Wood Varnish: Make The Ultimate Choice For Your DIY Project

Wood varnish can be the difference between an average DIY project or a great one. In the DIY world, varnished wood is a common characteristic. So you need to know to choose the right wood varnish for your projects.

Wood Varnish

When working with bare wood, for example, before you apply your first coat of varnish, you need to choose something that will hide surface imperfections. A high-quality wood varnish will protect your natural wood surface. If you’re not sure on the best way to protect the wood, don’t worry, that’s why we’re here.

By the time we’ve finished, you’ll be familiar with the basics of wood varnish.

Top 5 Wood Varnishes

Now that you know a little more about wood varnishes, you’re well-equipped to start scouring the market for your ideal product. Browse through our top picks, keeping the key factors in mind to ensure you make the best possible purchase!

A quick note before we dive in: Most of the products on our list are labeled ‘marine spar,’ but their application is not limited to boats. These products feature a range of protective properties that make them ideal for general outdoor use.

1. TotalBoat Gleam Marine Spar Varnish

TotalBoat Gleam Marine Spar VarnishView in gallery

This marine spar wood varnish from TotalBoat is what you might call a ‘jack of all trades.’It’s specially formulated to withstand salt water exposure as well as UV radiation, making it excellent for any type of outdoor wood protection. The strength and durability of its tung oil-phenolic resin makeup also makes it ideal for protecting indoor furniture or other items you plan on keeping inside. It can be applied via brushing, rolling, or spraying, so you can get started with whatever you have on hand.

Short on time? Then you’ll appreciate its quick-drying design which allows you to reapply within one hour. This means you can get three or more varnish coats on in just one day, after which you should wait a mere 48 hours before sanding and applying the finishing coats. You’ll spend much less time finishing your woodcraft with this varnish than you would with many other top products!

You can purchase this varnish in either Gloss or Satin finishes—or both! Satin will give the wood a more natural appeal while the Gloss will lend it an absolutely gorgeous sheen.

Pros:

  • Dries quickly so you can apply multiple coats in one day
  • Doesn’t require sanding in-between coats
  • Excellent for both indoor and outdoor use
  • Specially designed to withstand salt water and UV radiation

Cons:

  • May not dry and harden as smoothly as other varnishes (due to drying quickly)

2. Epifanes Clear Varnish

Epifanes Clear VarnishView in gallery

Produced in Holland, this varnish from world-renowned brand Epifanes is a top-notch product with a lot to offer.Whatever woodworking or furniture-upgrading plans you have, rest assured that this clear varnish can handle it. From finishing that shed you started building last month to getting that old coffee table looking good as new, this varnish is designed to tackle a range of jobs! You can use it on both hardwoods and softwoods, and for both indoor and outdoor projects.

Made with tung oil, phenolic resin, and alkyd resin mixture, this varnish offers optimum protection for any woodworking project. While it takes longer to dry and harden, the wait is worth it. The varnish also offers UV radiation and salt water protection.

A word to the wise, though: Because this product is so high-grade, it’s not as user-friendly as similar products. It will make the perfect addition to your woodworking arsenal if you already have lots of varnishing experience; if not, you may struggle to get a clean, smooth finish.

Pros:

  • Can be used in a wide variety of contexts, both indoor and outdoor
  • Excellent for use on various woods, both hard and soft
  • Provides a strong, long-lasting protective layer
  • High gloss finish will make the end result look fantastic

Cons:

  • Takes a long time to dry
  • Requires multiple coats
  • Not user-friendly for newbies

3. Rust-Oleum Marine Varnish

Rust-Oleum Marine VarnishView in gallery

You want to protect your boat and make sure it looks nice year-round. With this marine varnish from Rust-Oleum, you can protect your wood surfaces and wood grain without breaking the bank.The marine varnish is good for indoor and outdoor furniture and all wood products. It offers long lasting durability and a smooth finish. It protects wood from UV radiation, salt water, and mildew growth.

The clear varnish boasts a clear, gloss finish that will complement—not overpower—the wood’s natural coloring and beauty. It also dries and hardens relatively quickly, so you won’t have to worry about endless varnishing and sanding!

