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corke board | by Mark Corke

Perfect Finish Achieve that ‘glow-in-the-dark’ shine.


alk the docks at any marina and there’s sure to be boats that stand resplendent from their neighbors. Your discerning eye spies a magnificently varnished toe rail. Glistening in the sun, the perfect brightwork draws you in to admire the gracious sheen and you wonder, “If only I was able to get my own boat’s varnish to look that good...” Well, you can — with a little effort and proper know-how, you, too, can have brightwork that’s the envy of the marina.

Varnish Suppliers


Epifanes 800-269-0961

Varnish is basically paint without the pigment. Its primary purpose is to protect wood from sun, sea, and wear and tear. Varnish contains a mixture of resin oils and solvents, although newer varnishes often have synthetic materials blended in to improve flow characteristics, color and so on. Choosing a varnish comes down to personal preference, price, and what’s readily available in your area. The best advice that I can offer is to choose a varnish and stick with it. Don’t be keen to dismiss a varnish just because you’re not getting the finish you require; it could be your application technique or other outside factors such as temperature, humidity or dust.

Interlux 800-468-7589 Pettit 800-221-4466

Tools The essential tool for a crack varnish job is a decent brush. While modern varnishes are somewhat forgiving in terms of technique, they are completely unforgiving when it comes to brushes. Never use a cheap synthetic brush to apply varnish; the bristles will shear off and are unlikely to have sufficient body to adequately hold the varnish. Many pros are partial

to natural badger-hair brushes. They have excellent flow characteristics and produce spectacular results. I’ve become a fan of foam brushes. They don’t shed hairs that can mar the finish and seem to hold just the right amount of varnish. Almost everyone lays on varnish too thickly, and in warm weather this leads to a condition known as “alligatoring.” Foam brushes tend to prevent over-application and solve this problem. The biggest advantage of foam brushes is that you can toss them at the end of the job. Pure bristle brushes require meticulous care and should be cleaned before and after use, then wrapped in aluminum foil to keep the bristles straight. In addition to a good brush, plenty of clean rags are key for wiping down woodwork and other clean-up tasks. Make sure rags are lint free; otherwise, you’ll end up with bits in the varnish. A small vacuum is a great asset. I bought a $20 model from Walmart that’s lightweight and has a brush attachment that’s perfect for sucking up sanding dust. You’ll also need lots of abrasive paper. I favor 3M Gold Open Coat paper. It’s an aluminum oxide paper that cuts fast, lasts a long time, and comes in all grades. Buy 80 grit for sanding bare wood, 120 grit for sanding the initial thinned coats, and 320 grit for sanding between full strength coats. Tack rags are worth their weight in gold for picking up all those last bits that get missed by the vacuum cleaner and the solvent wipe. Keep them in a Ziploc bag when not in use to prevent them from drying out and getting unnecessarily dirty.

Preparation Varnish on a still, warm day when you’ll have few interruptions. If you can, remove parts from the boat that you can varnish under cover in a controlled environment, like a garage or workshop. Hatch covers, washboards and cockpit tables can all be removed and worked on indoors. Read instructions printed on the varnish can carefully and thoroughly. This will provide important safety information and tell you which solvent to use. Don’t be tempted to use just any old paint thinner you’ve got lying around the garage or workshop; use only the solvent recommended by the manufacturer. Never use varnish straight from the can. Decant what you can use in about 15 minutes time into a Dixie cup or other clean container, pouring it through a fine mesh paint strainer as you do so to strain out any fine bits.




MAY 2013

varnish photo courtesy of mark corke

Lakeland Boating May 2013  

The Voice of the Great Lakes: Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie and Superior

Lakeland Boating May 2013  

The Voice of the Great Lakes: Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie and Superior