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Choosing a varnish

A comparison of varnishes for the wood on your sailboat

O’Day Mariner gooseneck
O’Day Mariner gooseneck

There are a lot of ways to make your wood shiny. Who doesn’t like shiny wood?

But there’s no silver nail for brightwork. Every wood finish has its trade-offs. Less maintenance is inversely proportional to cost and time to apply it. Oil is inexpensive and easy to maintain but you have to use it frequently. Two- and three-part polyurethanes last longer, but are expensive and more complicated to apply. The same goes for top-coat systems that need multiple coats of a primer base.

Varnishes are in a happy middle in that spectrum. By varnish I mean a 1-part, complete, clear or tinted wood finish. By complete I mean that a single can of the same varnish is all you need. Some varnishes need to be thinned for the first coat, but that’s fine. For these varnishes, you can use the thinner for clean up too.

I’ve found a bunch for you. Use this guide to narrow them down to a short list. Then follow up with the manufacturer to find out what works best for you.

Varnishes must be applied at 50°F/10°C or warmer. Cold weather varnishes can be applied at 40°F/4.5°C.

All these varnishes can be applied to bare wood and to themselves. Some are also compatible with other varnishes, Cetol, and oily woods like teak.

Filter:

Environment:

Finish:

Application temperature:

Surfaces besides bare wood and the same product:

Clean up:

Interlux Cetol Marine

Interlux Cetol Marine

Interior and exterior, satin, dark amber. Apply over bare wood, same product, Cetol, or oily wood.

Recommended coats: 3, wait 24 hours between each coat

Clean up: mineral spirits

More info

Interlux Cetol Marine Light

Interlux Cetol Marine Light

Interior and exterior, satin, light amber. Apply over bare wood, same product, Cetol, or oily wood.

Recommended coats: 3, wait 24 hours between each coat

Clean up: mineral spirits

More info

Interlux Compass Clear

Interlux Compass Clear

Interior and exterior, gloss, clear. Apply over bare wood, same product, varnish, or oily wood.

Recommended coats: 6, wait 12 hours between each coat

Clean up: mineral spirits

More info

Interlux Cetol Marine Natural Teak

Interlux Cetol Marine Natural Teak

Interior and exterior, satin, amber. Apply over bare wood, same product, Cetol, or oily wood.

Recommended coats: 3, wait 24 hours between each coat

Clean up: mineral spirits

More info

Interlux Goldspar Satin

Interlux Goldspar Satin

Interior and exterior, satin, light amber. Apply over bare wood, same product, or varnish.

Recommended coats: 6, wait 12 hours between each coat

Clean up: mineral spirits

More info

Interlux Original

Interlux Original

Interior and exterior, gloss, amber. Apply over bare wood, same product, or varnish.

Recommended coats: 6, wait 12 hours between each coat

Clean up: mineral spirits

More info

Interlux Schooner

Interlux Schooner

Interior and exterior, gloss, amber. Apply over bare wood, same product, or varnish.

Recommended coats: 6, wait 12 hours between each coat

Clean up: mineral spirits

More info

Bristol Finish Classic Clear Gloss

Bristol Finish Classic Clear Gloss

Interior only, gloss, clear. Apply over bare wood, same product, varnish, or Cetol.

Recommended coats: 4, wait 1 hour between each coat

Clean up: water

More info

Bristol Finish Classic Clear Satin

Bristol Finish Classic Clear Satin

Interior only, satin, clear. Apply over bare wood, same product, varnish, or Cetol.

Recommended coats: 4, wait 1 hour between each coat

Clean up: water

More info

Awlgrip Awlwood Awlspar

Awlgrip Awlwood Awlspar

Interior and exterior, gloss, amber. Cold weather. Apply over bare wood, same product, varnish, Cetol, or oily wood.

Recommended coats: 10, wait 4 hours between each coat

Clean up: mineral spirits

More info

Epifanes Clear Varnish

Epifanes Clear Varnish

Interior and exterior, gloss, clear. Cold weather. Apply over bare wood, same product, varnish, Cetol, or oily wood.

