standard vs. wiping varnish?

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Forum topic by HokieMojo posted 06-11-2009 11:45 PM 1616 views 0 times favorited 7 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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2103 posts in 3149 days

06-11-2009 11:45 PM

Topic tags/keywords: wiping varnish wipe on poly finishing polyeurethane brushing

I’ve been making inexpensive wiping varnishes by combining equal parts of polyeurethane with mineral spirits and I’ve been quite happy with the results so far. At the same time, I’ve tried brusing on varnish straight from the can and have never been thrilled with the results despite what I thought was decent technique for an amateur.

While I’m sure that improving my brush skills would also improve the reults, I can’t really see much reason to practice. Why should I learn to brush when a cloth gets me a superior result? The only thing I can think of is that a brush creates thicker coats and therefore builds up a finish faster, but at the same time a wiping varnish seems to dry pretty quickly allowing additional coats. Either way, a full cure will take a week or so regardless of the method used. I’d just like to hear if anyone else can enlighten me. thanks!

7 replies so far

View Tim Marko's profile

Tim Marko

41 posts in 3210 days

#1 posted 06-12-2009 12:15 AM

I agree with you about not even worrying about a brush. I make my own just as you do and have always been happy with the results.

Depending on the wood and what I’m trying to achieve, I usually use a mix of Tung oil or BLO in equal parts with the Min Spirits and poly for the first two or three coats and then go to just MS/Poly. I always start with gloss until the last one or two coats when I’ll use the sheen I want for the project. (I read that somewhere along the line and have done it ever since.)

The oils in the mix help pop the grain a bit more. The BLO tends to be a little darker. I’m going to try the Maloof type finish when I get the chance which is equal parts BLO/TO/Poly. I have wanted to experiment with it but haven’t had the chance yet.

-- Tim, trying to come up with something cool to say here!

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27251 posts in 3243 days

#2 posted 06-12-2009 01:09 AM

You are right on target with this post. Actually I have found that application of a wiping varnish (this includes polyurethane) goes faster than brushing despite the necessity of adding multiple coats to achieve the same finish thickness simply due to the fact, as you mentioned, that a wiping varnish dries so much faster. This allows multiple coats to be applied within a shorter period as opposed to brushing which is pretty much limited to one coat a day. I can put a wiping product on in about 1/3 the time it takes me to brush on a finish coat. In my experience a wiping finish goes on nearly as quickly as a spray finish.

-- Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful- Joshua Marine

View CanadaJeff's profile


207 posts in 3031 days

#3 posted 06-12-2009 01:39 AM

I’ve never tried a wiping varnish. Can you give me some tips in terms of mixing ratios?

View hObOmOnk's profile


1381 posts in 3549 days

#4 posted 06-12-2009 03:01 AM


There is no set mixing ratio or recipe for making homebrew wiping varnish. The term “varnish” is generic and the formulations can vary greatly among manufacturers. Consumer products, like Miniwax, contain a minimum of components and are already near a wiping varnish in consistency.

I would start by diluting your chosen varnish with about one part solvent to two parts varnish.

High quality varnishes, like those made by Zar, are much higher in solids and can take being diluted to a ratio of 1:1 with solvent.

Experiment with your chosen ingredients.

-- 温故知新

View trifern's profile


8135 posts in 3189 days

#5 posted 06-12-2009 04:58 AM

The key to a good finish using a brush is using a quality 3 or 4 inch pure china bristle brush. I use the wipe-on poly for my turned vessels because of the size. Larger pieces I use a quality brush with great results.

-- My favorite piece is my last one, my best piece is my next one.

View Don K.'s profile

Don K.

1075 posts in 2748 days

#6 posted 06-12-2009 05:26 AM

Agree with trifern,
While I use a wipe on for many of my projects…I also use a brush on several depending on the project…for both the varnish and poly I use a very good quality “White” china bristle brush…I never had any luck with a black china brush, or lesser quality brushes….if you do decide to try brushing, try a white china bristle brush.

-- Don S.E. OK

View HokieMojo's profile


2103 posts in 3149 days

#7 posted 06-12-2009 03:34 PM

thanks to everyone for all the replies. I do have one VERY good brush that I’d been saving for a worthwhile project (just in case I do a poor job cleaning it). That way I’ll have a good benchmark. I’ll give it one more go, but I really prefer wipe on for now. I guess if I just stick with what works for me now though, I’ll never get better. So if you guys think there can be benefits to good brushing technique, I’ll have to come back to it.

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