HVLP sprayers and varnish.

I've been using thin rollers w/foam brushes and today used a bristle brush w/foam brush. I'm finding it difficult to get even coverage. Lots of holidays, as it were. I bought some addition shop lights today, which helps me see what I am doing, but also accentuates the flaws. I've got 4 coats of thinned schooner gold on and everyone else thinks it looks great, but I know I could do better.

How about spraying? is it easier to get a smooth coat? I used to use an airless sprayer when I painting houses, but I know this is an entirely different animal.


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RE: HVLP sprayers and varnish.

Have you tried a foam roller and bristle brush?  That is the method I use on marine hardwood and it comes out holiday and sag-free pretty consistently.  It sounds like you've got too much varnish on your roller to start with... 


RE: HVLP sprayers and varnish.

Definitely too much varnish yesterday when I didn't use the foam roller. After I sand off the runs I'll go back to that today. I'll try the brush to tip out. Also, I was doing both hull and deck with the boat hanging. This was a bit of a PITA as the boat moved around too much and hard on the knees as I knelt down to do the underside. I've put it on horses and am going to just work on the hull today.

RE: HVLP sprayers and varnish.

You can definitely spray varnish with an HVLP sprayer. I've never done it so I can't give you any advice on how much to thin, the best equipment to use, etc., but I've seen the end result and it looked pretty good.

That said, I watched John Harris demonstrate the varnishing technique described in the Varnished Kayak shop tip  at Okoumefest a few years ago. The process was easy and the results were better than anything I had managed before, so that's what I did on my varnished boats since then. The technique uses just foam brushes, no rollers. So if you haven't checked it out yet, it'd be worth a look before you got into the expense and mess of a sprayer.



RE: HVLP sprayers and varnish.

I've read that several times, Laszlo, and used the foam brush only method on one of the coats. I think the 18" rule might be too much of an area to do at once...or maybe the varnish is too thick still. I started by thinning 25% and then a little thicker the next several coats. When house painting I always brushed in a similar fashion, the varnish is taking me a bit to get used to.


RE: HVLP sprayers and varnish.

Well, maybe it's me, or maybe the Schooner Gold is a bear to work with. I very carefully followed that shop tip. Foam brush only. 6-8 inches at a time. Varnish thinned about 10%. I flipped this boat over, wet sanded with 320 first. I'm still seeing blotchiness. This is the 5th coat on the hull. A friend of mine who is a cabinet maker suggests wet sanding with 500 grit (water and a bit of dish soap) and call it a day.

btw, Kathy, your boat looks great! I like that satin finish. 

RE: HVLP sprayers and varnish.

Your boat looks great .... remember, that the side depicted in your picture is the side that is "down" most of the time when using the boat. I'd suggest putting it in the water, remembering that soon enough you'll be sanding into that great--but not perfect-- varnish job with whatever grit is supplied by your local shoreline-- gravel, sand, barnacles, rocks, etc.  ....

 If you need additional courage, repeat the following as you prepare to launch: "it's a boat, not a coffee table"*

My little fleet is pretty scratched up --and not perfect finishes to start with, although I did my best-- and I keep getting better at it-- and they still get plenty of compliments.

Julie K.


* this mantra does not apply to those who are stuck in the perfection-seeking loop while finishing their new eastport pram coffee tables....

RE: HVLP sprayers and varnish.

I do use an HVLP sprayer for my varnish, but it is the expensive type with a turbine.  I use a viscosity cup to thin with and really don't know what percent that would be, but I am guessing about 15-25% and I spray many thin coats.

I personally have never mastered the art of tipping with a brush.  After I get the epoxy where I want it, I sand it down with 320 wet, and then spray 6-7 coats of varnish, then 320 it again for a couple more finish coats.

But I must admit I cried when Peggy did her first beach landing.  So Julie is very correct.

RE: HVLP sprayers and varnish.

Thanks for the encouragement everyone. Yep, I've been falling asleep thinking 'not a coffee table, not a coffee table, not a coffee table'. I think I'm going to leave the hull as is and do a couple more coats  on the deck, bringing it to 6. 

Some of the spots we put in on the Hudson are fairly rough, so I figure next winter I'll be sanding and adding a few more coats (while waiting for the epoxy to harden on the next boat)


RE: HVLP sprayers and varnish.