Recommended coats: 9, wait 24 hours between each coat

Clean up: mineral spirits

More info

Epifanes Rapidcoat

Epifanes Rapidcoat

Interior and exterior, semi-gloss, amber. Cold weather. Apply over bare wood, same product, or varnish.

Recommended coats: 5, wait 6 hours between each coat

Clean up: mineral spirits

More info

Epifanes Rapidclear

Epifanes Rapidclear

Interior and exterior, semi-gloss, clear. Cold weather. Apply over bare wood, same product, or varnish.

Recommended coats: 5, wait 6 hours between each coat

Clean up: mineral spirits

More info

Epifanes Woodfinish Clear

Epifanes Woodfinish Clear

Interior and exterior, gloss, clear. Cold weather. Apply over bare wood, same product, varnish, or oily wood.

Recommended coats: 6, wait 24 hours between each coat

Clean up: mineral spirits

More info

Daly’s AquaSpar Gloss

Daly’s AquaSpar Gloss

Interior and exterior, gloss, clear. Cold weather. Apply over bare wood, same product, or varnish.

Recommended coats: 4, wait 4 hours between each coat

Clean up: water

More info

Daly’s AquaSpar Satin

Daly’s AquaSpar Satin

Interior and exterior, satin, clear. Cold weather. Apply over bare wood, same product, or varnish.

Recommended coats: 4, wait 4 hours between each coat

Clean up: water

More info

McCloskey Man O’ War Marine Spar Varnish Gloss

McCloskey Man O’ War Marine Spar Varnish Gloss

Interior and exterior, gloss, clear. Apply over bare wood, same product, or varnish.

Recommended coats: 4, wait 12 hours between each coat

Clean up: mineral spirits

More info

McCloskey Man O’ War Marine Spar Varnish Semi-gloss

McCloskey Man O’ War Marine Spar Varnish Semi-gloss

Interior and exterior, semi-gloss, clear. Apply over bare wood, same product, or varnish.

Recommended coats: 4, wait 12 hours between each coat

Clean up: mineral spirits

More info

McCloskey Man O’ War Marine Spar Varnish Satin

McCloskey Man O’ War Marine Spar Varnish Satin

Interior and exterior, satin, clear. Apply over bare wood, same product, or varnish.

Recommended coats: 4, wait 12 hours between each coat

Clean up: mineral spirits

More info

TotalBoat Lust Marine Varnish Gloss

TotalBoat Lust Marine Varnish Gloss

Interior and exterior, gloss, amber. Apply over bare wood, same product, varnish, or oily wood.

Recommended coats: 8, wait 1 hour between each coat

Clean up: mineral spirits

More info

TotalBoat Lust Marine Varnish Matte

TotalBoat Lust Marine Varnish Matte

Interior and exterior, satin, amber. Apply over bare wood, same product, varnish, or oily wood.

Recommended coats: 8, wait 1 hour between each coat

Clean up: mineral spirits

More info

TotalBoat Halcyon Rugged Gloss Varnish Amber

TotalBoat Halcyon Rugged Gloss Varnish Amber

Interior and exterior, gloss, amber. Apply over bare wood, same product, or varnish.

Recommended coats: 3, wait 1 hour between each coat

Clean up: water

More info

TotalBoat Halcyon Rugged Gloss Varnish Clear

TotalBoat Halcyon Rugged Gloss Varnish Clear

Interior and exterior, gloss, clear. Apply over bare wood, same product, or varnish.

Recommended coats: 3, wait 1 hour between each coat

Clean up: water

More info

TotalBoat Gleam 2.0 Spar Varnish Gloss

TotalBoat Gleam 2.0 Spar Varnish Gloss

Interior and exterior, gloss, clear. Cold weather. Apply over bare wood, same product, varnish, or oily wood.

Recommended coats: 6, wait 3 hours between each coat

Clean up: mineral spirits

More info

TotalBoat Gleam 2.0 Spar Varnish Satin

TotalBoat Gleam 2.0 Spar Varnish Satin

Interior and exterior, satin, clear. Cold weather. Apply over bare wood, same product, varnish, or oily wood.

Recommended coats: 6, wait 3 hours between each coat

Clean up: mineral spirits

More info

At your service

Humbly yours,

Marc
Supreme Purser