How much is varnish aesthetics how much is it for protection

I was just curious how much varnish is for aesthetic reasons. The manual just talks about how it will make people ogle your boat/board, but on here I have seen it mentioned that it protects from the sun and gives the board more strength. I was just hoping to get more insight, especially since I have seen a few posts of people who did not varnish at all. I am still planning on varnishing this week, finally, but I am just curious. 

Thanks in advance. 

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RE: How much is varnish aesthetics how much is it for protection

my minimum is three coats of marine spar varnish. Many folks go for six. I do not believe varnish does squat for "strength" but it is needed for UV protection or your epoxy will get funky rather quickly.


RE: How much is varnish aesthetics how much is it for protection

  If you crave the ooohs and aaaahs  of the folks at the launch ramp, by all means varnish.  I was a professional boat builder and maintainer for many years, and I always recommended twelve to fifteen THIN coats of varnish to start and three to five coats every year after that.  Really.  Of course this was for yachts that were always in the weather.  Marine spar varnish has UV inhibitors which help protect the epoxy, but all varnish is sacraficial in that the sun eats up the varnish and before long the UV gets to the epoxy and turns it foggy.  Then it's too late.  If you car top your boat this will happen pretty quickly if all you have is three or four coats.  Marine paint is by far superior for UV protection.  So. to answer your question, varnish is 100% aesthetics.  I'm just now finishing up a eastport pram.  My, the grain looks beautiful with two coats of epoxy.  I'm going to use varnish....on my tiller.  Everything else will be paint.  Three coats and it's good for years.  It's a no brainer for me.  But that's just me. 

RE: How much is varnish aesthetics how much is it for protection

I am almost finished  building my take apart eastport pram  & have been thinking about finish for months.  The boat is for  my use  and not for looks.  I intend to use it for crabbing & fishing. I wondered how bad it would be to  just paint the whole thing and  avoid the varnish  completely.      thank you John Power!!   I'm guessing  1 part  interlux topsides?  Everything I read  says  paint is  far more durable and  better for uv protection than varnish. 


RE: How much is varnish aesthetics how much is it for protection

It is possibe that you can omit varnish or paint but have you looked at what happens to epoxy that has not been sealed with varnish?

The Epoxy Panel after 1 year

Not only is paint or varnish used to make the boat/ship look good but it provides an additional layer of protection for water proofing, oxygen or other oxixe retarder, and UV or sun light blocker. It may also with the right chemical additives prevent the grouth of algie or sea animals on the hull of the boat.

The more layers of paint for varnish not only improve the looks but also the level of protection or layers of sacrificial surface protecting the underlying boat/ship structural material.

More layers of varnish might not always look better expecially if the surface is not properly prepared but more layers will provide more protection to the underlying structure. Also when maintenance of the surface is needed there is more material that can be removed before one gets to the fiberglass layer or the plywood.

The looks of a boat/ship like dressing can say a lot about the owner or crew of the boat/ship. For some it is a matter of personal pride. 


RE: How much is varnish aesthetics how much is it for protection

For some reason my name did not appear on the above post.

Also since some wooden boats/ships/canoes/kayaks are in user for over 30 years the purpose of protection becomes very important.

Having been washed overboard 3 miles out in Lake Michigan on a windy day, small craft warnings, I would not like to have a boat structure failure in a harsh environment.

Of course the final choice is yours and if you do not want to protect you equipment then that is your choice. Just remember to carefully look over the craft that rescues you and appreciate that the crew takes such good care of it.


RE: How much is varnish aesthetics how much is it for protection

Varnish is just paint without the pigment, so it's every bit as durable.The UV absorbers are pigment that is transparent in visible light but opaque at UV frequencies. So don't worry about the durability, go with whichever suits your aesthetic sense best.



RE: How much is varnish aesthetics how much is it for protection

Um.  I will offer the following possible addendum to Lazlo's remark that varnish is merely paint without the pigment.  True enough.

 But it is the pigment in paint that provides the UV protection. And UV protection is what the varnish is for, aesthetics aside. 

We have been warned that epoxy has little UV tolerance.   High-gloss varnish does provide some UV protection, more with each coat. The satin or matt finish (no gloss) varnish provides no protection whatever.  So if one varnishes, one must later at least five or six, and better 10, coats of high-gloss varnish. A former  professional boat finisher in an earlier post suggested 12.  I might have thought that overkill, but no longer for the reasons explained below.

 The reason I logged on was to offer a cautionary tale about even high-gloss varnish.  I built my Woodduck five years ago, and put on seven coats of high-gloss and two coats of satin varnish. Every year since then I've given it a light sanding, more of a buffing really, and then applied at least two or three more coats of high-gloss and two coats satin.  Plenty of protection, or so I thought.

This year after an especially wet early spring and summer, with the Wood duck living atop my car in the Virginia sun for six months--I discovered some epoxy on the varnished top beginning to break down.  Brittle  cracking on a small locust wood stem post I added; on the cockpit coming layers of plywood beginning to delaminate. And beneath the bungee cords where rainwater was trapped, water vapor seeped down to the wood and turned it gray.  So both sun and rain have taken their toll on my varnished Wood duck.

Lots of sanding, epoxy repairs, and many more layers of high gloss varnish later I think the Wood duck is good to go again.  But I wonder how long it will last on top of my car? I begin to think that if one has a varnished boat, the right UV protection is a garage.

RE: How much is varnish aesthetics how much is it for protection

Varnish is more about tradition than anything else. You do need a UV resistant finish, but will get a brighter, clearer, and much easier to apply result with Marine urethane. -Wes

RE: How much is varnish aesthetics how much is it for protection

I pulled into a marina parking lot with my Petrel on top of my car and met a guy  who said he had a seven year-old cedar strip kayak that was delaminating. He wasn't kidding. He left it on top of his boat in the Sun without a covering. When I saw his kayak, I saw that it was not just delaminated, it was firewood.

I put varnish on my kayak so people can see the wood, but I assume that extended exposure to the sun will lead to delamination. I keep my kayak suspended in my garage. If I couldn't do that, I'd buy a cover and keep it out of the Sun except when I was driving to a marina or paddling.

I don't think there's any question that paint provides much better protection from the Sun than varnish. I was out paddling recently when a guy on a SUP board said, "That thing is a work of art." He wouldn't have said that if my kayak was covered with paint.


RE: How much is varnish aesthetics how much is it for protection

If you are going to use polyurethane make sure it is water based or usable with the epoxy finish.

It appears the polyurethane is becoming a generic term like lacquer so use some care in the selection.

From what I have seen polyurethane like varnish is not designed for long term immersion in water. But since we are dealing with kayaks it should be fine.


RE: How much is varnish aesthetics how much is it for protection

My Merganser is finished with three coats of Minwax Helmsman Marine Urethane, and still looks like new without recoating after four years of hard use in both salt and fresh water. I do wash it off and store it indoors after each use, and the hull is painted. -Wes

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