How to Varnish Wood

Varnishing wood requires patience and attention to detail. Follow these steps to get a beautiful, long-lasting finish.


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You Will Need

  • Work space
  • Newspaper
  • Sandpaper
  • Tack cloth
  • Varnish
  • Mineral spirits
  • Container
  • Brush


  1. Step 1

    Prepare your workspace

    If you're inside, make sure your work space is well ventilated and free of dust. Lay down newspaper to protect the floors. If working outdoors, choose a spot where wind will not blow dust and debris onto your freshly varnished surface.

  2. Step 2

    Prepare your surface

    Give the wood a light sanding with very fine grained sandpaper. Sand with the grain of the wood, not against it. Wipe the wood clean with tack cloth.

  3. Lay pieces flat to avoid runs in the finish.

  4. Step 3

    Use the right varnish.

  5. Step 4

    Thin the varnish

    Thin the varnish by mixing with an equal part mineral spirits in your container. Thinning ensures a hard cure.

  6. Step 5

    Apply the first coat

    Apply the varnish against the grain to a small area. Immediately go over the same area again with the brush, this time with the grain, and repeat over the whole piece. The first coat acts as a sealer.

  7. Do not leave your varnished piece in direct sunlight or it will dry too quickly.

  8. Step 6

    Prepare for the second coat

    Allow the first coat to dry overnight or longer. Then sand the piece again with very fine sandpaper. Wipe off the dust with tack cloth.

  9. Step 7

    Apply the second coat

    Pour the varnish into your container. Do not thin the varnish. Apply the varnish with the grain.

  10. For best results, apply varnish in thin, even coats.

  11. Step 8

    Add more coats

    Add more coats as needed, sanding lightly before each application. If applied properly, varnish will provide a beautiful and durable finish for many years.

  12. Varnish found on 2,500-year-old Egyptian mummy cases still looks good today.