Pros and Cons of Varnish Finish for Wood

A man uses varnish on a chair.

If you have a piece of unfinished furniture, you may be considering a varnish finish. Varnish also refers to wood stains or sealants that don't cover the grain of the wood surface. Varnish may or may not be the best option for your furniture. This article will give you information on some of the pros and cons of a varnish finish.

Pros of a Varnish Finish

Wood varnish doesn't cover the grain of the wood furniture. In fact, varnish soaks into the wood finish to enhance the natural wood color in furniture and also protect it from dirt, sunlight, and water. Using varnish offers one of the most natural looks of any product available. Varnishes are also easy to apply and can be more forgiving in that brushstrokes are not nearly as visible as they are with paint or shellac. If you're looking for the most natural wood appearance for your furniture, varnishing is an excellent choice.

Cons of Varnish

A man applies varnish to wood.

Although varnish provides a deep and natural wood grain finish, it can also dull or yellow over time. This is especially true if the furniture is placed beside a window or an area that receives a lot of direct sunlight. You must also take great care when mixing varnish; if you shake it instead of stirring, bubbles will be present when you apply the finish. Finally, the cleanup of varnish will require lacquer thinner or mineral spirits. Some other types of finishes can be cleaned up with water.

How to Apply Varnish

Varnish should be applied in temperatures around 70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. At low temperatures, it does not cure well. At high temperatures, the solvent can evaporate quickly and the varnish will set too soon.

Varnish can be applied with a brush, a roller and pad, or with spray. Brushes are the most common method in use. A sealer coat needs to be applied before the varnish. Thinned varnish can also act as a sealer. The sealer should be left overnight before the item is sanded. You can then apply three to four coats of varnish in the same way the sealer was applied.

Types of Varnish

A woman adds varnish to a wall.

Varnish can be made from a few different materials. Varnishes made from pale gum are generally used on light woods. Shellac varnish, which is alcohol-based, is also used as a wall sealant or primer. Rubbing varnish is often used on wall panels. Flat varnishes have a non-gloss finish.