What is Varnish & Types of Varnish for Woods

What Is Varnish & 6 Types of Varnish Used For Woodwork

What Is Varnish?

Varnish is a type of clear or tinted coating that is applied to the surface of various materials, such as wood, metal, or stone, to enhance their appearance and provide protection.

It is a solution of resin in a solvent, which is applied to the surface of the material and left to dry, creating a hard, transparent layer that can be glossy or matte.

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Varnish can be made from a variety of natural or synthetic materials, including oils, gums, and resins, and can be tinted or left clear depending on the desired finish.

It is often used to protect surfaces from damage caused by moisture, UV light, and general wear and tear, and can also enhance the natural colors and textures of the material it is applied to. In addition to enhancing the appearance and durability of various materials, varnish can also be used for artistic purposes.

It can be applied to paintings and other works of art to protect the surface and create a glossy finish, or it can be used to add depth and richness to colors and textures.

There are different types of varnish available for different applications, and choosing the right type of varnish is important to ensure that the desired level of protection and appearance is achieved.

Some common types of varnish include oil-based, water-based, and polyurethane varnish, each of which has its unique properties and advantages. Overall, the varnish is a versatile and essential tool for enhancing the appearance and durability of various materials, from furniture and flooring to works of art.

With proper application and maintenance, it can help to protect and enhance the natural beauty of these materials for many years.

Read More: What is Painting? Components of Paint

Why Varnish Is Applied Wood?

Due to following some properties varnish is important to wood to increase the life period of wood. Varnish protects wood from shrinking, expansion, abrasion, and fiber erosion of wood and the detrimental effects of living organisms such as fungi, bacteria, and bugs make it necessary to protect the wood.

The properties of the varnish give resistance to external factors, bring color to the wood, highlight its pores, and bring an aesthetical look to the wood in terms of protecting the wood and prolonging its life.

Varnish protects the painted surface from atmospheric elements and makes the surface easier to clean. Varnish creates an even sheen over the entire surface of the painting. A double layer of varnish will even out the final appearance of the painting, giving it a consistent overall look.

Dust can accumulate on the surface of paintings over time, especially if a painting hangs in a smoky environment, thus a protective layer of varnish can be used to restore the painting to its original look.

Different Types of Varnish

Depending upon the types of varnish used, varnish can be of the following types:

  1. Spirit Varnish
  2. Acrylic Varnish
  3. Exterior Varnish
  4. Polyurethane Varnish
  5. Yacht Varnish
  6. Oil Varnish
  7. Alkyd Varnish

Let’s discuss each type of varnish in detail with their uses.

1. Spirit Varnish

Spirit Varnish
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It is the types of varnishes in which spirit is used as a solvent are known as spirited varnish or French-Polish.

Shellac is dissolved in spirit and the product is applied in a thin layer.

Spirit types of varnish give a translucent finish thus showing the grains of the timber.

These, however, do not weather well and as such are used for polishing woodwork not exposed to the weather.

2. Acrylic Varnish

Acrylic Varnish
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These types of varnishes are quick-drying and non-toxic water-based varnishes that generally have good resistance against ultra-violate rays, thus they can be used inside as well as outside surfaces exposed to sunlight.

These acrylic varnishes can seal wood and other materials, making them more versatile than other varnishes They are clear, highly transparent, and do not tend to penetrate the wood like other types of vanishes.

Being water-based you can clean up it with water, which makes them very user-friendly, but sometimes do not spread as uniformly as other varnishes.

They are mostly available in sheen, satin, and matt finishes.

Read More: 5 Types of Paint Finishes for Your Home

3. Exterior Varnish

Exterior Varnish
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As the name indicates, types of varnishes have been specially formulated for use on outside surfaces exposed to the weather.

They have added ultra-violate ray protection so that the wood beneath the layer of varnish is protected.

They are often microporous which allows the wood to breathe and have an added fungicide to prevent the growth of fungi and termites.

They are likely to be very comparable in formulation and performance to a yacht varnish, being relatively flexible, but slow to cure even if they are touched dry relatively quickly.

4. Polyurethane Varnish

Polyurethane Varnish
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These types of varnish give a really hard surface and are often used for floors and areas which are going to get a lot of wear and tear.

They are also heat resistant and will give a clear and tough finish, which is available in gloss, satin, and matt finishes. Polyurethane varnishes do not tend to penetrate the wood so they are often primed with an oil-based varnish or a thin shellac solution.

Do not try and put an oil-based varnish on top of a polyurethane varnish as it will not bond. In addition to their excellent hardness and durability, they are resistant to spills of mild acids, solvents, and other chemicals.

They are not resistant to UV (sun) light, so if used outside then try to find one with added UV protection or it will deteriorate quickly.

Read More: What Is Wall Cladding | 11 Types of Wall Cladding

5. Yacht Varnish

Yacht Varnish
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It is also called marine varnish, as this is a varnish that was originally designed for use on boats where the primary purpose was to ensure that water did not penetrate the wood.

To achieve this the varnish had to be highly flexible. A rigid, inflexible varnish might crack as the wood bent and flexed under the strain of the sea and these cracks could allow water to penetrate.

Usually, these did not have much gloss, as appearance was a secondary feature and little UV protection, but now most yacht varnishes have a high gloss finish based on tung oil and phenolic resins.

They are ideal for use on outside timber, but not for a surface that is going to be walked on.

6. Oil Varnish

Oil Varnish
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  • These types of varnishes are made by dissolving hard resins like amber or copal in oil.
  • They are slow to dry but are the hardest and most durable of all varnishes.
  • They are suited for being used on exposed surfaces requiring polishing or frequent cleaning and for superior work.

