When to varnish

Well I've been building my Great Auk since January and I'm preparing for varnish now. It seems I always find a reason to keep sanding and adding epoxy here and there because I want my epoxy coat along with the finish of the boat to be just right for varnish. My question is how smooth should the boat be to be ready for varnish, also will alot of blemishes be cleared up with varnish? There are some high spots that if I keep sanding them, will take me into the fibergass, will varnish cover those ok? I'm prepared to put as many coats of varnish on as needed

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RE: When to varnish

One more question regarding varnish. How much varnish do you need for the avg kayak...1 qt or 1 gal?

RE: When to varnish

I'm still is the prep stage of getting ready to varnish. Sanding, epoxy, sanding, epoxy etc etc. NOT fun. But yesterday I went to West Marine for my varnish and a quart size can covers 150 sq. feet so I bought 2 cans. I think thats probably enough. At least hope so at 44 dollars a can. I'm planning 4 to 5 coats of varnish

RE: When to varnish

You will indeed use over 1 qt, and more than likely finish your 2nd can.  I warn you not to skimp on the number of coats, you will reget it.  Also unless you are spraying, just use your home center mineral spirits.

1st lesson in yak building, there are a lot of cheaper places to purchase your supplies than West Marine.  Even here at CLC with shipping is cheaper.



RE: When to varnish

Use mineral spirits? For what purpose. Also, how perfect does the boat need to be just before varnish. Can there be even a wringle?  A little high here and low there? Overall, I'd give my boat about an 85% for smooth

RE: When to varnish


Kayakkev mentioned mineral spririts as a thinner for the varnish.  You should never apply varnish straight... it is too thick to get a good finish.  Like epoxy, it needs to be applied in multiple thin coats.  Starting from bare wood, I use a 70% thinner/30% varnish mix, then increase the proportion of varnish until it's about 95/5 for the last coat.  I would assume that you can start off higher when going over epoxy, since it doesn't soak up any varnish.   

Depending on the type of varnish you bought, some manufacturers make their own brush thinner.  I have always used epiphanes on all the teak and mahogany on our sailboat (all 30 feet worth...), and love the finish it gives.  I used to use mineral spirits, but now only use the epiphanes brushing thinner... mixes very well. 


RE: When to varnish

Geez Chris, so what mixture  do you suggest i use since I have lots of coats of epoxy. And yes, I have Epifanes also and I'm eager to start . Do I stay with that suggested mixture throughout?  I'm gonna use standard mineral spirits I think. Thanks for your input

RE: When to varnish

I spray my yaks and use a 3 varnish to 1 thinner ratio.  And I will use 2 qts on a 18 ft yak.  Gives me around 5 coats on the hull and 7 coats on the deck.  I also use a real HVLP to spray with to minamize waste and overspray.  Warning, the fumes are a killer no matter how you apply it, wear a resperator


RE: When to varnish

Try around 70/30 (varnish/thinner) or 80/20, depending on temperature.  If it is too loose, you'll notice right away as you'll get sags and runs.  Too thick, and you'll pull the varnish away from the epoxy (rather then simply smoothing it) as you tip it out.  Varnishing is more art then science, and you eventually develop a feel for what works and what doesn't.  Just remember to do thin coats.  I recently started using high density foam rollers, and tip out every 2 feet with a very high quality chisel-tip Purdy brush.  Some people prefer foam brushes all the way through.  Everyone seems to have their own best method. 

 Good luck, and enjoy the process.  And as Kayakkev mentioned, wear a mask and have good ventilation.  Varnish may look great, but certainly doesn't smell like roses! 

RE: When to varnish

No one has attempted to answer how smooth prior to varnish. So I will attempt based on my limited experience. The varnish coats are thin and will not fill in around epoxy sags/drips much. If the sags are epoxy and not fiberglass you might try a scaper. If like me they were due to fiberglass strands then it may be toughf to sand/scape enoughf.

 Try wetting down the kayak now and that may give you an idea what it will look like with varnish. It may not show up much and might depend on the lighting. I finally told my-self enoughf is enoughf and I don't notice anything now.

RE: When to varnish

Hi Ralph, Enough is enough. I've been hoping to say that many times so far and I am STILL sanding. I DO have a few dips, sags etc, Drips I seem to be able to sand off individually. I can tell you this, there ARE going to be flaws in the finish before I varnish., because enough is enough  hahahah. I want to take a ride in my kayak this summer, not this winter, I'm upstate NY and there is no water here in the winter, just ICE. Thanks all, for your help. I'm new, I need it

RE: When to varnish


I reciently built my first so I will share my limited expertise. Elimate any source of lint in the area where you plan to varnish. rags, tarps, furnature, even rolls of TP will throw up lint in the air in the afternoon breeze and land in your wet varnish. It stays tacky a few hours after application so I learned to do coats in the early morning or late evening when the wind was down with closed windows and doors.

Next thing the surface only needs to be sanded out to 220 any finer and the tooth is gone. Small defects in the epoxy will show thru the varnish like taking it outside for the first time so make sure any tape, hairs and dust are removed completely before starting. I brushed mine on with a foam brush and got 3 coats on the exterior 2 in the cockpit and one in the hatch areas out or it so having a second quart on hand is good planning.

Since I used the Interlux Perfection varnish I also used the 2333N thinner with it and it flowed out nice. on flat surfaces varnish will level out but on vertical surfaces it will sag and run so I made applications on a few different sides parallel to each other taping along the edges made sanding the tape ridges off easier. If you sanded into cloth in a few places the varnish will cover it well but any fisheyes in the epoxy will be harder to fill with varnish than more epoxy. They suggest waiting 7 days after your last coat of epoxy before the first coat of varnish.

The tips section on this site shows a good application technique with crossing brush strokes I found it useful.

Sand after 24 hours lightly to remove runs only and after a week overall before any polishing. After your final coat of varnish avoid anything rougher than 320 grit the scratches go pretty deep and are a headache to sand out with 600 1200 or even finer paper. When you get the polishing wheel going be sure you have any rudder cables removed or they will get twisted out of shape in a hurry,


Good luck have a great summer!



RE: When to varnish

Charlie, Thank you soo much for your input. For sure I am in no rush. My plan is to mask the sheer real good and varnish the deck first, gonna try for 4 to 5 coats. Then, flip the boat and do the hull. I'm still not sure what to use for a brush(going shopping tomorrow) I put epoxy on up until yesterday so I'm gonna wait a couple of days before I varnish. Mean time I can get to all the prep work, materials ready etc

Again, thanks sooo much


RE: When to varnish

This is the referance I used. the brushing from dry to wet was on the second direction after putting it on one direction until the brush started to run out then I switched directions without dipping it helped to even out the coat the first couple of passes lay on more varnish than the last passes so going from the bottom to top seemed to work better than top to bottom before going side to side. Using a lot of shop light is helpful also to avoid the dry patches look at the wet areas with the light reflecting off of them too before moving on to the next section and avoid over brushing it.


I used the el cheepo foam brushes they come in a varity pack like these. Single use one brush per day.


You should also use an organic respirator as soon as you open the can until you can leave the shop. Handle them like poision.

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