Wood Lacquer

Best Wood Varnish – Finding the Right Varnish for Your Project

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Varnishing a wood surface is pretty easy, making the surface durable and beautiful to look at. There are many different types of varnishes on the market, so here are a few of our best wood varnish choices explained.



Recommended Wood Varnish


Exterior Varnish – TOTALBOAT Marine Spar Wood Varnish

This wood varnish is specifically formulated for marine use. However, you can apply it to any surface that needs some heavy-duty waterproofing. This product can effectively be used as an exterior varnish on things like sheds, wooden decks, or patio furniture.

TOTALBOAT Gleam Marine Spar Varnish
  • Contains tung oil and phenolic resins for a warm, transparent amber finish
  • Highly durable and resistant to water and UV rays
  • Easy to use, self-levelling and quick-drying
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Made from Tung oil, it provides a tough and hard coating, but also offers a nice clear finish which displays the natural wood underneath. A positive benefit of using this varnish is that it is self-leveling, making it easier to apply.

The drying time of this wood varnish is fairly quick, faster than many other varnish products, as it evaporates faster, due to its Tung oil composition. Other factors can influence the drying time as well, for example, humidity and temperature. So, just be aware of these factors when applying in your specific environment.

When it comes to cost, this wood varnish tends to be quite costly, so consider if it is worth buying for your particular project. The type of project that will need heavy-duty waterproofing. You will need to add a few coats to see any kind of result, so it will also take some time to complete your project.


  • Dries quickly
  • Clear varnish
  • Helps to protect from UV sunlight
  • Has a self-leveling action
  • Heavy-duty marine-grade formula


  • A more expensive varnish
  • Requires time to apply many coats


GENERAL FINISHES High Performance Water-Based Topcoat

This high-performance water-based topcoat is considered the toughest and most durable topcoat on the market. This product rivals professional polyurethane when it comes to its durability and is a lot cheaper too. Furthermore, you do not have to get an expert to apply the product. The formula contains UV stabilizers, so it will help to protect from exposure to any sunlight.

GENERAL FINISHES High Performance Water-Based Topcoat
  • The hardest, most durable consumer polyurethane top coat on the market
  • Dry Time Between Coats is only 1-2 Hours
  • For interior use only
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Not only can it be used on furniture but is flexible in its uses and can also be applied to wood floors. Since this topcoat is a clear varnish, you can use it on a variety of wood, including wood that has already been painted. The high-quality exterior varnish will make sure your wood items last for a long time.


  • Contains a UV stabilizer
  • Can be used on many types of wood surfaces
  • Tough and durable
  • Clear varnish
  • Easy to work with as it is water-based


  • Can be costly


RUST-OLEUM 207008 Marine Spar Varnish

This is an extremely tough polyurethane that will safeguard your wood from all kinds of damages. A clear varnish that will help to not only protect but also brings out the natural beauty of the wood. The product dries quickly in under two hours and this product can be cover 50 square feet. This varnish provides resistance to salt, mildew, and UV rays.

RUST-OLEUM Marine Spar Varnish
  • Oil-based formula expands and contracts with changing weather conditions
  • Durable coating provides excellent resistance to UV, salt, and mildew
  • Crystal-clear varnish leaves a beautiful gloss finish with maximum protection
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This makes it a great exterior varnish for all seasons, as it reacts to differing weather conditions by contracting and expanding. It offers a beautiful final finish and is a perfect additional coat over other layers of polyurethane.


  • Oil-based
  • Offers protection from mildew and salt
  • Also, UV protection
  • Exterior varnish
  • Clear varnish with a beautiful finish


  • Drying time can be long
  • Short shelf-life, about 4 months



Different Types of Wood Varnish

Wood Varnish


Water-Based Finish

The water-based finish dries fast and can be applied to stained wood, bare wood, or even painted wood.

  • You should use synthetic brushes for application
  • Best to use and protect decorative items, as its durability is not as good as other products
  • Gives you a clear finish and will not yellow over time


Wood Lacquer

Wood lacquer is made from a mixture of solvents and nitrocellulose and provides a matte or glossy finish.

  • Wood lacquer is tougher than shellac and is one of the top wood sealants
  • Perfect for furniture but not to be used over old varnish or paint
  • Produces strong odors, so you will need to work in a space with plenty of air circulation and you may have to wear a mask
  • The method of application is mostly via a paint sprayer, which gives you a thin coat. This dries much quicker than other finish products


Wood Varnish Finish

These are generally made up of a drying oil, a solvent or thinner, and a resin.

  • An excellent wood sealer
  • These types of finishes are durable, clear, and offer protection from UV rays. Good to use on doors and as a marine finish
  • Can be used on stained wood or bare wood
  • Exterior wood finishes comparison: it is more affordable and dries slowly when compared to the polyurethane option. The dry time makes the surface vulnerable to dirt and dust


Polyurethane Finish

This type of finish is synthetic and provides a durable coat that is water-resistant. Perfect for clear finish applications on wood for protection.

  • Could yellow when exposed to sunlight, needs to be specially formulated for UV-resistance
  • Comes in different sheens: Glossy, semi-gloss, and satin
  • Best used on doors, furniture, floors, and kitchen cabinets, or indoor applications
  • Gives wood a natural look
  • You can buy specifically formulated polyurethane finishes that are suitable for exterior applications


Oil-Based Finish

When compared to water-based finishes, it dries a lot slower and has a strong odor.