Pros:

  • Can be used in a wide variety of contexts, both indoor and outdoor
  • Provides mildew resistance and other weather-related protection
  • Clear, gloss finish gives the wood natural-looking flair
  • Less expensive than many other similar products

Cons:

  • Some users noticed yellowing on wood after use
  • Takes a long time to dry

4. System 3 Clear Polyurethane Varnish Coating

 System Three 1855S16 Clear Marine Spar Urethane Varnish CoatingView in gallery

System Three’s marine varnish offers versatility, durability, and wood protection. Like all Marine Spar wood varnishes, it’s good for both indoor and outdoor wooden surfaces. It protects wood from UV radiation, salt water, salt air, and is highly resistant from other natural elements.In addition, it offers protection against scratching and solvents or cleaners that may be spilled. These numerous protective properties ensure that the wood will live a long and happy life!

If you’re health-conscious or prefer eco-friendly products, you’ll appreciate the that fact this varnish features a VOC-compliant formula. This makes it better for the environment—and your health—than many other varnishes on the market today.

You can purchase this varnish in a Satin or Gloss finish to suit your tastes. Both are guaranteed to improve the wood’s appearance, without being overbearing. Enjoy.

Pros:

  • Can be used in a wide variety of contexts, both indoor and outdoor
  • VOC-compliant formula ensures safety
  • Scratch resistance and solvent/cleaner protection ensure longevity

Cons:

  • Takes a long time to dry

5. Tired & True Varnish Oil

 Tried & True - Varnish Oil - QuartView in gallery

This solvent-free wood varnish is a more natural approach to wood protection, and it’s also been deemed “safe for food contact surfaces” according to FDA standards. Unlike the other varnishes on this list, this one is ideal for indoor use.

Whether you need to add a layer of protection to your favorite wooden furniture piece or get your wooden cutting board up to par, this varnish will get the job done, and done well, we might add.

It’s resistant to abrasion and scratches, making it the perfect protection solution for your indoor items. This varnish boasts a formula that becomes more and more durable as time goes on, so rest assured that your furniture won’t be getting scratched up anytime soon.

Pros:

  • Becomes more durable over time
  • Highly resistant to abrasion and scratches
  • Provides a natural-looking, semi-gloss finish
  • Solvent-free design makes it safe for various indoor uses

Cons:

  • Takes a long time to dry
  • Not ideal for outdoor use

What To Look For In Wood Varnish

Before we dive into our top wood varnish picks, let’s go over a few factors you should consider before shopping.

What To Look For In Wood Varnish

Keeping these factors in mind will ensure that the varnish you choose falls in line with your needs, preferences, and intended use.

Type

There are several types of wood varnish available on the market today. The one you choose should depend on your project and your budget. Here’s a quick breakdown of the most common wood varnish types:

Acrylic Varnish

This may be the most eco-friendly option. Its water-based design ensures a toxin-free varnishing experience and produces far less odor than oil-based varnishes. Acrylic varnish is also known for its versatility—not only can you use it for indoor and outdoor projects, but you can also use it on certain non-wood materials.

This type of varnish is normally used to protect acrylic paintings on wood, and this is the best application for it. Depending on your preferences, acrylic may give you the most for your money in terms of safety and quality.

Exterior Varnish

Exterior varnishes are designed for use outdoors and can stand up to the elements. They feature strong UV-resistance as well as resistance to fungal growth. If you want to ensure your varnished wood creation lives a long, mold-free life, exterior wood varnish will be your best option.

Interior Varnish

Interior varnishes are best suited for indoor use. They don’t possess UV-resistant or waterproofing properties, but they can protect wood against scratches and abrasion. Popular applications of interior varnish include furniture and kitchen countertops.

Polyurethane Varnish

Polyurethane varnishes are the preferred option for wood floors. The harder surface they create tends to provide great overall protection from the effects of heavy use. On the downside, they are not UV-resistant—for this reason, polyurethane is better for indoor use.

Marine Varnish

Marine varnish is used on yachts and boats. It’s designed to protect the wood from water exposure and weather elements. Today, yacht varnishes also include UV-resistant components, making them excellent for use outdoors. In fact, marine spar varnishes are highly popular for use as general outdoor varnishes.

Varnishing Wood Bases

Varnishing Wood BasesView in gallery

Most wood varnishes are either water-based or oil-based.

Water Based Varnish Wood

These varnishes tend to be more eco-friendly and natural-looking. They also produce less of an odor and don’t cause wood to yellow like oil based varnishes.

Oil Based Varnish

An oil based varnish is not as eco-friendly, but it offers protection for wood grain and bare wood surfaces, and more so than water based varnishes.

