A Basic Guide on the Different Types of Varnishes
Varnishes differ in many respects. A few are much clearer than others — a significant factor to consider when light finishes are called for. Varnishes also differ in their resistance to water and alcohol staining and in the polish of the final finish. A few dry with an extremely high gloss, while others dry to an absolutely flat finish. For most furniture and paneling a semi-gloss or satin-finish, varnish is preferable. This eliminates the need for rubbing down or muting the final coat.
As a universal rule, the high gloss varnishes have a tougher finish than the duller ones. For this reason, professionals choose to use hard-drying, glossy varnishes on counter tops, table tops and other surfaces which get hard wear. They leave the final coat to harden thoroughly, then wipe it down to a smooth, satin finish which, while still glossy, doesn’t have an unpleasant "wet" shine.
For this type of rubbed finish a special varnish is normally used. Known as a cabinet rubbing varnish, it dries in one day to an exceptionally hard finish which takes on rubbing beautifully. The handyman concerned in trying his hand at this type of finishing process would require some powdered pumice stone, powdered rottenstone and crude oil.
Allow the final varnish coat to dry until thoroughly hardened (check the label for this), then create a paste out of the pumice stone and crude oil. Mix the two together right on the surface, then fold up a heavy, lintless cloth into a small pad. Press this pad into the paste and rub across the surface with straight strokes, along to the grain. Use just a moderate amount of pressure and rub till the surface feels smooth and is free of all "pimples" or flaws.
Next, use a clean, dry cloth to rub all pumice off the surface. Use a different cloth dampened with turpentine to clean up the residue, then wipe once again with a clean cloth till the surface is dry. This will leave the surface somewhat cloudy due to fine scratches which are left by the pumice stone.
To bring back the luster, a second rubbing is needed, this time using powdered rottenstone and crude oil. Mix a paste as described earlier, then rub with a pad of clean felt or similar material. Again rub in straight, parallel strokes which play along the grain. When the surface has been polished to the luster wanted, wipe away all the paste with a clean cloth and polish up with a soft dry cloth till the surface is then clean and dry that the polishing cloth makes a squeaking noise under your hand. Any fine quality furniture polish can then be put on after a day or two.
Paint and Varnish Facts and Formulae by John Norwood Hoff
Old House Journal: Restoration Techniques
© 2011 Athena Goodlight