7. Alkyd Varnish

Alkyd Varnish
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  • Alkyd Varnish is used on both sides exterior and interior sides.
  • The main advantage of using this varnish is good it protects the surface against UV damage, temperature variation, and water seepage.
  • Also, the alkyd varnish can be enhancing the wood’s colors and grain and it is clear from wood varnish.

How to Apply Varnish To Wood?

The followings are tips to get a great finish after applying varnish:

Before starting to apply varnish on the surface of any material, ensure that the surface is well prepared; varnish accentuates rather than hides marks, unwanted stains, and bumps.

The varnish is also its primer and undercoat, although in some cases it is better to apply the first thin coat with roughly 10% white spirit and water for water-based varnishes. This is particularly true if we use a polyurethane varnish.

Once the first coat has been applied and has dried, then it has to be rubbed down lightly and a second coat is then applied.

Dust and varnish don’t mix, because all the sanding before applying the varnish will inevitably create a lot of dust. Give it time to settle and get rid of as much as possible.

If you apply varnish in a dusty environment, it will stick in the drying varnish and potentially ruin the finish. If this problem occurs, then you will have to sand it down gently with fine-grit paper and then apply another coat.

Unlike paint, varnishes and stains are intended to soak into the wood. You can also apply a clear varnish to the stain to improve the finish, enhance the look, and also make it more durable.

Different types of varnishes can be applied with a brush, which is more usual. If you are applying varnish using a roller, use one with a short pile.

The first coat of varnish applied should be parallel to grains of wood and another coat should be perpendicular to grains of wood to get a smooth surface and which makes varnished material more durable in weathering actions.

Read More: What Is Chalking Paint | 10 Causes of Paint Surface Chalking

Advantages of Varnish

The following are the advantages of varnishes,

  • The varnish is applied to unpainted furniture and other woodwork to decorate the surface without hiding the beautiful grain of the wood.
  • To protect the surface of wood against the adverse influence of the atmosphere.
  • Provides radiant beauty to the wood.
  • Helps in protecting the wood by binding the surface.
  • It is used to prevent hairline cracks and absorb the effects of scratching and external damage.
  • It helps in reducing the transfer of moisture between the wood and the surrounding weather.
  •  It provides softness and long-lasting flexibility to the material.
  • The varnish is resistant to UV rays and doesn’t turn yellow.
  • It brings out the natural grain of the wood.
  • It is inexpensive to purchase.
  • Painted surfaces are varnished to enhance the appearance of the paint and increase the durability of the paint film.

Disadvantages of Varnish

The following are the disadvantages of varnish,

  • Varnish has a strong and unpleasant odor so it is required to wear a mask while using varnish.
  • Varnish has low resistance to abrasion.
  • It has the possibility of reacting with glues, waxes, and silicones.
  • The varnish is harder to apply in the summer.

Read More: Best Exterior Paint In India 2022 | Best Paint for Exterior Walls


In conclusion, the varnish is a clear or tinted coating that is applied to the surface of various materials to enhance their appearance and provide protection from damage.

There are several types of varnish available, each with its unique properties and advantages. Oil-based varnish is a traditional type of varnish that provides a high level of protection and a deep, rich finish.

It is commonly used for furniture and cabinetry, as well as for outdoor applications. Water-based varnish is a newer type of varnish that is more environmentally friendly than oil-based varnish and dries faster. It is commonly used for indoor applications, such as flooring and furniture.

Polyurethane varnish is a synthetic varnish that provides excellent protection against scratches and abrasions.

It is commonly used for high-traffic areas, such as flooring and kitchen countertops. Spar varnish is a type of varnish that is specifically designed for outdoor applications, such as boats and other marine applications. It provides excellent protection against UV rays and moisture.

Choosing the right type of varnish is important to ensure that the desired level of protection and appearance is achieved. The choice of varnish will depend on the material being coated, the desired level of protection, and the desired finish.

With proper application and maintenance, varnish can help to protect and enhance the natural beauty of various materials for many years.

Overall, the varnish is an essential tool for enhancing the appearance and durability of various materials, from furniture and flooring to works of art.

Understanding the different types of varnish available can help ensure that the right type of varnish is chosen for a given application, leading to beautiful and long-lasting results.


What is varnish?

Varnish is a transparent or semi-transparent coating applied to wood surfaces to enhance their appearance, protect them from moisture, and provide a durable finish. It consists of a mixture of resin, solvent, and drying oil or other additives.

How do I apply varnish to woodwork?

The application of varnish involves preparing the wood surface by sanding and cleaning it, followed by applying multiple thin coats of varnish using a brush or spray. Each coat should be allowed to dry thoroughly before applying the next one, and the process may require light sanding between coats for a smooth finish.

How should I maintain varnished woodwork?

To maintain varnished woodwork, avoid exposing it to excessive moisture, heat, or direct sunlight. Clean the surface regularly with a mild detergent and a soft cloth, and avoid using harsh chemicals or abrasive cleaners that may damage the varnish. If the varnish starts to show signs of wear or damage, it can be touched up or refinished by lightly sanding the surface and applying a fresh coat of varnish.

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2 thoughts on “What Is Varnish & 6 Types of Varnish Used For Woodwork”

  1. Pingback: Civiconcepts - Make Your House Perfect With us

  2. Hello. I need help please. I am constructing a sunset out of pebbles that were painted with acrylic paint. I intend for it to be used as a large stepping stone coming off my gazebo. I need to first put the various colored pebbles on wet concrete but don’t want them to sink in too far and not be seen so a very thin layer of a special concrete. Then I wanted to pour a clear some type off varnish that will stand up to the elements of weather and also that it won’t crack with weight-bearing so that the pebbles will be visible and look like a sunset. I have no experience with this idea that I dreamed up so any information will be helpful. Even telling me that it won’t work but I hope not. Thank you so much. Marcie Myers in SC

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