Darkening varnish for cover-up

Is there a way to darken varnish? Mix-in Mohwak with Captain's?

I am varnishing the mast. Due to a poor job with the intial tapering  and shaping of the mast, I had to fix the shape with a combination of epoxy with microballoons, extra wood pieces to fill in areas that had been cut away, repair splinters, etc. So the mast looks like Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer put it together with scrap wood. (althought the overall shape turned out well). 

I decided not to stain the wood, believing that the different textures would stain differently and still show through the varnish. I also decided against painting, thinking that paint will not protect the wood as well as varnish and will also chip and scratch easily.

I have now applied a first coat of Captain's varnish and realize that the different repaired areas stand out even more than had expected and it would be a shame to have a pretty boat with a multi-shade mast showing all these repairs.  So, my idea now is to try to darken the varnish to apply as a uniform, paint-like coat(s) over the surface that is now sealed by that first coat. 

Any suggestions? Will this work and what to use? 

Thank you,


9 replies:

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RE: Darkening varnish for cover-up


I've never tried darkening varnish, except for shellac, but keep in mind that a good quality paint will protect the mast at least as well as varnish. I've used 2-part water reducible linear polyurethane (WR-LPU) paint with cross-linker in the final coat on my home-made masts (both wooden and carbon fiber) and they held up for years. A beige mast with white ends is a very traditional color scheme and would look as if that's what you meant to do all along..


RE: Darkening varnish for cover-up

   100% agree with Laszlo.  Paint will be the way to go to hide your problems.  It will be at least as durable.  Paint over epoxy-sealed wood will last a very long time, and probably longer than varish.  Be sure to give a couple of weeks for the paint to harden up.  If you're really concerned you can use expensive 2-part paint - again, per Laszlo's recomendation. I did (see story below) - given the effort to do the spars on the big boat, I wasn't going to skimp a few bucks on paint quality.

And by 100% agreement, I include agreement as to a color scheme. I re-finished the previously varnished wood spars on my 42 ft. ketch with exactly the color scheme he suggests.  Now that was a project!  I initially thought I might be able to "touch-up" the quite badly failed varnish up in the air from a bosun's chair.  Not only was that starting to create a very speckled look (different shades from yellow to dark grey, depending upon how long the different areas of wood had been exposed (or not) due to the failed varnish, but I was also beginning to varnish my whole topsides with varnish droplets, no matter how hard I worked to keep drop cloths arranged 40 ft down below.  The slightest breeze or wake in the marina set things all wobbly up there in the air.  And seeing that I was using a self-hoisting chair, about the second time I needed some other tool or re-supply of materials up at the top of the mast (I was working alone) I soon gave up on that effort.  Anyway, I took the boat out of comission for a couple of weeks, down came the masts (you have to schedule and pay for a yard crane to do this) and with the help of a very patient wife got the job done.  Spars still looked good when I sold the boat some 4 years later - and that's 100% of the time exposed to the weather.  My wife still uses the fact that she did 80% of the work as "barter" everytime she reminds me that I might not be pulling my weight around the house "You remember that time I re-did your masts for you?  (I was working a regular job during the day - she was spending all day in the FL sun (and covering things for the like-clockwork 4 pm thunderstorm)  for about a week on the spars.)

The color scheme was "cork brown" with white tips.

Here's a sample of something like the color I used:

Benjamin Moore Cork / 2153-40 / #d2b172 Hex Color Code

#d2b172 Paint ChipThe hexadecimal color code #d2b172 is a medium light shade of brown. In the RGB color model #d2b172 is comprised of 82.35% red, 69.41% green and 44.71% blue. In the HSL color space #d2b172 has a hue of 39° (degrees), 52% saturation and 64% lightness. This color has an approximate wavelength of 578.07 nm.

p.s. - And more woes to this story.  I didn't have any blue tape around the day I started the job, so used some old-style brown masking tape on the deck.  That night we had dew, and by the time I came to the boat the next day the sun had dried things out and baked the tape.  I was still trying to clean that up the last marks left by that fiasco 4 years later to get the boat ready to sell! 

RE: Darkening varnish for cover-up

   Thank you both for your very helpful answers. I appreciate all the detail. Still just a couple of questions:

1. Should I  or can I paint over the first coat of varnish I already put on?

2. The mast is not coated in epoxy only the ramdon areas that needed to be faired with microbaloons. Does this matter?

Thanks again,

RE: Darkening varnish for cover-up

   Path of least resistance would be to sand (you will need to sand) and then paint over the varnish - I expect that will work and hold up pretty well.

However, with only one coat of varnish on, sanding it down to bare wood again shouldn't take too much effort.

Epoxy coating isn't required, but if you don't use epoxy most paints will tell you you'll need a coat of primer when painting on bare wood anyway.  The added durability you'll get from 2 coats of epoxy (the first coat will absorb into the wood somewhat) will mean fewer dents, nicks and scratches ever reach the wood and a really long-lasting finish. Then put a couple of coats of paint over that.

You only really get this one "easy" chance to do this while the wood is fresh, there is no hardware installed, etc., etc..  A good initial job on the spars (assuming they are stored indoors or under cover from the sun), and using some anti-chafing wrap (leather, tarred hemp twine or similar) in the spar-to-spar and spar-to-partner contact areas will mean you probably wont need to refish them "forever."

RE: Darkening varnish for cover-up

   So you actually used Benjamin Moore paint? 

RE: Darkening varnish for cover-up

   No, that was just the color that popped in when I typed in "cork brown" for an internet search.  The actual color of my paint was a bit darker to my memory, and I don't remember which paint brand I used.  It was from a marine paint company, in any case.

RE: Darkening varnish for cover-up

Yes, Amen! to paint.   And Amen! Amen! to tan with white tips.  You'll want to pick a "warm" shade of tan so that it doesn't look slightly pink in the wrong light.

Here's a shot of Winkle sporting such a paint scheme which works nicely with Doug Fowlers fine looking "Egyptian Cotton" lug sail:

RE: Darkening varnish for cover-up

   If you ever have to double reef that Passagemaker I'm sure I'd be wanting my like jacket cinched on tight!  I've got a feeling the ride might be sporty and wet at  18+ knots, or whenever that reef is needed!  I know that double reef points are required for some events like the Texas 200.

RE: Darkening varnish for cover-up

She seems to want the first reef when it starts pushing 15 kt much.  Had the second reef in once with 15-20 kt and some higher gusts, and things were pretty tame.  Shook it out as soon as the gusts slacked off a bit.  I'm thinkin' that, with careful handling, she might be good up into Force 6 a bit, if the waves haven't gotten up too much for her and the wind isn't especially gusty and shifty.  She's proved to be a surprisingly good boat in a chop so far.


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