Varnish

Varnish is a transparent, hard, protective finish or film primarily used in wood finishing but also for other materials. Varnish is traditionally a combination of a drying oil, a resin, and a thinner or solvent. Varnish finishes are usually glossy but may be designed to produce satin or semi-gloss sheens by the addition of "flatting" agents. Varnish has little or no color, is transparent, and has no added pigment, as opposed to paints or wood stains, which contain pigment and generally range from opaque to translucent. Varnishes are also applied over wood stains as a final step to achieve a film for gloss and protection. Some products are marketed as a combined stain and varnish.

After being applied, the film-forming substances in varnishes either harden directly, as soon as the solvent has fully evaporated, or harden after evaporation of the solvent through certain curing processes, primarily chemical reaction between oils and oxygen from the air and chemical reactions between components of the varnish. Resin varnishes "dry" by evaporation of the solvent and harden almost immediately upon drying. Acrylic and waterborne varnishes "dry" upon evaporation of the water but experience an extended curing period. Oil, polyurethane, and epoxy varnishes remain liquid even after evaporation of the solvent but quickly begin to cure, undergoing successive stages from liquid or syrupy, to tacky or sticky, to dry gummy, to "dry to the touch", to hard. Environmental factors such as heat and humidity play a very large role in the drying and curing times of varnishes. In classic varnish the cure rate depends on the type of oil used and, to some extent, on the ratio of oil to resin. The drying and curing time of all varnishes may be sped up by exposure to an energy source such as sunlight, ultraviolet light, or heat. Other than acrylic and waterborne types, all varnishes are highly flammable in their liquid state due to the presence of flammable solvents and oils. All drying oils, certain alkyds, and many single-component polyurethanes produce heat during the curing process. Therefore, oil-soaked rags and paper can smolder or ignite hours after application if they are bunched or piled together, or, for example, placed in a container where the heat cannot dissipate.

Etymology

The word "varnish" comes from Latin vernix meaning odorous resin, the etymology of which comes from the Greek Berenice, the ancient name of modern Benghazi in Libya, where the first varnishes were used and where resins from the trees of now-vanished forests were sold. Berenice comes from the Greek words phero + nike .

Components of Classic Varnish

Drying oil

There are many different types of drying oil, including linseed oil, tung oil, and walnut oil. These contain high levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids.

Resin

Resins that are used in varnishes include amber, kauri gum, dammar, copal, rosin, sandarac, balsam, elemi, and others.

Turpentine or solvent

Traditionally, natural turpentine was used as the thinner or solvent, but has been replaced by several mineral based turpentine substitutes such as white spirit or "paint thinner", also known as "mineral spirit".

Types

Violin

Violin varnishing is a multi-step process involving some or all of the following: primer, sealer, ground, color coats, and clear topcoat. Some systems use a drying oil varnish as described below, while others use spirit varnish. Touchup in repair or restoration is only done with spirit varnish.

Drying oil such walnut oil or linseed oil may be used in combination with amber, copal, rosin or other resins. The oil is prepared by cooking or exposing to air and sunlight. The refined resin is typically available as a translucent solid and is then "run" by cooking or literally melting it in a pot over heat without solvents. The thickened oil and prepared resin are then cooked together and thinned with turpentine into a brushable solution.

Some violin finishing systems use vernice bianca as a sealer or ground.

Resin

Most resin or "gum" varnishes consist of a natural, plant- or insect-derived substance dissolved in a solvent, called spirit varnish or solvent varnish. The solvent may be alcohol, turpentine, or petroleum-based. Some resins are soluble in both alcohol and turpentine. Generally, petroleum solvents, i.e. mineral spirits or paint thinner, can substitute for turpentine. The resins include amber, dammar, copal, rosin, sandarac, elemi, benzoin, mastic, balsam, shellac, and a multitude of lacquers.

Synthetic resins such as phenolic resin may be employed as a secondary component in certain varnishes and paints.

