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Varnish Topcoat

Materials List
Your choice of Top Coat:
  • Water-Based Polyurethane (Satin finish is recommended)
  • Varnish or an Oil-Based Topcoat
Paint thinner for oil-based applications
Bucket of water for cleanup of water-based applications
Vinyl gloves (disposable)
Sturdy drop cloth
Extra fine (280) grit sandpaper
0000 Grade steel wool
Tools List (click item to shop)
Cotton Rags
Mixing Stick
Paint Brush
Medium Paintbrush
Easy2 Home Improvement
Applying an Oil or Water-based Stain
Applying a Tung Oil Topcoat

Varathane Floor Finishing
Varathane Renewal

IMPORTANT: Read this before you start


Applying topcoat is the final step in successfully refinishing your furniture piece. Water-Based Polyurethane Topcoats are strong, durable and are favored because they dry crystal clear, allowing the beauty of the wood grain to show.

However, classic varnishes and brush-applied Oil-Based Topcoats are strong and durable. Varnishes and other brush-applied finishes dry hard and tend to be shiny or satin in appearance. Many people favor them for the richness they add to the appearance of the wood grain. Keep in mind that as they are oil-based, they create more fumes and require more care in application and clean up. Either type of finish requires little long-term care and is able to withstand the wear and tear of an active household, giving your efforts a long-lasting result.

Skill Level & Time To Complete
Allow adequate drying time:
  • 3-4 hours drying for water-based applications
  • Overnight for oil-based applications
For a medium sized table:
• Beginner - 4 hours
• Intermediate - 3 hours
• Advanced - 2.5 hours

Plan quick access to water for rinsing splatters. Wear goggles. If your skin or eyes are exposed to the topcoat finish, rinse thoroughly. Use soap on skin. If the finish contacts your eyes and persistent burning occurs after rinsing, seek prompt medical attention.

Don’t breathe dust from sanding.

Apply in a well-ventilated area. Don’t breathe fumes from the finish, and don’t breathe fumes from the paint thinner.

Common Mistakes
Be sure that you thoroughly remove all dust and sanding dust from your furniture and from your work area after each step. Pinholes, bumps or bubbles on your finished surface are caused from dust particles, not from air bubbles in the finish.

Helpful Tips
Don’t skimp on time. The keys to achieving a smooth professional look is to apply thin, even coats, letting them dry thoroughly and sanding in between.

1. Start with wood furniture, which has been stained with an oil-based stain, or stained with a water-based stain and sealed with a water-based sanding sealer. Before performing this step, you may want to visit our tutorials on removing finish, bleaching old stains, and applying new stains. Place your project piece on a drop cloth for protection.
2. Gently sand the wood with extra-fine sandpaper, sanding in the direction of the wood grain. Do not use steel wood for this step.
3. Then brush away the sanding dust with a small clean paintbrush, especially from the joints, grooves and detail areas. Wipe with a clean damp cloth. Do not use a tack cloth. Eliminate the sanding dust from your work area.
4. Turn the unopened can of finish upside down and vigorously shake it for several minutes. Open and stir using your wooden stir stick. Keep your stir stick handy, as you should stir the contents a few times throughout the process, especially if you are working on a large piece.
5. Now, you are ready to begin applying your finish. Work in sections, completing one section before moving onto the next. With your clean small paintbrush, apply a thin coat beginning in the joints, grooves and detail areas, such as chair legs, claw feet, beveled tabletop or other grooved areas. Then, gradually work through that section of the furniture.
6. For best results, use only a small amount on the brush, which will help to prevent a puddle of coating from forming in the grooved and detail areas.
7. Avoid drips and runs, especially on legs and vertical panels, by beginning at the bottom and working your way up. If runs do occur, immediately brush them from the bottom up with the tip of your brush.
8. Using your medium-size paintbrush, apply a thin coat to the flat, broad areas, such as chair seat, tabletop or cabinet side. Apply in the direction of the wood grain and be careful to not allow the finish to puddle on tabletops or flat areas.
9. Work from a wet edge and avoid overlapping or over-brushing the surface.
10. Once you have completed the entire piece, allow the piece to dry thoroughly. Water finished pieces will take about 3-4 hours and oil finished pieces should be allowed to dry overnight. The finish will dry more slowly in cooler, damp or humid weather. Using paint thinner or water depending on the application, clean your brushes, stir stick, gloves and any splatters.
11. After the finish has dried thoroughly, sand the oil-based finish with the ultra-fine grade steel wool. If you are using a water-based finish, sand the piece as described in steps 2 & 3 above.
12. Then, repeat steps 4-8, applying two more coats, sanding in between each layer. Allow each coat to dry thoroughly, which will take longer with each additional coat.
13. Test for dryness by touching the piece in an inconspicuous area with your fingertips. If it feels dry, you’re in good shape. If it feels even the slightest bit tacky or sticky, give it more time to dry. We recommend that you give your piece no fewer than three coats to ensure a professional finish. Properly discard all materials and properly store the unused finish and paint thinner.



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