  • Easy to work with, simply apply using a cloth or a brush
  • Great for furniture and areas where there is little traffic
  • Will show up any alcohol and water spills


Wood Finish: Shellac

The female Lac bug secretes a resin which is then process and becomes a shellac wood finish.

  • Shellac is blended with a solvent, for example, alcohol, and this aids with the application and dries fast. The product may require thinning before application
  • Gives a durable finish, which is best for antiques, fine furniture, and floors
  • Not to be used on wood surfaces that might be subjected to alcohol spills and moisture. The finish will deteriorate over time


Furniture Wax

This finish is generally made with beeswax and provides a nice even finish.

  • To get a matte finish, apply using a brush or cloth
  • Not to be used as an exterior varnish
  • This type of finish is not as durable as others. However, you can apply more to your wood surface if needed

painting wood varnish



Guide to Varnishing Wood

No matter what finish you decide on using, the best way to begin is to remove any remaining varnish, paint, dirt, or uneven areas from the surface before you apply the wood varnish. Your work areas also need to be dirt and dust-free; you do not want any of this landing on a fresh coat of your wood varnish. This will most definitely ruin your even and smooth finish.

When using an oil-based varnish, it is a good idea to go with a natural bristle brush, and for acrylic or water-based finishes use a synthetic brush. The synthetic brushes are also known as nylon brushes. Cloth or rags can also be used to apply the varnish in both cases.

Most wood varnish products come with instructions, which should be followed exactly. Not following the directions will lead to an unsatisfactory or ruined finish.

Follow these tips for the perfect finish:

  • Use a vacuum to pick up any dust, and a damp mop to wipe the floor
  • Try to work on a day when there is low humidity, as varnish will dry slowly in cold or humid settings. The slower it dries, the more chances of dust or dirt landing on the varnish surface before it is completely dry. If you are applying varnish inside, you can use a heater to get the room temperature between 20°C and 25° However, if it gets too warm, the varnish dries faster, and it may develop unsightly bubbles.
  • If there is an existing coat of varnish or paint, remove it with a varnish stripper or remover. Sand the wood if you notice any other uneven areas or blemishes. Use a damp cloth to remove the dust and allow to dry thoroughly before moving on
  • When applying the first coat of wood varnish, you can thin it out, but this will most probably not be necessary with the more current water-based finishes. Allow to dry over 24 hours, sand with find-grit sandpaper, and remove any dust with a damp cloth
  • Now apply another full coat of varnish, moving along the grain of the wood, and allow to dry
  • Once dry, sand with fine-grit sandpaper to help with adherence
  • Follow-up with as many varnish coats as needed, in most cases, three coats will do. You can apply more coats to create a deeper finish, make sure to finely sand in between each varnish layer. Apply your final finish layer going with the wood grain for a smooth look and do not sand the topcoat.

Best Wood Varnish


Ways Varnish Cures or Hardens

When varnish hardens, it is done in two fashions:


Immediate Curing

You have wood varnishes that harden immediately once the solvent has evaporated. Once the solvent has been removed, the oils or resin then dries and becomes hard. We do not mean instantly dries on the application, it means that it will take around several hours to dry as the solvent evaporates. Once the solvent is gone, the varnish will immediately harden.


Gradual Curing

Varnishes that gradually harden have a reaction occurring between the resin and oils once the solvent has evaporated. This might then take longer to properly harden. When the varnish is exposed to air, it begins a process of oxidation and polymerization. This is a process that might take a few days to complete.

The two hardening processes vary due to the varnish ingredients. Various additives included in the varnish can also change the properties of the varnish and affect the hardening time. For example, UV protection, color and flexibility additives, and others.

One of the elements that can be regulated to an extent, is the humidity and temperature. So, when working with a varnish, these need to be considered. Each varnish product should have directions to follow, however, lower humidity and a higher temperature should quicken the varnish curing time. Rather follow the instructions available, than try to make things go faster on your own, this could cause the varnish to harden too fast. If this happens, the varnish can become brittle and weak.

Clear Varnish



Frequently Asked Questions


Can Varnish Waterproof Wood?

Yes, a specific type of varnish, mainly the marine grade variety that has UV resistance can be used as an exterior varnish and provides water-resistance. This varnish will give you a durable finish that will be scratch-resistant and will not yellow.


Is Polyurethane or Varnish Better?

This is subject to what you want to varnish. When it comes to an exterior wood finishes comparison, polyurethane is water-based or oil-based while the varnish is made up of oils, resins, and solvents. Since varnish has more solids, it is less likely to be altered by UV sunlight. However, varnish does give you an extra tint color and needs more layers than polyurethane.


When Using Bare Wood, is Varnish an Option?

Yes, the varnish is accepted for both unfinished wood and raw wood surfaces. The varnish offers protection from dirt, grease, and moisture. Correctly applied, it also provides a wonderful glossy finish.


If you are working with wood, applying a layer of varnish is often necessary, and can provide many different t benefits. However, you will need to make sure to use the right varnish in order to achieve the best results possible. We hope that this guide on wood varnish has helped you to better understand this process.


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