Homemade "wiping varnish" remains fragile/soft. Cover with straight varnish?

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Forum topic by Pete Tevonian posted 08-13-2012 07:27 PM 6447 views 0 times favorited 16 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Pete Tevonian

78 posts in 2943 days

08-13-2012 07:27 PM

Topic tags/keywords: varnish wiping varnish blo

Following a recipe from Fine Woodworking, I’m finishing a Siberian Elm table with a homemade oil/varnish mixture. It is made of 5 parts P&L 38 varnish, 5 parts BLO, 2 parts Japan Drier and 2 parts Turpentine.

I have done 4 coats, rubbing the mixture in with a clean cloth, waiting a few minutes and then wiping off the excess with another cloth. it looks great going on, and only collects a few dust nibs while drying. For the first two coats, I rubbed it down with 0000 steel wool before adding the next coat. Between the 3rd and 4th, I skipped the steel wool.

Here’s the issue: When dry, the surface remains delicate. Even a gentle brushing of a whisk broom, for example, will leave scratches. I know the oil in the mixture will limit the hardness of the final cure. Can I simply switch to 100% varnish, or varnish thinned with a bit of MS, to impart a more durable final surface? And do I need to wait a while before doing so, so that the oil in the existing finish can fully cure? BLO with some Japan drier shouldn’t take long to cure, I wouldn’t think.

Thanks in advance for any guidance!

-- Pete in Wilmette, IL

16 replies so far

View Bill White's profile

Bill White

4948 posts in 3985 days

#1 posted 08-13-2012 07:32 PM

A wiping varnish will take a minimum of 24 hrs. (here in the humid South) to cure. Leave it alone for a while before ya try anything else.


View tenontim's profile


2131 posts in 3769 days

#2 posted 08-13-2012 08:19 PM

That mix has too much BLO. Should be about half the amount of varnish. Actually, the whole mix is upside down. I use a 1 part oil, 2 parts varnish, 3 parts turpentine, and 1/2 part Japan drier. I also use 100% tung oil instead of BLO. I’m thinking that there was a correction made to the FWW recipe, via, because it wasn’t right. Unless you want to wipe it all off with some MEK or lacquer thinner, you’ll just have to give it time for the BLO to dry out.

View jumbojack's profile


1677 posts in 2649 days

#3 posted 08-13-2012 09:07 PM

Pete in your part of the country, I might give it four days to fully cure. If my memory serves me, your warm weather is fraught with moisture. I too agree with Tim, the mix seems a little oil rich. In time it will dry and should harden considerably. Patience will win the battle.

-- Made in America, with American made tools....Shopsmith

View Fuzzy's profile


298 posts in 4013 days

#4 posted 08-13-2012 09:28 PM

Any time you introduce BLO, it’s a crapshoot. It mixes & works O.K. with SOME varnishes, but not with others. Also, as you’ve already been told, your ratio is way too high … just my opinion, but, I think ANY ratio is way too high.

-- - dabbling in sarcasm is foolish … if you’re not proficient at it, you end up looking stupid … ... ...

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Pete Tevonian

78 posts in 2943 days

#5 posted 08-14-2012 12:14 AM

Thanks for the feedback, guys. Sounds like my mix is certainly off. Is there some way to remove the excess BLO that will take a while to dry at this point? Meaning, can I wipe it down with Mineral Spirits to dilute and remove the excess. Or at this point do I just need to leave it alone and let it dry?

An earlier application to the base of the table took a LONG time to dry—as in two weeks, indoors. I know realize that was due to the high oil content. And Tim, you’re right. Now that you mention it, the recipe did call for Tung Oil, and after doing some reading, it sounded like BLO could be swapped in. Maybe that was another mistake…

Thanks for the input everyone!

-- Pete in Wilmette, IL

View Clint Searl's profile

Clint Searl

1533 posts in 2386 days

#6 posted 08-14-2012 12:35 AM

Get it right by stripping the goop that’s on there now and refinish with a straight tung, alkyd, or poly varnish. Solvent lacquer would be even better

Save the BLO for starting fires.