Over centuries, many recipes were developed which involved the combination of resins, oils, and other ingredients such as certain waxes. These were believed to impart special tonal qualities to musical instruments and thus were sometimes carefully guarded secrets. The interaction of different ingredients is difficult to predict or reproduce, so expert finishers were often prized professionals.

Shellac

Shellac is a very widely used single component resin varnish that is alcohol soluble. It is not used for outdoor surfaces or where it will come into repeated contact with water such as around a sink or bathtub. The source of shellac resin is a brittle or flaky secretion of the female lac insect, Kerria lacca, found in the forests of Assam and Thailand and harvested from the bark of the trees where she deposits it to provide a sticky hold on the trunk. Shellac is the basis of French polish, which for centuries has been the preferred finish for fine furniture. Specified "dewaxed" shellac has been processed to remove the waxy substances from original shellac and can be used as a primer and sanding-sealer substrate for other finishes such as polyurethanes, alkyds, oils, and acrylics.

Prepared shellac is typically available in "clear" and "amber" varieties, generally as "three pound cut" or three pounds dry shellac to one US gallon of alcohol. Other natural color shades such as ruby and yellow are available from specialty pigment or woodworker's supply outlets. Dry shellac is available as refined flakes, "sticklac," "button lac," or "seedlac." "White pigmented" shellac primer paint is widely available in retail outlets, billed as a fast-drying interior primer "problem solver", in that it adheres to a variety of surfaces and seals off odors and smoke stains. Shellac clean-up may be done either with pure alcohol or with ammonia cleansers.

Alkyd

Typically, modern commercially produced varnishes employ some form of alkyd for producing a protective film. Alkyds are chemically modified vegetable oils which operate well in a wide range of conditions and can be engineered to speed up the cure rate and thus harden faster. Better exterior varnishes employ alkyds made from high performance oils and contain UV-absorbers; this improves gloss-retention and extends the lifetime of the finish. Various resins may also be combined with alkyds as part of the formula for typical "oil" varnishes that are commercially available.

Spar Varnish

Spar varnish is high quality, waterproof, and sunlight-resistant varnish named for its use on ship or boat spars and other woodwork where a glossy finish is desired. Modified tung oil and phenolic resins are often used. Better grades of spar varnish have substantially higher amounts of uv-absorbers added.

Drying Oils

By definition, drying oils, such as linseed and tung oil, are not true varnishes though often in modern terms they accomplish the same thing. Drying oils cure through an exothermic reaction between the polyunsaturated portion of the oil and oxygen from the air. Originally, the term "varnish" referred to finishes that were made entirely of resin dissolved in suitable solvents, either ethanol or turpentine. The advantage to finishers in previous centuries was that resin varnishes had a very rapid cure rate compared to oils; in most cases they are cured practically as soon as the solvent has fully evaporated. By contrast, untreated or "raw" oils may take weeks or months to cure, depending on ambient temperature and other environmental factors. In modern terms, "boiled" or partially polymerized drying oils with added siccatives or dryers have cure times of less than 24 hours. However, certain non-toxic by-products of the curing process are emitted from the oil film even after it is dry to the touch and over a considerable period of time. It has long been a tradition to combine drying oils with resins to obtain favourable features of both substances.

Polyurethane

Polyurethane varnishes are typically hard, abrasion-resistant, and durable coatings. They are popular for hardwood floors but are considered by some to be difficult or unsuitable for finishing furniture or other detailed pieces. Polyurethanes are comparable in hardness to certain alkyds but generally form a tougher film. Compared to simple oil or shellac varnishes, polyurethane varnish forms a harder, decidedly tougher and more waterproof film. However, a thick film of ordinary polyurethane may de-laminate if subjected to heat or shock, fracturing the film and leaving white patches. This tendency increases with long exposure to sunlight or when it is applied over soft woods like pine. This is also in part due to polyurethane's lesser penetration into the wood. Various priming techniques are employed to overcome this problem, including the use of certain oil varnishes, specified "dewaxed" shellac, clear penetrating epoxy sealer, or "oil-modified" polyurethane designed for the purpose. Polyurethane varnish may also lack the "hand-rubbed" lustre of drying oils such as linseed or tung oil; in contrast, however, it is capable of a much faster and higher "build" of film, accomplishing in two coats what may require multiple applications of oil. Polyurethane may also be applied over a straight oil finish, but because of the relatively slow curing time of oils, the emission of certain chemical byproducts, and the need for exposure to oxygen from the air, care must be taken that the oils are sufficiently cured to accept the polyurethane.

