How to Apply Varnish

Varnishing wood is a great way to protect it from scratches, stains, water damage and general wear and tear. If you have recently applied a stain to a wood project, a coat of varnish is a must to seal and protect the stain. It only takes a few tools and a little time to use varnish, and in no time, you can easily learn how to apply varnish properly.


  1. Image titled Apply Varnish Step 1
    Determine what kind of varnish you want to use. Varnish is a mixture of oils and natural resins. Another similar product, polyurethane, is a mixture of synthetic resins with either oil or water. Both products are fairly similar in terms of appearance and application. Research the pros and cons of each to determine which you want to use.
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    Buy the varnish. You will be faced with some choices; varnish and polyurethane come in a variety of finishes, including gloss, semi-gloss, matte, satin and flat. The finish choice is a matter of personal preference. The can of varnish should also tell you how many square feet (square meters) of coverage to expect. Based on the size of your project, buy the appropriate amount.
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    Prepare your work area. You need to work in a well-ventilated area, as varnish can produce some pretty harsh fumes. Lay down sheets of newspaper or other scrap material to reduce the risk of spilling varnish onto your floor.
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    Prepare the wood for varnishing. The wood should be sanded completely to remove any old finishes and provide a surface for the varnish to adhere to. You should also clean the wood by going over it with a clean cloth.
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    Apply the first coat of varnish. There are several important things to remember during this process.
    • Always wear rubber (or a similar material) gloves when working with varnish. It is very difficult to get dried varnish off your skin, as it doesn't wash away with soap and water.
    • Stir the varnish in the can before applying. Also remember to stir periodically, as the varnish can settle out a little bit. You can stir the varnish with your brush.
    • Using a foam brush, paint the varnish onto the wood in long, smooth strokes. Paint along the grain of the wood; this helps the varnish to penetrate evenly. Hold the brush vertically, so that just the tip is touching the wood. Otherwise, you will apply the varnish unevenly. You will get a much better finish if you work in thin coats, so don't overdo it.
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    Allow the first coat of varnish to dry. When you've covered the entire project with a thin coat, let it sit out to dry. Don't move the project at this point, or else you may get fingerprints or other marks in the varnish. Drying should take several hours, although it will depend on the temperature, humidity and thickness of the coat.
  7. Image titled Apply Varnish Step 7
    When the varnish is dry, sand the project again. Use a fine-grit sandpaper to lightly sand the entire project. You don't want to wear away your freshly applied varnish, but you do want to rough up the finish just a little so that the next coat has something to tack into.
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    Apply the next coat of varnish. Using a new brush, apply the varnish just as you did for the first coat. When it's dry, sand again and apply a third coat. If you want to apply more than three coats, continue the process of varnishing, drying, and sanding.


  • Position your wood horizontally before applying varnish. This will minimize drips.

Things You'll Need

  • Varnish
  • Newspaper
  • Sandpaper
  • Clean cloth
  • Rubber gloves
  • Foam brushes

Article Info

Categories: Decorative Home Paintwork