pro Extra Monarch brush is perfect for covering large open areas as they hold a good quantity of varnish. If the area is fiddly, such as toe rails and coach roof sides try using a Lily Varnish brush such as the 70 x 6 mm size. It is a wide but thin brush which can access awkward corners like behind pad eyes yet still cover small open areas such as margin boards. Make sure you have good access to the entire area you are going to cover. You must work fast and not stop or you will get lap marks when you restart. Plan how you are going to finish each area and use masking tape to provide a clean break line. For instance, do one half of the hull at a time with Masking
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