Sunday I went out to get some Varnish, of course the local paint store
is closed so I go to Lowes. Surprise!, I can't find it. I ask at the
counter and the girl takes me to the poly and asks if I want gloss or
satin. I tell her I want Varnish not Poly. "Let's ask Jim", she
says. Jim is a nice enough guy but starts explaining how I really
don't want Varnish because Poly is the same thing and works better,
blah, blah, blah. Thanks Jim, I'll go elsewhere.
Later my travels take me by Home Depot. I'm reluctant but I go in
anyway... The tart at the paint counter tells me that is "back
there", pointing over her head (lazy bitch didn't even turn around,
nevermind getting off her stool). I ask another rocket scientist in
an orange apron who tells me, "they don't make that anymore, I think
Well, if you do have any Varnish in your shop you can probably get
good money for it since "they don't make it anymore"...
A quick trip to the paint store on Monday and viola! a can of Varnish
and can of 100% Mineral Spirits.
FWIW Lowes did have Spar Varnish but I have never used it so I passed
on it since the project will be indoors and see little use.
spar is just varnish. it'll work just fine for indoor use, where you
won't see any difference between it and furniture grade varnish. it
won't hold up as well as floor varnish for floor use, but it's great
for things like doors, that see a little flex.
spar has a little more oil in it than furniture grade varnish to keep
it flexible after it dries. thinned and wiped it makes a pretty good
furniture finish by itself.
Maybe I don't fully understand the difference or sameness.
As I understand it Varnish is thinned resin and successive coats
coalesce to form a single layer. When I have used it in the past it
seems to dry to the touch faster than 'Polyurethane' skipping over the
tacky stage. The completely cured finish will not be as hard as
My understanding of Polyurethane is that the layers do not combine the
way Varnish does and imperfections in one coat will show through the
next. It also is supposed to be a harder finish than Varnish and
provide more UV protection.
I could be totally off base and completely wrong but the Polyurethane
I have used in the past has an acrylic or plastic look to it. The
Varnish I have used looks warmer and more natural. That could be the
technique since I have always applied Poly straight out of the can
whether water or oil based and normally used a foam brush to apply.
The Varnish finishes I have applied have been thinned with Mineral
Spirits and wiped on with a rag.
Maybe I need to get a new book:
Many phenolic varnishes are actually harder than polyurethane. It's the
softness that can sometimes make polyurethane more difficult to rub out.
That's why I choose Gymseal and Waterlox for my floors, and Behlen's
Rockhard or Pratt & Lambert 38 for heavily used tables. The resins are
more difficult to scratch than polyurethane.
Unfortunately, Gymseal, which I obtain at a GREAT paint store, really is
The manufacurer's rep told the store that they can no longer get some of
the ingredients at a price that makes the product viable. I was already
paying $44/gallon when they COULD buy the ingredients at a price that
Gymseal was $44/gal _before_ they claimed the increased materials
costs were a problem.
My guess is that Valspar decided that a.) the market wasn't there for
phenolic varnish at a significantly higher price than before the
increase (based on the rep's comments), b.) Valspar, who recently
bought McCloskey, isn't interested in a "niche" product, and c.) the
product was not a low-VOC formula, so it had limited distribution to
Most floors where Gymseal and Waterlox used to be used, like gyms
floors, bowling alleys, stores and restaurants, are now done with
newer products like Bonakemi Traffic, which is even more durable and
There are no cheap, high quality phenolic varnishes. Other examples
are Waterlox, Pratt & Lambert 38, and Behlen's Rockhard. There are
lots of cheap polyurethane's, so I imagine the raw materials for
polyurethane are cheaper than tung oil and phenolic resins.
Lew mentioned the marine products, which are insanely priced, but they
perform. Many home center products perform to rather low overall
standards, and compete on price.
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