Hi Dan,

I think your boat looks great.  The hull on mine has several runs, but I did the "not a coffee table" and "stand 10 feet away and turn it over" mantra several times while I was doing my hull and I decided it was good enough since no one would see the hull and it would get scratched up right away anyway.  I was a little more fussy on the deck, and sanded off the 2 small runs, but it too will have deck rigging, etc. which will hopefully distract the eye.   Keep up the great work!


RE: HVLP sprayers and varnish.

Hi Kathy,

 Your boat came out beautifully!  I've only ever seen satin varnish on the cabin hardwoods of high-end yachts, but it suits the woods of a kayak perfectly! 

Great job!  (I'm also jealous... I'm waiting for our New England weather to clear so that I can start varnishing).

RE: HVLP sprayers and varnish.


I have a couple questions and maybe a suggestion to help you achieve the finish you desire.

What is the abmient temp in the space you are working in? 60 deg can make varnishing a real chore, no matter what varnish you are working with.

What thinner are you using? Too fast of a evaporation rate can make life miserable.

Keep doing what you are doing as far as wet sanding. Use 400 grit and add a drop of dish washing detergent to the water. Use a scrap of closed cell foam as a sanding block. When you think you have leveled the surface, take the foam, turn it on edge and use it as a squeege. This will highlight all the low spots in the previous coat and allow you to truly level the surface.

If I may, I would like to share my "Secret recipe" for making varnish a rewarding experience. First, thin it 10% like you have been doing. Get some Penetrol at your local home store or paint store. Penetrol is a flow agent, that makes the varnish less tacky to brush and will help it flow. I also add 10% penetrol to thinned varnish. If your varnish is cold, put the can in some warm water to bring the temperature up. 

Now, to apply it, use a foam roller and a brush of your choice. work in small sections on your hull, one panel at a time. Roll out about 12-18" sections and tip from dry to wet. It helps to have the brush you are using moistened with varnish. Do the bottom and sides first, that way you can perfect the technique before you start on the deck. 

As for varnish, I don't leave anything alone. No matter what brand, it gets doctored to achive the look I want. I hope this helps you achieve the finish you desire. If you have anymore questions, shoot me an email or give me a call.


RE: HVLP sprayers and varnish.

Thanks Joey for your comments here and on the phone.

You've touched on a couple of my problems for sure. My basement doesn't get much above 60 even with lights and an oil filled electric heater. I think I will plastic off an area and use my IR thermometer from work to check the surface temperature of the boat.

As you mentioned, the 333 I have been using as thinner seems to evaporate quickly and contibutes the the varnish tacking up pretty darn fast adding to my frustration.

I'll be heading for HD after work to pick up penetrol and 400 grit.


RE: HVLP sprayers and varnish.

I was not planning on using a sprayer for my varnish deck, however, a relative saw my kayak and offered to spray the varnish on for me.  He is a proffesional painter and uses his sprayer for varnishing doors, etc.  I told him about the CLC procedure, but he said he could give it 3-4 quick coats, let it dry, wet sand it and hit it again with 3-4 coats?  I am new to using varnish, but after reading the above, I get the impression the purpose behind wet sanding after each coat is to keep it smooth?  If he is spraying the deck, is it possible to give it 3-4 coats without having to sand in between?    Or should I just stick with applying with foam brush and roller.?  Thanks in advance for the replies!

RE: HVLP sprayers and varnish.


RE: HVLP sprayers and varnish.

Kiz, If you are talking about putting 3-4 coats on and allowing 24 hours between coats, then sure you can do it that way. If you recoat too quickly, you will run the risk of solvent entrapment. Google the varnish you intend to use, and look at the recomended application procedure. My experience is, that I could roll and tip out a kayak and complete cleanup in about 20 min. Spraying took me at least twice as long due to clean-up of the equipment.


My experience has been that wet sanding between coats provides a perfectly smooth surface to apply the next coat. By using a finer grit you will also prevent the removal of too much material. 

If you have someone that is willing to spray it for you, then go fo it! 



RE: HVLP sprayers and varnish.


 When spraying, the key is not # of coats but rather then thickness of the application.  I think what your relative is saying is that he could apply the equivalent of 3-4 coats in one shot, then spray another 3-4 coat equivalent in round two.  When my father shot our sailboat with Awlgrip, I believe he went around once, waiting an hour or two, then went around again to finish the job. 


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