Hardening

Outdoor varnish is designed to protect wood. varnishes need to harden on the surface after application. You can find products that harden immediately (within hours of application) as well as products that harden over the course of several days.

High temperatures and low humidity levels cause faster hardening, while low temperatures and high humidity will slow down the process.

Protection

There are several protective capabilities you should look for when shopping for a wood varnish.

  • UV-resistance protects wood surfaces from harmful UV radiation, which could otherwise cause cracking or fading.
  • protect the wood from water exposure. Water is known to rot wood quickly, so waterproofing is essential if the product will be used outdoors or in humid conditions.
  • Mold-resistance. Mold can start to grow on wood if it’s not protected. Opting for a mold-resistant varnish will keep the wood looking great and keep it from rotting.
  • Protection against heavy use. Some wood varnishes are harder than others. The harder the varnish, the better it will protect wooden surfaces from heavy use. This is an important feature if you know the product will be used under strenuous conditions. A good example would be hardwood floors.

When determining what kind of protection your woodcraft will require, ask yourself these questions:

  • Will the product be used indoors or outdoors?
  • What will it be used for?
  • What conditions will the product be exposed to?

Color Finish

wood varnish color

Wood varnish generally dries and hardens clear, leaving no noticeable color or finish on the wood. That said, there are some varnishes available that feature color pigments or noticeable finishes—these are useful if you don’t have time to do the staining/painting and varnishing in two different steps.

Paints, Stains, Lacquers, and Finishes

In the world of wood, there are so many different terms to remember. While it’s tempting to say that all wood finishes are basically the same, this is simply not the case.

A wood varnish is specifically designed to offer the wood a protective layer to shield it against a variety of potential stressors: UV radiation, water exposure, and mold. But there are other wood finishing products out there that are equally useful, but intended for different purposes.

Paint

The primary purpose of paint is to add color to the wood. However, paint actually has several protective properties as well: it can block UV radiation, reduce water damage, and keep wood looking great in the long run.

Wood Stains

Stain is added to wood in order to give its color more depth. It typically makes the wood’s natural color appear darker and more prominent, which can do wonders for the product’s appearance. Water based stains do not have the same protective properties as varnish, and a proper finish needs to be added after staining.

Lacquer

Lacquer provides a smooth and glossy finish, as well as great overall protection. It does tend to be thinner than other finish types, though, so it will degrade over time.

Shellac

This all-natural finish is safe and eco-friendly. It’s made using lac bug secretion in conjunction with other natural solvents. It offers decent protection and can greatly enhance the wood’s natural color.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)FAQ

Is It Better To Varnish Or Stain Wood?

When you know the differences between varnish and stain, you’ll be equipped to make informed choices. For DIY projects, varnish is the better choices. The reason why is it provides a protective barrier on wood surfaces. With stain, you enhance color without offering protection against natural elements.

Do I Need To Stain Wood Before Varnishing Wooden Furniture?

You should apply stain before varnish, unless the varnish has the stain mixed in it. Allow enough time for the solvent to evaporate before applying the finishing coat of varnish.

How Do You Apply Varnish Without Brush Marks?

Thinning each coat of varnish with mineral spirits allows the finish to flow smoothly, making brush marks less likely to remain as it dries.

Is Varnish Harmful To Skin?

If varnish gets on your skin, you’ll want to remove it as soon as you can. Fortunately, it’s very easy to remove. Place a small amount of dish detergent onto the treated skin. Using your fingers, rub the soap into the acetone. This will dissolve the remover and varnish.

Is Varnish Toxic To Inhale?

Varnish is either a colored or clear coating designed to give wood surfaces a glossy look. The material should not be inhaled as it is dangerous.

Wood Varnish Conclusion

Varnishing wood is a great DIY project. Wood varnish is easy to apply, which can be done with a natural bristle brush. However, safety precautions should be followed when using clear varnish. Most people use varnish for their wooden furniture.

Wood varnishes are available in a few different styles. For example, you can choose between acrylic varnish, polyurethane varnish, or an oil based varnish.

Clear varnish works best on natural wood surfaces. When applying varnish, your first coat is the most important. Beforehand, you should use fine grit sandpaper and sand the wooden surface you want to varnish.

If you want to maintain the natural beauty of your wood’s appearance, then clear varnish will help. You can use it if you want to create a satin finish or semi gloss durable finish. A clear coat of varnish will protect your wood surface from UV rays. Varnish also water resistant, so it will protect your outdoor furniture and other products.