-- Clint Searl....Ya can no more do what ya don't know how than ya can git back from where ya ain't been

View hObOmOnk's profile


1381 posts in 4153 days

#7 posted 08-14-2012 09:17 AM

1. Too much BLO.
2. Skip the Japan Drier. Too much drier can actually retard the proper curing of the oil/varnish mixture. Besides the BLO and the varnish already have enough drying agents.


-- 温故知新

View Fred Hargis's profile

Fred Hargis

4999 posts in 2518 days

#8 posted 08-14-2012 11:17 AM

At this point I think your best option might be to wait a while. There is too much BLO on the surface, and it can be removed….but any attempt to do something might just make the matter worse. This will cure out, and it may be what you want at that point….if not then top coat with some of the P&L 38.

-- Our village hasn't lost it's idiot, he was elected to congress.

View Wildwood's profile


2322 posts in 2160 days

#9 posted 08-14-2012 01:34 PM

Think basic oil varnish blend best for easy and fast results: one part varnish or poly, one part BLO to one part solvent/thinner. Since BLO can have higher percentage of mineral spirits & other dryers to oil in it not sure need Japan driers. Have to check label & MSDS for contents of your varnish, BLO, solvent/thinner.

Most instructions for applying oil varnish blends say flood the surface wait five minutes to an hour to wipe off excess oil. After 30 minutes check for finish bleeding and wipe that off. Products will give a specific wait period between coats. Wait times can vary a lot because of product ingredients and relative humidity, wood species, and open or closed grain woods.

I would not use oil varnish blend on oily woods.

I apply lighter coats, vice flooding the surface and wiping off excess, found this procedure gave me better results, does not really save time. Only started mixing my own after tired of throwing away half to three quarter filled quarts that went gummy.

Stopped using oil varnish blends because of time required, lack of sheen, and protection.

Wiping varnish mo better and easier to mix and apply. Wipe on, do not wipe off, let dry steel wool or lightly sand between coats. Can get a build of finish 2 coats of wiping equals one coat of varnish. Easy to mix 50% varnish or poly to 50% mineral spirits or naphtha. If want faster drying time up amount of varnish or poly and use naphtha as thinner.

-- Bill

View RobertGalloway's profile


6 posts in 3609 days

#10 posted 08-31-2012 12:33 AM

I’ve pitched out a little bit of skinned over, jellied finish in my time. Hobby woodworkers don’t use enough finish fast enough to keep that from happening unless… If you have a tank of CO2 in your shop or Argon, flood the gas into the space above the finish and it will be “good to the last drop”. Argon goes to the TIG welder and the CO2 goes to the Cornelius keg.

Somebody out there must have a few more ideas that will displace the O2 from the paint can. I haven’t tried propane but it might just work. Propane is pretty flammable but then so is the paint thinner.


-- G Chadron

View fussy's profile


980 posts in 3076 days

#11 posted 08-31-2012 03:28 AM

When I use my home brew, it’s equal parts blo, poly and thinner. Mineral spirits or turpentine makes no difference. Turps does smell better/worse, though. Thirty years and no problem.

I think you have applied too many coats without adequate drying time. Waiting for it to dry at this point will be fruitless. The first coats are locked in by the subsequent coats and will always keep the surface soft. YOu will need to strip.

On only the first coat do you flood and keep wet for several minutes. The idea is to wet dry looking areas. You’re trying to lay down a consistent looking surface. After a few minutes, wipe the surface dry. Keep wiping as wet spots bleed out. When it feels dry and consistent, let it dry for at least 24 hours. 48 is better. Then hit it with 0000 steel wool or a maroon pad, wipe off the dust and wipe on another coat. Unlike the first coat, on this and later coats, wipe on and wipe off after just a couple or three minutes. At this point, you are building the surface film with the poly and have no need for the oil to soak in further. It won’t anyway, hence your problem. Let it dry over night and repeat until satisfied. In this way, you won’t have any problems with dust nibs because the residue that holds the dust is wiped off.


-- Steve in KY. 44 years so far with my lovely bride. Think I'll keep her.

