How to varnish a boat step by step

Varnishing a boat or any other object may seem a lot of work. However, with good preparation, a good schedule and the right Epifanes varnish and proper maintenance, every boat owner can achieve a perfect long lasting clear finish. There is also a video available with all the information.

Step 1: Schedule and goals when varnishing a boat

Determine what you want to achieve. Varnishing a boat from bare wood takes more time than applying maintenance coats only. Also, what kind of finish you want to achieve? Are you able to work in a well-conditioned closed environment or are you working outside? Drying times during the winter are much longer than under warmer conditions. Plan your varnish job well in advance and work step-by-step. This provides you with a clear view and will avoid undesired surprises. The schedule will therefore depend on your own goals.

 Stancraft Epifanes Clear Varnish

Step 2: Condition of the varnish

A well applied Epifanes system from scratch can last for years or even more than a decade if you apply sufficient coats for the first time and apply maintenance coats regularly. You can judge the quality of current the varnish by one of the following three points.

1. The varnish system only shows loss of gloss. In this situation you can clean and sand the surface and apply at least two or more new coats.

2. The varnish system looks poor, shows loss of gloss and light crazing. In this situation the UV protection is completely gone. Now it is important to clean and sand the varnish thorough and apply at least four or more new coats.

3. The varnish system in a bad condition. In the last situation the old system should be removed and replaced by a full new system.

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Step 3: The difference between a one- and a two part varnish

A one-part varnish dries through drying additives when it comes in contact with air. A two-part varnish is a chemical drying paint. This latter varnish is tougher and stronger than a single pack, but the application is more challenging. It shouldn’t be applied outside, if temperatures are below 12°C and when the air humidity is above 70%.

After sanding and degreasing, a single part varnish can be applied over a two-part poly-urethane based varnish. A two-part poly-urethane however, cannot be applied on top of a one-part system. You can always test whether you have a one- or a two-part varnish with some acetone. Take a piece of cloth with acetone and press it to the boat for around 15 minutes. If the varnish starts to wrinkle and you can peel it of, you are dealing with a single pack system.

A growing varnish method is to build up in two-component and to finish in one-component. This combined varnish system will give you faster film building without losing elasticity.

Step 4: Materials needed

Determine the required amount of varnish. Also ensure to have enough and the correct thinners. Do not forget necessary tools for the job, i.e. brushes, rollers, masking tape, abrasive paper, etc. and remember your personal safety (protecting gloves/clothes, mouth cap, safety goggles). Saving money on brushes, thinners and sand paper will reflect the quality of your work and increase the possibility of failure.

 Epifanes Clear Varnish

Step 5: Surface preparation

A thorough surface preparation is time consuming. In case of bare wood, degrease with Epifanes Cleaning Solvent. Change your towel regularly and sand the wood with P180. Degrease again with Epifanes Cleaning Solvent

Old layers can be degreased with Epifanes Spraythinner for P&V. This is the spraythinner for single pack paints. DO NOT USE THE EPIFANES PU SPRAYTHINNER. Again, change the towels regularly. Sand the old coats thorough with P220-240.

Step 6: Choose the right varnish and system

Epifanes Clear Varnish

This classic Epifanes Clear Varnish is very easy to use and can be applied on almost every type of wood. You can apply this product on top of every previous varnished surface no matter what brand. When building from bare wood, it is important to thin the first coat by 50% for a good penetration in the wood. Thin the second coat by 25%. After two or three coats apply the varnish without any thinner to a minimum of seven coats. The more coats the better the UV protection and longevity. Light sanding or the use of a Scotch Brite is highly advised.

Epifanes Woodfinish Gloss

The Epifanes Woodfinish Gloss is a varnish-like finish similar to the Classic Clear Varnish. The largest difference is the oil component in the Woodfinish Gloss. This makes it especially suited for oily woods like Teak and Oregon Pine. Another benefit is that you do not have to sand between coats if subsequent coat is applied within 72 hours at 18°C. When applying, thin down the first coat by 25-50% and build up to a minimum of 7 coats. Also here, the more coats the better the UV protection and longevity.

Epifanes Rubbed Effect Varnish and Epifanes Woodfinish Matte

Epifanes Rubbed Effect Varnish is a satin varnish for interiors only. On the other hand we have Epifanes Woodfinish Matte. This is also a satin varnish but does have a UV filter and it is therefore suited for exterior use too. Very important is to first build up with a high gloss such as the Woodfinish Gloss or PP varnish extra before applying one of the satin varnishes. The high gloss builds-up much faster, but also gives a better protection in the underneath layers.

Epifanes Poly-urethane Clear Gloss & Clear Satin

These two varnishes are two-component finishes. These are the toughest varnishes in the Epifanes range. This is the ultimate varnish for tables, dashboards and other solid pieces of wood that need maximum protection. It is possible to polish the high gloss varnish as well. For a satin Fishing, build up with multiple coats of Epifanes Poly-urethane Clear Gloss before applying the Poly-urethane Clear Satin on top.

Epifanes PP Varnish extra

This is the fastest build up varnish possible. With The PP extra you can apply up to 3 layers a day at 18 C without intercoat sanding! This product perfectly penetrates the wood and has limited shrinkage. After getting the build-up coats with the PP Varnish extra, the applicator has the option continue with the single pack Epifanes Clear Varnish (one-component) or the Epifanes Poly-Urethane Clear for the maximum UV protection. The PP should always be overcoated with a product with higher UV protection. The PP alone is not enough.

 Epifanes Clear Varnish

Step 7: Apply the full varnish system

After choosing the right product and system for your job, it is essential to apply the minimum number of coats. In Northern European with general lesser UV exposure a system should exist of at least 7 coats, where the first 2 or 3 coats are only impregnation the wood. The real protection comes from the final 4 coats. It might be needed to apply more than 7 coats if the varnish is applied to horizontal surfaces or areas with more traffic. In Southern Europe with higher UV exposure a system should exist of at least 12 coats. In these warmer climates maintenance intervals will be shortened. Here you will find all Epifanes varnish systems explained in more detail.

Step 8: After the work is done

After application, allow the varnish system sufficient time to through harden. Make notes on used products and quantity for future reference. But most important, do not postpone maintenance, but apply fresh varnish coats once loss of gloss is noticed. This helps a varnish system to withstand have a long lasting life.


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