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How to Varnish Wood

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


  • 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.
  • 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.
  • TIP: Lay pieces flat to avoid runs in the finish.
  • Step 3: Use the right varnish.
  • Step 4: Thin the varnish Thin the varnish by mixing with an equal part mineral spirits in your container. Thinning ensures a hard cure.
  • 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.
  • TIP: Do not leave your varnished piece in direct sunlight or it will dry too quickly.
  • 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.
  • Step 7: Apply the second coat Pour the varnish into your container. Do not thin the varnish. Apply the varnish with the grain.
  • TIP: For best results, apply varnish in thin, even coats.
  • 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.
  • FACT: Varnish found on 2,500-year-old Egyptian mummy cases still looks good today.

You Will Need

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

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