View Pete Tevonian's profile

Pete Tevonian

78 posts in 2943 days

#12 posted 09-07-2012 05:14 AM

Well, I opted to let the finish sit for a few days to dry more thoroughly. Then I switched to 50/50 blend of P&L 38 Gloss varnish and mineral spirits. I wiped it on and left it. The next day it was dry and shiny. I gave it an extra day to dry and then did another coat. After four wiping coats, my plan was to use automotive polish, but then I saw these sets of super-fine-grit sanding discs from Lee Valley. I ended up buying a couple sets of 8 discs, that include 1200, 1500, 1800, 2200, 3200, 4000, 8000 and 12000 grit. The theory would be to sand the final surface through all 8 grits until eventually you’re more polishing than sanding. I tried them first on the underside of the table top—which had a single coat of BLO, then two coats of de-waxed shallac, and then two wipe-on coats of the 38 gloss varnish.

After the gloss varnish, the surface was pretty smooth and shiny. The 1200 and 1500 grit discs knocked it right down in minutes, but also smoothed out any nibs. Wiping away the residue left behind after each disc, I moved up through the sequence. By 4000 grit, the surface looked dull after polishing, but after a quick wipe down with some t-shirt rags, the shine came up. By 8000 and especially 12000, very little dust was being produced, and the finish was sparkling! Then I flipped the table and did it all again on the top side. The last step was a coat of Rennaisance Wax, to impart the silky feel. As everyone warned, the flaws in my initial sanding are certainly visible, but all in all it looks great. I’ll get pics posted soon.

Thanks to everyone for the time and suggestions.

-- Pete in Wilmette, IL

View a1Jim's profile


117115 posts in 3602 days

#13 posted 09-07-2012 05:31 AM

I never could understand making home blends for finishing now that there are modern finishes with balanced driers and that produce beautiful finishes. These old formulas are left over from the days when there wasn’t anything better around ,buying all of the ingredients cost as much or more than buying a good modern finish like general finishes Arm-r- seal.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View Wildwood's profile


2322 posts in 2160 days

#14 posted 09-07-2012 04:51 PM

A1Jim, homemade oil varnish and wiping varnish do have a place in finishing. What you are trying to finish and sheen desired also play a role in deciding to make your own or buy a commercial product. Whether use homemade or commercial product there is a learning curve. Have no idea, which is better for all situations.

Oil varnish blend requires equal amounts of varnish or polyurethane, thinner, and either linseed or Tung oil. Just apply allow to soak in, wipe off, allow to dry and recoat as necessary. For a fast and easy matte or satin finish without brush marks or finish build-up could not be simpler. You can mix the right amount required for the project.
Using linseed oil or BLO dries slower and gives an oily feel. Naptha dries faster and no oily feel. Both BLO and Naptha will allow oil to penetrate wood little more.

Commercial products can and do use cheaper oils and can spoil in the can once can opened.

Wiping varnish or poly even simpler only need equal amounts of varnish or poly of sheen desired to equal amount of thinner. A 50-50 mix of finish to thinner is a great starting point but can adjust amounts if desired. Again simply wipe on, allow to dry, lightly sanding, and recoat. Normally two coats of 50-50 mix of wiping varnish or poly equals one coat of either film finish. You get the same finish build without brush marks as regular finish.

If buying a commercial wiping varnish or poly make sure ingredients no more than 60% thinner. Some products do contain as much as 75% to 85% thinner, which will slow down finishing procedure.

-- Bill

View a1Jim's profile


117115 posts in 3602 days

#15 posted 09-07-2012 05:08 PM

Hi Bill
I know that people get use to using what finish they have used and works for them even products like Blo has it’s staunch supporters where I think it’s horrible finish . As you said there is no one product that fits all finishing needs
As far as commercial products having cheaper oils all commercial products are not alike. I agree that usually products like wipe on polys are thinned down to a great degree with a high percentage of thinners. As far as finish going bad due to its exposure to air,light,cold ,I feel most product suffer those problems over time. All said and done just like the cars we buy and the cloths we wear we will all use and purchase what finish we think works best for use .

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

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