Unlike drying oils and alkyds which cure, after evaporation of the solvent, upon reaction with oxygen from the air, true polyurethane coatings cure after evaporation of the solvent by a variety of reactions of chemicals within the original mix, or by reaction with moisture from the air. Certain polyurethane products are "hybrids" and combine different aspects of their parent components. "Oil-modified" polyurethanes, whether water-borne or solvent-borne, are currently the most widely used wood floor finishes.

Exterior use of polyurethane varnish may be problematic due to its heightened susceptibility to deterioration through ultra-violet light exposure. It must be noted, however, that all clear or transluscent varnishes, and indeed all film-polymer coatings are susceptible to this damage in varying degrees. Pigments in paints and stains protect against UV damage. UV-absorbers are added to polyurethane and other varnishes to work against UV damage but are decreasingly effective over the course of 2-4 years, depending on the quantity and quality of UV-absorbers added as well as the severity and duration of sun exposure. Water exposure, humidity, temperature extremes, and other environmental factors affect all finishes. By contrast, wooden items retrieved from the Egyptian pyramids have a remarkably new and fresh appearance after 4000 years of storage. Even there, however, fungal colonies were present, and mildew and fungus are another category of entities which attack varnish. In other words, the only coat of varnish with near perfect durability is the one stored in a vacuum, in darkness, at a low and unvarying temperature. Otherwise, care and upkeep are required.

Lacquer

The word lacquer refers to quick-drying, solvent-based varnishes or paints. Although their names may be similarly derived, lacquer is not the same as shellac and is not dissolved in alcohol. Lacquer is dissolved in lacquer thinner, which is a highly-flammable solvent typically containing butyl acetate and xylene or toluene. Lacquer is typically sprayed on, within a spray booth that evacuates overspray and minimizes the risk of combustion.

Outside America, the rule of thumb is that a clear wood finish formulated to be sprayed is a lacquer but if it is formulated to be brushed on then it is a varnish. Thus the vast majority of wooden furniture is lacquered.

Acrylic

Acrylic varnishes are typically water-borne varnishes with the lowest refractive index of all finishes. They impart little or no color. Acrylics have the advantage of water clean-up and lack of solvent fumes, but typically do not penetrate into wood as well as oils. They sometimes lack the brushability and self-levelling qualities of solvent-based varnishes. Generally they have good UV-resistance.

In the art world, varnishes offer dust-resistance and a harder surface than bare paint ? they sometimes have the benefit of ultraviolet light resistors, which help protect artwork from fading in exposure to light. Acrylic varnish should be applied using an isolation coat to make varnish removal and overall conservation easier.

Two-Part

Various epoxies have been formulated as varnishes or floor finishes whereby two components are mixed directly before application. Often, the two parts are of equal volume and are referred to as "part A" and "part B". True polyurethanes are two-part systems. All two-part epoxies have a "pot-life" or "working time" during which the epoxy can be used. Usually the pot-life is a matter of a few hours but is also highly temperature dependent. Both water-borne and solvent based epoxies are used.

Conversion

Used when a fast-curing, tough, hard finish is desired, such as for kitchen cabinets and office furniture. Comes in two parts - a resin and an acid catalyst. The first is a blend of an amino resin and an alkyd. The acid catalyst is added right before application in a set ratio determined by the manufacturer. Most produce minimal yellowing. There are, however, two downsides to this finish. The first is that as the finish cures, it gives off formaldehyde, which is toxic and carcinogenic. The second is that the finish can crack or craze if too many coats are applied.


varnish: Published with permission from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia